Thursday, March 7, 2019

3 April: Watch this space!

Firstly, many thanks to Kyung-Sook for hosting us in March - I was sorry not to be with you, but I am sure you had a WONDERFUL time!

Advance Warning:  Due to the Bank Holiday, in May we will be meeting on 8 May

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

6 March: Playhouse Creatures

Firstly, a reminder and a big THANK YOU.

The reminder is that in March we will be meeting Chez Kyung-Sook.

The Thank You is to Kyung-Sook for once again agreeing to host in my absence!

Playhouse Creatures by April de Angelis

It is 1669: a bawdy and troublesome time.  Theatres have just reopened after 17 years of Puritan suppression.  There is a surge in dramatic writing and the first English actresses appear on stage.

Playhouse Creatures focuses on five of the most famous Restoration actresses, in a moving, and often comic, account of their precarious lives.

Nell Gwyn 
Nell Gwyn (2 February 1650 – 14 November 1687was a prolific celebrity figure of the Restoration period. Praised by Samuel Pepys for her comic performances as one of the first actresses on the English stage, she became best known for being a long-time mistress of King Charles II. Called "pretty, witty Nell" by Pepys, she has been regarded as a living embodiment of the spirit of Restoration England and has come to be considered a folk heroine, with a story echoing the rags-to-royalty tale of Cinderella. Gwyn had two sons by King Charles: Charles Beauclerk(1670–1726); and James Beauclerk (1671–1680). Charles was created Earl of Burford and later Duke of St. Albans.

Mary Betterton
Mary Betterton is a descendant (Granddaughter) of Richard Burbage, one of William Shakespeares men, one of the first and most famous shakespearian actors. Her most notable accomplishments are her being the first female actress to portray several of Shakespeare's woman characters on the professional stage. Sir William Davenant hired her to perform for the Duke's company in 1661. She lived with others in the company under his wife's care until she and the leading man of the company, Thomas Betterton, obtained a marriage license on Christmas Eve in 1662. Their marriage lasted for some 48 years under "the strictest amity" until her husband's death in 1710. Mrs. Betterton was different than many other English actresses, in that she attracted no public chatter or gossip about her personal life; she was simply not interested in enticing any foolish blather about her life off stage.

Elizabeth Farley
Samuel Pepys hinted on 11th January 1668 that Elizabeth Farley was for a brief period after the Restoration a mistress of Charles II but by the end of the 1660-1661 theatrical season she was known as Mrs. Weaver. In 1662 she announced she was leaving the stage after it was discovered she was pregnant.

Rebecca Marshall
Rebecca Marshall (1663 – 1677) was  was the younger sister of Anne Marshall, another prominent actress of the period.
Samuel Pepys repeatedly refers to both Marshall sisters in his Diary; he calls the younger "Beck Marshall." Rebecca had a reputation as a beauty, which apparently caused her difficulties: she twice petitioned King Charles II for protection from obstreperous men in her audience and she had a habit of feuding with Nell Gwyn.

Doll Common
Katherine Corey (1660 – 1692)  had one of the longest careers of any actress in her generation. In "The humble petition of Katherine Corey", she stated that she "was the first and is the last of all the actresses that were constituted by King Charles the Second at His Restauration."
Correy started her career under her maiden name, Mitchell, but was Mrs. Corey by 1663. "Mrs Corey was a big woman with a gift for comedy. She was popular in a variety of roles, but especially in old women parts: scolding wives, mothers, governesses, waiting women, and bawds." In his Diary, Samuel Pepys, who admired Corey's talents, calls her "Doll Common" after her part in Ben Jonson's The Alchemist.

Mary Betterton
Mary Betterton is a descendant (Granddaughter) of Richard Burbage, one of William Shakespeares men, one of the first and most famous shakespearian actors. Her most notable accomplishments are her being the first female actress to portray several of Shakespeare's woman characters on the professional stage. Sir William Davenant hired her to perform for the Duke's company in 1661. She lived with others in the company under his wife's care until she and the leading man of the company, Thomas Betterton, obtained a marriage license on Christmas Eve in 1662. Their marriage lasted for some 48 years under "the strictest amity" until her husband's death in 1710. Mrs. Betterton was different than many other English actresses, in that she attracted no public chatter or gossip about her personal life; she was simply not interested in enticing any foolish blather about her life off stage.

April de Angelis
This is not the first time we have read a play by de Angelis: in 2013 we read Jumpy, a modern play about the interactions between a single mother and her teenage daughter - unfortunately it was before this blog was started and I have no record to re-use!

Born circa 1960, de Angelis is of part-Sicilian descent.  In the 1980s she started out as an actress, but since then has become known as a writer of many successful plays and a librettist.  Her plays tend to be an examination of history, feminist and comic!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

6 February - The Ladykillers

I think we all enjoyed the truthful black comedy, The Memory of Water, in January.  You may wish to know that it is hoped that the ECC will produce it this year or next, and if they do perhaps we can all go to see it together.

Also, for those of you who liked January's cake, here it is:
It is embarrassingly easy.  I used a wider cake tin and cooked it for an hour.  I also omitted the breadcrumbs from the tin!

Advance Warning:  It is highly likely that I won't be here for the March reading, and so, subject to bathroom work, you may be meeting at Kyung-Sook's or Louise's.  Thank you both for offering to host.

And so to February:  The Ladykillers

This month we will be reading a play that started out as a film!  The famous 1955 film was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay and won the BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay. American writer William Rose claimed to have dreamt the entire film and merely had to remember the details when he awoke.
The film holds a rare 100% rating on review website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 23 reviews. The British Film Institute ranked The Ladykillers the 13th greatest British film of all time. In 2017 a poll for Time Out magazine saw it ranked the 29th best British film ever. 
The film was remade in 2004, but we are not going to concern ourselves with that!!  For further information see:
The Ladykillers is a classic black comedy; I and his gang rent rooms in the lopsided house of sweet but strict Mrs Wilberforce.  The villains  plot to involve her, unwittingly, in Marcus’ brilliantly conceived heist job.  The police are left stumped but Mrs Wilberforce becomes wise to their ruse and Marcus concludes that there is only one way to keep the old lady quiet.  With only her parrot, General Gordon, to help her, Mrs Wilberforce is alone with five desperate men.  But who will face the music?
1955 Film Cast (Because I know you’re going to ask!)
Alec Guinness as Professor Marcus
Cecil Parker as Major Claude Courtney
Herbert Lom as Louis Harvey
Peter Sellers as Harry Robinson
Danny Green as ‘One-Round’ Lawson
Jack Warner as the superintendent
Katie Johnson as Mrs Louisa Wilberforce
Philip Stainton as the sergeant
Frankie Howerd as the barrow boy
Kenneth Connor as a taxi driver.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

9 January - The Memory of Water

Dear All
I am always so embarrassed by your generosity.  I love this group, and you give me so much pleasure from your enjoyment of the plays I choose, so thank you so much for not just the very generous gift (which Tim and I will enjoy very much, and I hope that you will enjoy the photos of  museums that you are now going to receive all year!), but for your continued participation in and support for the group.
I hope you all have a wonderful festive season, and I'm looking forward to more fun and sometimes challenging plays in 2019.
Love Janet

And so on to 2019!

The Memory of Water is a comedy written by English playwright Shelagh Stephenson, first staged in 1996. It won the 2000 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.  In 2002 it was turned into a film called Before You Go, starring Julie Walters and Tom Wilkinson.  It's a play I've had in mind for some time, but I've finally been nudged into doing it because, in my absence, the ECC read it in November and it was hugely popular.  Indeed, it might even be produced by them!

Three sisters; Teresa, Mary and Catherine, come together before their mother's funeral, each haunted by their own demons. The play focuses on how each sister deals with the death and how it directly affects them. The three each have different memories of the same events, causing constant bickering about whose memories are true. As the three women get together after years of separation, all their hidden lies and self-betrayals are about to reach the surface.

A theme of the play is, eponymously, memory. The sisters' memories interact with each other, and show that despite synchronicities of time and place they cannot agree upon one unifying experience. This is echoed in Vi's final speech, which portrays Alzheimer's disease as being adrift among a series of islands of your own identity. The sisters drift around their own islands of memory, unable to agree on one particular point, and yet are unified by their familial bond.


Vi is the mother of the three sisters and whose funeral they are together for. She was a glamorous woman when younger, with whom all the men of the village were enamoured. She was possibly not the best of mothers.


Mary is the middle child. Mary is a doctor whose five-year affair with Mike, a married doctor, is starting to show strain. 


Teresa she is the eldest sister and an unhappy housewife, who runs a health food supplement store with her husband Frank, and who feels she has had to keep the family together for years. 


Catherine is the youngest sister, and the only sister who does not have a partner.


Mike is the doctor with whom Mary has been having a 5-year relationship. He has told Mary that his wife has ME.


Frank is Teresa's husband and runs the health food supplement store with her. He isn't satisfied by doing a job which he doesn't believe in nor care about. 

Shelagh Stephenson

Born in 1995, as well as being a playwright (for both stage and radio) Stephenson has worked as an actress (including work with the RSC as well and various television roles).  

Monday, November 19, 2018

5 December - Perfect Nonsense

This month we will be reading a play based on the Jeeves & Wooster stories of P.G. Wodehouse, so silliness and mayhem are ensured!

To make it slightly more confusing the play that we are reading has a plot which revolves around Bertie Wooster deciding to stage a one-man show revolving around his recent experiences at Totleigh Towers, only to discover on the evening that, in typical Wooster fashion, nothing has gone to plan and the show is not ready to be staged. In desperation, he enlists Jeeves and another valet, Seppings, to help him stage the production, with Bertie as himself and both Jeeves and Seppings playing multiple characters. Both in the story Bertie is narrating and the play as it is being performed, events quickly spiral out of control, prompting Jeeves to step in to make sure all ends well.

Still with me?

Although a cast of 3, they perform a host of other roles - which we will not replicate!

As everything is explained, sort of, in the play I will not give a breakdown of the characters here!

I hope you will enjoy it!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

14 November - The Red Shoes


In a first for our group, we're going to read a musical!

Pernette saw a modern adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Red Shoes, when she was in Ireland in the summer, and brought back the script with her: Many thanks Pernette!

It will be interesting if you know the original story:
A peasant girl named Karen is adopted by a rich old lady after her mother's death and grows up vain and spoiled. Before her adoption, Karen had a rough pair of red shoes; now she has her adoptive mother buy her a pair of red shoes fit for a princess. Karen is so enamored of her new shoes that she wears them to church, but the old lady scolds her: it's highly improper and she must only wear black shoes in church from now on. But next Sunday, Karen cannot resist the urge to put the red shoes on again. As she is about to enter the church, she meets a mysterious old soldier with a red beard. "Oh, what beautiful shoes for dancing," the soldier says. "Never come off when you dance," he tells the shoes, and he taps the sole of each with his hand. After church, Karen cannot resist taking a few dance steps, and off she goes, as though the shoes controlled her, but she finally manages to take them off.
One day, after her adoptive mother becomes ill, Karen leaves her alone and goes off to a ball in town in her red shoes. She begins to dance, but this time the shoes won't come off. They continue to dance, night and day, rain or shine, through fields and meadows, and through brambles and briers that tear at Karen's limbs. She can't even attend her adoptive mother's funeral. An angel appears to her, bearing a sword, and condemns her to dance even after she dies, as a warning to vain children everywhere. Karen begs for mercy but the red shoes take her away before she hears the angel's reply.
Karen finds an executioner and asks him to chop off her feet. He does so but the shoes continue to dance, even with Karen's amputated feet inside them. The executioner gives her a pair of wooden feet and crutches, and teaches her the criminals' psalm.  Thinking that she has suffered enough for the red shoes, Karen decides to go to church so people can see her. Yet her amputated feet, still in the red shoes, dance before her, barring the way. The following Sunday she tries again, thinking she is at least as good as the others in church, but again the dancing red shoes bar the way.
Karen gets a job as a maid in the parsonage, but when Sunday comes she dares not go to church. Instead she sits alone at home and prays to God for help. The angel reappears, now bearing a spray of roses, and gives Karen the mercy she asked for: her heart becomes so filled with sunshine, peace, and joy that it bursts. Her soul flies on sunshine to Heaven, where no one mentions the red shoes.

It's also interesting to know:
Andersen named the story's anti-heroine Karen after his own loathed half-sister, Karen Marie Andersen.  The origins of the story is based on an incident Andersen witnessed as a small child. His father, who was a shoemaker, was sent a piece of red silk by a rich lady to make a pair of dancing slippers for her daughter. Using some red leather along with the silk, he carefully created a pair of shoes only for the rich customer to tell him they were awful. She said he had done nothing but spoil her silk. To which his father replied, "In that case, I may as well spoil my leather too," and he cut up the shoes in front of her.

Here are some pictures from The Gate's production:

Monday, September 10, 2018

3 October - Top Girls

Top Girls is a 1982 play by Caryl Churchill. It is about a woman named Marlene, a career-driven woman who is only interested in women's success in business. In the famous opening scene, she hosts a dinner party for a group of famous women from history. As the play unfolds we find Marlene has left her 'poor' life, and illegitimate child with her sister Joyce, in order to tread the path to 'success'. The play is contemporary and examines the role of women in society and what being a successful woman means. The plays cast involves women from age ranges 17 - 23, so we shall be feeling very young by the end of the afternoon!!


Isabella Bird is the first dinner guest to arrive at Marlene's celebration. In real life as discussed throughout the first act of the play, Isabella is a world traveler. What the play does not mention is that she wrote several books, including An English Woman In AmericaA Lady's Life In The Rocky Mountains, and Among the Tibetans. Her adventures take her to all corners of the world. She mentions Jimin Nugent at the party, a man with whom she spent quite a bit of time in America. Outside of the play, Jim was in love with Isabella but she never paid attention to his advances. In real life, she once wrote in a letter to her sister "He is a man any woman might love, but no sane woman would marry." Jim would later be found murdered. Isabella did not marry young because of her career, but later married Dr. John Bishop, who died two days before their 5th anniversary. 
Lady Nijo is a thirteenth-century Japanese concubine and the most materialistic of the women: she is influenced more by the period of time before she became a wandering nun than by the time she spends as a holy woman. She has been brought up in such a way that she cannot even recognize her own prostitution. .
Pope Joan  is somewhat aloof, making relevant, intellectual declarations throughout the conversation. When the topic turns to religion, she cannot help but point out heresies—herself included—though she does not attempt to convert the others to her religion. According to popular legend, Pope Joan was a woman who reigned as pope for a few years during the Middle Ages. Her story first appeared in chronicles in the 13th century and subsequently spread throughout Europe. The story was widely believed for centuries, but most modern scholars regard it as fictional.
Dull Gret The subject of the painting "Dulle Griet" by Pieter Breughel, in which a woman wearing an apron and armed with tools of male aggression – armor, helmet, and sword – leads a mob of peasant women into Hell, fighting the devils and filling her basket with gold cups. 
Patient Griselda is the last to show up to the party.   Historically, Griselda first came into prominence when Chaucer adapted her (from earlier texts by Boccaccio) for a story in The Canterbury Tales called "The Clerk's Tale." In Chaucer's tale, and also in Top Girls, Griselda is chosen to be the wife of the Marquis, even though she is only a poor peasant girl. 

Caryl Churchill (3/9/1938 - )

Caryl Churchill is a British playwright known for dramatising the abuses of power, for her use of non-naturalistic techniques, and for her exploration of sexual politics and feminist themes.