Looking back: memories of the Mariners’ Arms in Bridgwater. A feature written By Harry Mottram for the Bridgwater Mercury in April 2016.
THE series of stories about the pubs of Bridgwater Band district inspired by the researcher Jane Penfold has prompted Trevor Crook to write in with memories of the Mariners’ Arms in Northgate, Bridgwater.
He writes: “It was interesting to read the letter sent by Mike Taylor, who I know, about his parents’ times at the Golden Lion and Lime Kiln, in particular the dates he referred to. My step-father was Dennis Bell-Langford, whose mother, Mrs Maria Bell-Langford, was I believe, the last licencee of the Royal Oak in West Street when it closed in 1925.
“My grandparents Maria and Albert (Sam) moved to the Hope and Anchor on the riverside and from there to the Mariners Arms in Northgate. My father Dennis became landlord of the Mariners when they retired, until it closed. The licence was surrendered in 1962.”
Mr Crook said that the book Bridgwater Inns Past and Present by Dave Williams published in the 1980s there are photographs of the Hope and Anchor. One of them he said shows a picture of his grandfather with his father sitting on his lap with another picture showing his grandparents outside the Mariners Arms. He said the licence at the Hope and Anchor was surrendered in 1961 and the last tenant was G Pole.
He continued: “When the Mariners Arms closed, there was a short break before my father took the licence at the Beaufort Arms in 1961, taking over, if I remember rightly from Tommy Hawkes. When we left in 1968 to take over at the Malt Shovel where we stayed until December 1974, the licence at the Beaufort went to Tony and Sylvia Prowse.
“The previous landlord of the Malt Shovel was Morny Washer and after my parents retired from the trade, there were a number of couples involved at different times running this pub, to name a few, John and Dorothy Tyler (former managers of the Harvest Moon), Trev and Jayne Watts and more recently Nora Lewis and her partner Neil Tucker.”
The Mercury has passed on this and other information to Jane Penfold who has continued her work and we welcome more memories of pubs in the area.
Whether your memories are from way back in time or in the last ten years then do write in with pictures if you have them by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org to Harry Mottram.
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt Can a woman write a fictional biography about a teenage boy? Well, yes and no. Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch hits some of the right notes such as youthful dishonesty, amoral behaviour, deceitfulness and lies plus a fondness for alcohol and drugs in Theodore Decker’s retrospective narration. Strangely she skirts around teenage boys and their obsession with sex and all things smutty, but is explicit about getting high on drugs and vodka and being difficult as testosterone levels climax in this coming of age novel. At more than 800 pages the story goes into huge amounts of detail on the antiques trade with some insightful sections on life in New York and Las Vegas. And not the life you might expect. Excellent on fractious relationships and dysfunctional American families along with forensic introspections from Theo on his other’s failings. But like Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens to whom her plots have been likened there are plot holes which leave you doubting the story including the initial theft of the painting The Goldfinch by Theo. It’s in places a page turner but is so long you wonder if Theo (or Potter as his friend Boris calls him) will move on to the next section of his life. Critics dubbed in children’s novel which it is not. Stripped to the basic plot it’s a slow burn thriller born in a broken family and set in the art world with a confused protagonist narrator who seeks redemption from a childhood tragedy. So much to admire in a convoluted and extended plot which satisfies eventually – but it’s a long journey to get there. Harry Mottram The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was published in 2013. It won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and is available in paperback from Cheddar library and all good bookshops. • A movie was released of the book in 2019 directed by John Crowley with Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman.
Knob jokes, comedy props and sensational singing make Living Spit’s version of Odysseus’ chronically badly navigated return from Troy a joy to experience.
Homer’s Odyssey composed some 3,000 years ago of more than 12,000 lines of poetry is enjoyably reduced down to earthy Anglo Saxon phrases in this send up of the Ancient Greek saga.
The reimagining of the ten year voyage of Odysseus (played by Howard Coggins) returning from the Trojan War to Ithaca and his wife Penelope (an on form Kate Dimbleby) is turned on its head by the director Craig Edwards who with a deft touch begins the story sort of at the end with Odysseus’ unimpressed wife Penelope.
She dismisses the blokey bragging of her husband making it a battle of the sexes as she score points off Odysseus by ridiculing his excuses for being late home. While the drama comes from Odysseus recounting his unlikely adventures with slapstick, song and comedy props.
Kate Dimbleby is fabulous as she first demolishes the preposterous tales but then joins in them bringing the female characters to life and rebalancing The Odyssey for the 21st century. Howard Coggins does don a recognizable Grecian costume complete with leather breast plate and skirt while Sam Mills and Stu McLoughlin use items from a fancy dress shop to suggest their various characters. We get the Cyclops in the cave, the sirens and the evil Circe who turns men into pigs but there’s no archery contest on Odysseus’ return but rather some haunting and poignant singing. There’s much humour in the meeting with his retainer Eumaeus back in Ithaca and set pieces such as the bag of the four winds given to Odysseus by Aeolus involve the audience.
The double act of Coggins and McLoughlin that worked so well in their original two hander in The Six Wives of Henry VIII fuels the play’s comic chemistry while the added ingredient of contrastingly beautiful music only adds to the drama. All four sing so well with Sam Mills on keyboards and various instruments adding depth to what could be a slightly thin piece of theatre if it wasn’t for the musical content. Certainly Kate Dimbleby’s soulful voice gives class and emotion in this highly entertaining production as does the use of mics for sound effects and the voices of the Gods.
Lighting by Sarah Bath crucially punctuates the drama and Katie Sykes’ circular set is not only practical but suggests the cyclical nature of Odysseus’ voyage home in which he appears to have gone round in circles. As Penelope says on his return: “You’ll have to do better than that.” And with her help, he does.
Soldiers, snogging and songs mark Much Ado About Nothing as a youthful and vibrant show at the Factory Theatre in Bristol. A dramatic wartime opening sees Don Jon stripped of his rank and Claudio decorated for bravery helping to explain the motives behind Don Jon’s plan to wreck the wedding of Claudio and Hero.
In Elizabeth Freestone’s blokish production of William Shakespeare’s comedy none of the humour or romance is lost. Set in the here and now in modern dress the play is noted for the speed and clarity of the narrative which can in the wrong hands confuse anyone who does not know the story.
Don Jon played by Georgia Frost brought the villain to life, not as the pantomime baddie but as a complex, confused and opportunist character. Louise Mai Newberry was excellent in several roles including a health and safety office, a job’s worth Dogberry and a strong singer.
For those familiar with the 1993 movie in which Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thomson starred as the sparring lovers Benedick and Beatrice will have wondered how the sunlit lands of Sicily where the story is set could be staged. Jean Chan design opted for minimalism in part due to the play being staged in the round and to keep the stripped down tone of the production which concentrated on the characters and story. There was party bunting and a scattering of cushions, beer barrels and even a mic and amp but lighting from Nic Farman was more important in changing the mood of the scenes.
Dorothy Myer-Bennett with her pre-Raphaelite hair and abundance of confidence as Beatrice was brilliant in dominating her exchanges with Geoffrey Lumb as Benedick who gave his character an enjoyable bumbling feel mixed with exaggerated bravado creating the legendary exchanges which makes the play such a joy.
Zachary Powell as Don Pedro was good value as was Alex Wilson as Borachio and the Friar. Imran Momen had to balance the strangely split personality as genial flirt and enraged husband to be who falls for Don Jon’s plot. Only the archaic Tudor sexual codes of conducts can explain this aspect of the plot but together with Christopher Bianchi as Leonato (Hero’s dad) pulled it off with the help of mobile phone evidence. Bianchi and Alice Barclay as his wife Ursula made a believable couple. With their modern dress they looked like any couple in the organic section of Sainsbury’s or outside their Bedminster home cleaning the Ford Modeo.
Gawky nerdy looking Hannah Bristow as Hero made the best of her role upping the awkwardness of her character once she’s singled out as a potential bride – a tricky one as Hero doesn’t get too many lines and can be a slightly insignificant character considering her pivotal place in the plot. Bethan Mary-James as Margaret brought so much to the production, strumming her Ukulele, singing in her soft and soulful voice and giving the drama a continuity as she drifted on and off stage in a variety of guises. Speaking of guises the masked ball scene is almost worth the ticket price alone with its disco beat and flashing lights and as with so much in the production choreography of movement kept the action rolling at high speed. It was at over two and a half hours much ado about a lot.
The play runs until Saturday, November 9, 2019 before transferring to Wiltons’ Music Hall in London from November 12, 2019.
Summer dawns on Somerset’s large strawberry shaped reservoir between Axbridge and Cheddar are often glorious affairs. Golden sunrises at around 5am are a particular feast as the 1930s reservoir acts as a mirror to the sky. Here a few images of the last few days in July 2019.
Pack your suitcase, grab your hockey stick and take the train from the Passenger Shed at Bristol’s Temple Mead railway station for Malory Towers this summer writes Harry Mottram.
The cavernous building is the venue for a production of the boarding school adventures inspired and abridged from Enid Blyton’s novels. Bursting with teenage hormonally powered enthusiasm, Emma Rice’s breathless script and Alistair David’s superb choreography it is a hugely enjoyable family show. And a production that brings all aspects of theatre together to create a show that is seamless, slick and creatively contemporary. There’s no whiff of the stuffy class based society of the era it was originally set in.
Singer Stephanie Hockley on piano was given support by Vinnie Heaven on drums and Mirabelle Gremaud on harp to accompany the songs performed throughout including the Malory Towers Hymn: “A place to live and prosper, a community and a family where we build our precious futures.”
Rebecca Collingwood in particular as angry bad girl Gwendoline excelled with her solos including Daddy’s Little Girl, while the cast as a whole filled the pop-up theatre with strong voices without the use of mics. Pat Ballard’s Mr Sandman was one of a number of songs arranged by Nigel Lilley that enchanted an audience that applauded each song and gave the show a standing ovation at the end. Edith Piaf’s Mon Manege A Moi arranged by Ian Ross was another set piece that blended wit, harmony and choreography with the students converting the classroom into a French bistro. A scene that also showcased Lez Brotherston’s set and costumes and Alistair David’s choreography and Ian Ross’s musical direction.
Perfect comedy timing came from Francesca Mills as sensible Sally Hope and Rebecca Collingwood’s teen rage and bullying vindictiveness as Gwendoline was so committed that when she told the audience at the interval to return to their seats they did so immediately. Versatile Vinnie Heaven doubled up as Bill and as a modern school girl in the opening scene that acted as a framing device for the drama.
Izuka Hoyle as the novel’s original hero Darrell Rivers gave a more realistic contemporary tone to her character given her flashes of temper and attempts to reveal the wickedness of Gwendoline. Poor Mary Lou played by Rose Shalloo had the task of being beaten, bullied and browbeaten by Gwendoline, a role she performed with a combination of comic self-deprecation and playing the victim to perfection.
Mirabelle Gremaud’s musical and acrobatic attributes added greatly to the production as Irene Dupont and Renée Lamb as the joker Alicia added a warmth which softened some of the darker themes.
The double level stage had a blank backdrop screen shaped as the school’s exterior that allowed for projections depicting anything from the railway journey to the seaside as the scenes demanded. The design blended the work of Malcolm Rippeth (lighting) Lez Brotherston (set), Simon Baker (sound and video) and Beth Carter and Stuart Mitchell’s animations.
In her director’s notes Emma Rice pays tribute to her mother’s generation of female school students who following the 1944 Education Act were given free secondary education. It allowed them to have careers and a freedom to excel in their chosen paths in life. Except of course Malory Towers is anything but a state school, but more an escapist fantasy for young readers who can immerse themselves in a parent free world. A private school for 1950s’ rich kids, a world away from the humdrum world of the average state school, most children attended. The privilege of those attending Malory Towers is skated over by Emma Rice but in fairness she does her best to give Blyton’s story a 21st century girl power theme accentuating the culture of hope and tolerance promoted at the cliff top Cornish academy.
It is a drama that revels in the conflicting relationships of the girls as they each resolved their personal crisis with the help of friends and hopefully become women “that the world can lean on.”
The show goes on tour: Cambridge Arts Theatre – 05 September 2019 – 07 September 2019; York Theatre Royal – 10 September 2019 – 14 September 2019; Exeter Northcott Theatre – 17 September 2019 – 21 September 2019; HOME 2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester – 24 September 2019 – 28 September 2019; Oxford Playhouse – 01 October 2019 – 05 October 2019.
Children’s Theatre Reviews exists to help plug the gap in criticism and writing about theatre for young audiences. It is run entirely voluntarily, and needs support to continue covering and supporting the sector. For more details visitchildrenstheatrereviews.com
No wonder John O’Farrell found it so hard to like Jeremy Corbyn in his book Things Can Only Get Worse?, because unlike his chums Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, Corbyn is a real socialist.
weight left wing credentials are exposed by the way he so easily accepted the
offer to become the Labour party candidate in the Eastleigh by election. He’s
offered the job from Labour head office on the phone, asks his wife Jackie who
is ambitious for him to be an MP and he accepts. His description of the actual
selection process fails to recognize the obvious way the party rubber stamped
his application when there were local Labour candidates who would have done a
He’s out of touch with
the voters believing Iraq should be the main issue when they are interested in
jobs and the influx of immigrants who are effecting employment for locals. UKIP
scoop up their votes leaving Labour far behind. How could he be so blind? Easy.
He was in hock with the Blair and Brown Governments for years and came to see
the world through their eyes. He wrote their jokes, had dinner with them and
accepted that they were the authentic voice of Labour voters. Then came the Invasion
of Iraq in 2003. The following year of 2004 saw workers of EU member states of
Eastern Europe given the right the work in the UK causing major concerns about
immigration among many ordinary workers and the effects on employment and finally
the credit crunch in 2008.
O’Farrell and the
Labour Party as a whole failed to see how this would affect their election
prospects as voters looked for answers to unemployment, low wages and a decline
in living standards. His blindness to these themes he unwittingly exposes in
his the chapter The Sickest Man in Britain. He makes light of it all and appears
to blame it all on the people of Eastleigh for not being very enlightened.
No wonder Jeremy
Corbyn became leader after the years of New Labour. He may not be the most media
savvy leader of the party but he is a genuine conviction politician who takes
social issues seriously. It was only when he proved a hit against all the odds
in the 2017 General Election that O’Farrell finally signs up to the idea that
Corbyn is OK.
That said, this is a highly readable and funny book, with lots of common sense, some excellent jokes and many insights into O’Farrell’s mindset. Even if you are a true blue Tory O’Farrell’s prose and anecdotes keep the pages turning and chuckles coming – and glimpses into how those at the top of the Labour party live and how someone at the top of a media career thinks.
O’Farrell is very hard
on the LibDems as you might expect but compounds his prejudice by effectively
saying nobody should vote anything else but Labour or Conservative. His London
bubble of thinking forgets there’s a whole world of opinion outside of the M25.
There’s Northern Ireland with its own unique political divisions, the Green
Party, UKIP and Scotland, plus Wales and pockets of England where low wages and
economic neglect explain the vote in favour of Brexit.
The chapters on his campaign to create a new secondary school in his area are some of the most interesting as he battles to get the backing and funds for the enterprise. His conclusion is that compromise is key in getting things done as the school is not quite the one he envisaged but is eventually built and he becomes chair of the governors. But it his honesty in not knowing what to do after a row with the head teacher and with the school is in crisis that are some of the strongest sections. And then there are the jokes. Like the day in 1997 when William Hague became the leader of the Conservative Party – he notes that nobody cared as it was like TV’s Neighbours – the Tories were still going but all the big stars had left and nobody watched it anymore.
As a sequel to Things Can Only Get Better, it has a huge amount of wit and wisdom, some very repeatable anecdotes – along with a few political blind spots.
Things Can Only Get Worse?, by John O’Farrell, was first published in 2017 by Doubleday and is also available in paperback by Black Swan.
New Old Friends have created a new comedy genre of a hyper fast moving send up of the period whodunit with their improvised style and joke laced script.
The movement and choreography by Gary Sefton is excellent and the quartet of actors’ performances are brilliant in the way they slip seamlessly between a Nile tourist boat full of Agatha Christi type characters. In this spoof we head to Egypt where the detective Artemis Arinae (Kirsty Cox) has a murder to solve on a river boat full of suspects.
To follow the plot of Crimes on the Nile can be all but impossible such is the speed of the narrative but also the amount of explanations given by the protagonist Artemis. Too many words in an accent that’s difficult to catch at times means the main enjoyment of the show is the enjoyable comic acting of Heather Westwell, Feargus Woods Dunlop and Fergus Leathem along with energetic set scenes of choreographed chaos.
Some of the best parts of the drama directed by James Farrell are the set pieces such as Westwell’s three door female shouting match sequence, Woods Dunlop’s song and the opening ‘there’s been a murder’ in the dark scene. If some of Artemis’ explanations and thought processes could be slowed to very fast instead of extremely fast along with the denouement, then the story could be conveyed with more clarity.
Witty, creative and with endless comic props and in-jokes the play fits well with the series of five comedies the theatre company has so far produced. With a small cast and lots of fine details in the props, characterisations and swift changes of direction the style works better in more confined and intimate spaces. On the larger stage of the Tacchi Morris part of the attraction of the drama – its very frenetic and creative nature – is diluted.
In 150 odd pages Peter Brook spells out his thoughts on four types of theatre: the deadly, the holy, the rough and the immediate. He could easily have done it in 50 pages such is the density of his thought process. His essential theme is that theatre should be thought provoking, challenging and creative. A play is a play Brook concludes and more importantly explains that theatre is in the present, in the now. Cinema is experiencing something filmed and acted often years ago. Art works and installations have been created in the past while TV drama nowadays is almost always recorded. On the stage each performance is live and if you watch the same play twice you’ll notice changes of pace and tone.
For years The Empty Space has been required reading for every student of theatre and those with an interest in drama. Brook’s thoughts and views come thick and fast providing considerable material for discussion and yet at times he appears to labour a point and cloud his ideas with too much philosophy. “As you read this book it is already moving out of date,” he writes. The hippy ‘happenings’ of the 1960s no longer take place and a single theatre critic can no longer kill a play dead with a killer review thanks to the internet and its plethora of views on any given subject.
There’s a section close to my heart on the deadly critic who fails to understand the process of drama and has no vision of what theatre should be. Brooks suggests that critics need to embrace the theatrical process to get a better understanding rather than standing at the side lines and firing off volleys of barbs. In the deadly theatre creativity has given way to convention where entertainment triumphs over innovation. The holy theatre is that of reverence to the cannon and tradition while the rough theatre – that of Brecht for instance – brings a fresh and strikingly new force to the art form. And in many ways Brook’s division of theatre into the four sectors can be applied to many art forms. In his concluding chapter on the immediate theatre it is the role of the audience and how an actor reacts to the immediacy of a performance that he discusses. Clocks never go back he writes, and with plays you wipe the slate clean for each performance.
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Peter Brooks is best known by many in the theatre for his production of A Mid Summer Night’s Dream in 1970. There’s a short documentary about it at https://youtu.be/1CkN9k6S3Js although the recording quality is a bit poor.