A place for all the other “uncategorised” stuff – with a bit of nonsense thrown in for good measure

Brick Up 2 – The Revenge of Ann Twacky

If you were wondering what gave Donald Trump the idea for his Mexican Wall, well I reckon he must have been amongst the 175,000 people who came to see the original “Brick Up The Mersey Tunnels” at The Royal Court.

So successful was Dave Kirby and Nick Allt’s comedy, that it enjoyed no fewer than six runs of up to six weeks each, becoming the theatre’s signature play, and introducing thousands to the very special brand of scouse humour for which the Royal Court is known and loved.

Quite apart from the fact it was brilliantly written, its success was based on the fact that – using a footballing analogy – it was something of a local derby, attracting fans from both sides of the Mersey. The posh Wirralites, with their CH post codes, loved the play just as much as the down-to-earth scousers on the L side, even though the ‘first round match’ was won by the scallies across the water.

It became the perfect scouse comedy, and you can’t improve on perfection …or can you? Move over Brick Up, make way for Brick Up 2 – The Wrath Of Ann Twacky. Maybe this time the tables have been turned.

The story picks up where the first “Brick Up” ended, with the mayhem that had been caused by the sealing-up of the tunnels and the explosive demise of the Runcorn Bridge.

It tells of the joy and the despair resulting from these acts of “terrorism”; of the joy and despair that followed the tunnels reopening; and of the joy and despair in the plot to do it all over again.

Sticking to the tested and successful formula, the producers chose not only the same writers, but pretty much the same cast. The only changes were to bring in Danny Burns to play entrepreneur Elliot Neston, and Emily Linden to make a brief appearance as a gun-totting anti-terrorist cop.

The excruciatingly posh Eithne Browne (she’s not in real life) returns as Ann Twacky, partnered by Roy Brandon as her formerly down-trodden husband Dennis, who has finally kicked over the traces and grown a pair.

Andrew Schofield is back as the archetype scally and cowboy builder Dicky Lewis. His facial expressions and the way he delivers his lines with perfect timing and comedic inflection, would have you in fits of laughter even if he was reciting from the phone book. And when he dons a frock to transition into the part of Wirral Ladies Group member, Dee Estuary, you can see what a master of comedy this man is.

The third Wirral Ladies character, Liz Card, was played to perfection by Francis Tucker whose wonderful facial, as well as vocalised, innuendo often result in his being cast as the Pantomime Dame, not withstanding his wide ranging appearances on stage, film and television.

The lovely Suzanne Collins showed us that her character Maggie, was something of a turn-coat by becoming an imperfectly posh Margaret who had difficulty keeping up both the pretence and the accent, hilariously slipping back into “The Queen’s Scouse”.

Along with Dicky Lewis, Gerard Gardner and Nick Walton are The Queensway Three, responsible for the tunnel campaign. Gerard is played by seasoned Royal Court comedy actor Paul Duckworth, with the face that launched a thousand laughs, and the part of Nick Walton is played by Carl Chase, who also steps up throughout the performance to narrate via the medium of song in his wonderful baritone voice.

All credit to Director Bob Eaton for his visualisation of a great script, and Musical Director Howard Gray for bringing the show musically to life via the talented musicians in the pit and on the stage.

It had crossed my mind that to ‘get’ this play, one would have had to have seen the original Brick Up, but thanks to the way “the story so far” has been cleverly woven into Carl’s mellifluous narration, Brick Up virgins can enjoy this fab comedy just as much as the Brick Up groupies who’ve spent the past decade coming back for more.

To sum up… a highly enjoyable and entertaining comedy, regardless of which side of the Mersey you come from. It even trumps the hilarious one-liners we are currently hearing on a daily basis from the farce that is being played out at The White House!

Undeniably Five Stars. Don’t think twice – go and see it!

By sheer coincidence, line improvements by MerseyRail have resulted in a suspension of the Wirral to Liverpool train service for a six week period exactly matching the duration of the play’s run. This prompted the producers to commission a brilliant piece of P.R. in the form of a huge billboard advert at the approach to the Kingsway tunnel, featuring actress Ethne Browne, as Ann Twacky, looking motorists straight in the eye, with the words: The tunnels are next! 

Click image to enlarge

By |February 3rd, 2017|1 Comment

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A Yurt Holiday in North Wales

Our Yurt, Rhiannon, with its magnificent view

Our Yurt, Rhiannon, with its magnificent view

We’ve all seen those spammy posts on Facebook that say things like “Share this picture of the New Mercedes (or whatever) and we’ll pick a winner on Friday”. And we all know – or at least we should all know – that they are just click-bait scams and that nobody ever wins the car!

Well last Autumn a “Win a Yurt Holiday” post appeared in my news stream. I skipped past it. But as I did so, I noticed it was a North Wales Yurt Holiday, and it just didn’t seem fit into the usual scam category. This one was for real!

The beautifully decorated door, Mongolian style

The beautifully decorated door, Mongolian style

It was a post by a small concern near Llanrwst that was trying to spread the word about their new venture.

Now, I know just how hard it is to get the right kind of publicity, so spread the word I did. I clicked “Share” popping the post up in front of fifteen hundred friends and followers, some of whom would hopefully share it with theirs. That’s where social media can be really useful, publicising the little people who might not have huge advertising budgets.

Good deed for the day done, I closed Facebook and got back to my real life – which since I retired seems to involve music, running a folk club and doing theatre reviews more than actual photography.

Hey, we are winners!
A couple of weeks later, a message appeared in my inbox telling me I had won a long weekend break in a Ffrith Galed Yurt.

A wheelbarrow provided to ferry your belongings

A wheelbarrow provided to ferry your belongings

I must confess, all I knew about Yurts was that they are basically posh tents. We’d already had our annual quota of “weekend breaks”, but what the heck. Late September still had a tenuous grip on the fading summer’s warmth, so we gratefully accepted the offer and headed to the Conwy Valley.

As we approached, we found Ffrith Galed nestled on the hillside above Llanrwst, with the high peaks of Snowdonia to the west and the moorlands and valleys of Hiraethog to the east. The west facing location of the farm offered breath-taking views and stunning sunsets.

Two of the Yurts concealed from on another by the adjoining hedge

Two of the Yurts concealed from on another by the adjoining hedge

Because we live in North Wales ourselves, less than fifty miles away in fact, we sometimes take our surroundings for granted. But at that moment I realised that this long weekend would be spent like tourists and enjoyed to the full.

Jayne and I have been campers for the last twenty-five years, so we were quite surprised to find a distinct lack of tents and caravans. This is absolutely not a campsite. This is literally three Yurts placed in three separate fields, each discreetly out of sight of one another. The view from our ‘home for the weekend’ was of unspoiled countryside and the sounds were minimal and rural.

In fact our lovely hosts Jo and Dylan later told us that one of the biggest stumbling blocks when applying for planning permission had been that the authorities didn’t believe they weren’t intending to fill up the three fields with tent pitches and caravan standings.

At night the plexiglass roof offers a view of the stars

Welcoming warmth
We arrived to find Jo had lit the wood burning stove. It was early evening and the warmth made the Yurt cosy and inviting against the descending chill.

It had been a long and busy day for us, so even though the Yurt had basic but adequate cooking facilities, we decided on a pub supper and headed off to the nearby village.

It was dark when we returned to Ffrith Galed and on opening the door of the Yurt we were greeting by the most magical sight. The entire circumference of the Yurt had a string of fairy lights, charged up by a solar cell and automatically switching on at dusk. Along with the beautifully decorated interior structure, the warmth of the wood and the coconut matting, and the amber glow of the wood burner all these things contributed to an ambiance that fair took our breath away.

You couldn't ask for a cosier bedroom

You couldn’t ask for a cosier bedroom

The bed – a proper bed – was comfortable; I mean really comfortable. There was a chair and a futon couch, a little two ring cooker and a basket full of logs. Camping was never before like this!

We lit candles and sat drinking wine well into the night, mesmerised by the fairytale atmosphere, before closing the damper on the stove and crawling off to bed.

Beautiful vista
In the morning, the full impact of the location revealed itself. We looked down upon a valley shrouded in clouds.

Early morning mist over the valley

Early morning mist over the valley

The sun, coming up over the horizon, gently kissed the tops of those clouds and delineated the rolling slopes of the hillsides opposite and cast long shadows of trees that were preparing to exchange their green capes for red and gold. And whilst our eyes feasted upon the vista our ears were met by the distant bleating of sheep and the call of a buzzard, and the only acknowledgement of modern times was the distant sound of a John Deer tractor doing its morning rounds of the fields.

The facilities block

The facilities block

Each of the three Yurts are situated a hundred and fifty yards or so, in opposite directions, from the car park and facilities block. This purpose built timber block houses a small communal kitchen area with dish washing facilities and a fridge.

And there is a separate private shower room and toilet for each Yurt. It is clean and well kept with lots of nice little touches such as clean new wheelbarrows, provided for the purpose of ferrying your belongings from the car park down the footpath to your Yurt.

All you could hear was sheep - oh, and some bloke warbling!

All you could hear was sheep – oh, and some bloke warbling!

A perfect away from it all holiday
If you fancy a break in the solitude and seclusion of the countryside, whilst being within easy reach of the North Wales Coast and Snowdonia with all its tourist attractions, then for your perfect holiday I can’t recommend Ffrith Galed Yurts highly enough.

You can enjoy great outdoors without compromising on comfort. Glamping at its best. It’s like camping but without the creepy crawlies.

You can contact Jo and Dylan on 07851 019 218, via their website or on Facebook

So what is a Yurt?
A traditional yurt is basically a round tent covered with skins or felt and used as a dwelling by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia.
These at Ffrith Galed are more akin to the Mongolian Ger whose structure comprises a cylindrical latticework wall with a door frame, wooden poles forming the rafters and a steam-bent wheel crown as the top supporting a Plexiglas dome.
Unlike tents which have a thin outer canvas and an inner skin, these yurts have a covering of thick felt inside a waterproof membrane to keep the warmth in and the wet out. They are built on a wooden platform carpeted in jute.

Enjoy our pictures (click to enlarge)

Early morning mist over the valley

Early morning mist over the valley

By |March 20th, 2016|0 Comments

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Mother Nature

Mother Nature personified through the voice of Julia Roberts.
Both are beautiful, but only one is vital to our well-being.
We should listen.
We should all listen.
And understand what we hear.
And act upon what we understand.

Tomorrow it could be too late.

By |December 28th, 2015|0 Comments

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A dispiriting lack of “Welcome in the Vales”

20151226_151102After a nice Boxing Day walk up Lady Bagot’s Drive, we called in at the Drovers Arms in Rhewl and found this framed press cutting from September 1982 with a picture I had taken of Mum and Dad when they retired from running the pub after 26 years. They had taken over the tenancy in 1956 from my Mum’s brother George and before him, my grandfather John Lewis.

We’ll keep a welcome in…
A lot has changed since then, sadly not all for the better. Five minutes into enjoying my Guinness, another couple walked in, and were greeted with “We’re closed”.

Then the cheery Christmas tree lights were switched off.

A couple of minutes later another gent walked in… “We’re closed”.

Glancing at the several customers with half full glasses, he asked: “Oh. Any chance I could just get a quick Coca-Cola?”. This reasonable enough request was met with an abrupt: “Well I’ve just said no to somebody else, so I’m not going to serve you, am I!”

I couldn’t believe the way the landlord was speaking to people bringing him custom. My dear old Mum and Dad, overseeing this from their gilded picture frame, would have been turning in their graves!

As the still thirsty traveller vacated the building, the landlord switched off the remaining lights in the area where we were sitting, me with half of my Guinness still remaining. Obviously aggrieved at the fact we hadn’t taken the hint and leapt up the minute the tree lights had gone out, he snapped: “Finish off now”.

I interpreted this to mean “We’ve had your money, now sod off”.

I am utterly astonished at the lack of Christmas Cheer being shown to customers at a time when pubs locally are closing down at an alarming rate.

It saddens me to say, that will be the last time I shall darken the door of the inn that was my family home for almost sixty years.

Meanwhile, I’d like to wish you all a Happy and Prosperous New Year. All except the present incumbent of the Drovers, that is!

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The good old days. Mum and Dad (Jim and Effie Birchall) at the Drovers in the fifties, and a painting by the late Arthur Dalrymple.

By |December 27th, 2015|8 Comments

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Pharaoh ‘cross the Mersey

20151208-9944This latest offering from writer Fred Lawless has all the hallmarks of the type of show that has had audiences rolling with laughter in the Royal Court aisles for the past seven Christmases.

Most theatres go for the time-honoured option of choosing a classical pantomime and then reworking the script for topical and regional purposes. This particular theatre, on the other hand, has built a reputation for dishing up something different. Back in 2009, Fred Lawless presented them with a script about two neighbours, one an avid Everton fan and the other a staunch Liverpool supporter.  Merry Ding Dong was an instant success and it set a Royal Court precedent.

20151208-9927Each year since has seen a brand new Christmas comedy which such titles as Scouse Pacific, Nightmare on Lime Street and Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fazakerley; shows that encompass the sublime predictability of a panto but with a totally original storyline.

And whilst “normal” pantomimes are aimed primarily at children, whilst at the same time laced with double entendre that will go over tender young heads, the Royal Court Christmas Shows are unashamedly adult humour gift-wrapped in scousness.

This year I was unable to attend the official press night due to prior commitments, so my review is a good week later than normal. So although I make it a rule to never read other reviews before writing mine, I’m sure most of what needs to be said has been said by now. And if there is any justice, this show will have racked up a whole bunch of 4 and 5 star ratings.

20151208-9914First, let me add a little perspective. As it was Jayne’s birthday, we left wet Wales to spend a couple of days in an equally wet Liverpool and on the first night treated ourselves to a “psychological thriller” at The Playhouse. I deliberately put that description in parenthesis because the most thrilling part was Jayne’s phone going off –unsilenced! In the end, we only managed 35 minutes of The Haunting of Hill House before becoming comatose with boredom.

20151208-9999Walking out of The Playhouse mid way though the first half, cemented what I already knew: Home-grown Royal Court productions, drawing from a pool of talented Liverpool actors, writers and directors, have hit upon a magic formula that puts bums on seats and keeps them coming back again and again. Real down-to-earth scouse humour is what makes the Court great and sets it world’s apart from your typical “luvies” theatre.

From the very second the curtain goes up on Pharaoh ‘cross the Mersey you are drawn in to a fast-moving musical comedy wonderland that doesn’t let up until the final curtain call.

20151208-0029They have a knack of getting it right. Excellent comedy, lots of action, fun puns, great songs.

It was just perfect. From Andrew Schofield’s (much flaunted) raggy underpants to Hayley Hampson’s lovely legs; from Mickey Stark’s magnificent stage presence to Lindzi Germain’s powerful singling voice; from Michael Fletcher’s rolling Russian accent to the expressive tom-foolery-in-a-fez of Danny O’Brien.

But if I just made the aforementioned sound like pantomime clowns, I can assure you they are all far more than that. They are talented actors with perfect comedy timing, the ability to take a scripted part and make it their own, great singing voices, and many of them fine musicians too. And they all truly understand Royal Court audiences.

20151208-9963As in previous years, the music, performed live on stage, forms a thread which ties the whole show together.  Songs we all know, often with suitably changed lyrics, seem to leap out of every pun. Songs that fill the whole place with energy and have you bouncing along in your seats.

I mentioned sublime predictability earlier. Well when Andrew Schofield answered “eight” to the question “how many love potions have you tried making up to now?” you just know what song the band are about to strike up!

Alex Smith has cemented his position as musical director since stepping up to the mark when Howard Gray took on the role of director.

If you’ve been to any of the Royal Court’s previous Christmas shows, Pharaoh ‘cross the Mersey is everything you’ll want it to be – and more! If it’s your first time, I promise you it won’t be your last.

The show runs until January 16th and you can book on line at the theatre’s Box Office. Do yourself a favour – do it now!

5/5 – This is definitely a five star rating for the six actors on stage and for the dozens of off stage production and theatre staff who make it all possible.


Click  to enlarge and let the pictures tell the story

 


Footnote:  It was great to see the new foyer and box office taking shape. All credit to the theatre staff for keeping this lovely Art Deco style theatre functioning through all the alterations.

By |December 11th, 2015|0 Comments

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