Theatre Review by Christine Hoey


Anita and Me – Grand Theatre, Blackpool

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Sitting in a chilly auditorium in Blackpool, we were treated to a warm-hearted and humorous performance of this play based on Meera Syal’s semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in the 1970s as part of the only Punjabi family in a close-knit all white mining community in the West Midlands. The set design realistically evokes the red brick terraced housing and is spot-on with 1970s interiors.

Aasiya Shah plays Meena, the gawky, bright Punjabi girl who forges an unlikely friendship with the seemingly cool and rebellious Anita (Laura Aramayo). Behind the facade though, Anita is the neglected daughter of an impoverished, troubled family and abandoned by her mother.

The first half of the play shows Meena’s family well integrated in the community. If anything, it is Anita’s family who are ostracised by their neighbours. This makes the violent racist attack on a visiting Punjabi council worker in the second half of the play all the more shocking. However, the play does not delve into the racial politics of the time, but instead focuses on the coming of age story and Meena’s eventual break with Anita.

Meena is surrounded by a loving extended family: her parents (Robert Mountford and ex-Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati), her aunt (Sejal Keshwala) and her formidable grandma, Nanimi, played with great humour and charisma by Rina Fatania.

Education is taken seriously in the play and the academically bright Meena has a glowing future in prospect, whereas Anita is isolated and destined, we are led to believe, for a bleaker future of early pregnancies and troubled relationships, repeating the pattern established by her parents.

Christine Hoey

Theatre Reviews by Christine Hoey & Alastair Thomas


Cyrano – Duke’s Playhouse, Lancaster

Saturday 1st April 2017

At just short of three hours’ duration, Northern Broadsides’ touring production of Cyrano engaged all the emotions, with its mix of comedy, romance, music and pathos.

Cyrano is a swashbuckling soldier-poet, in love with his beautiful cousin, Roxane, but convinced that she will never requite his love, owing to his phenomenally prominent hooter.

Christian Edwards (still recognisable under the prosthetic nose as Cosmo from our visit to Singin’ in the Rain) plays Cyrano with the requisite humour, panache and pathos. When Roxane (Sharon Singh) falls in love with the handsome but tongue-tied Christian (Adam Barlow), Cyrano undertakes to provide eloquent and poetic words of courtship on his behalf. A comic highlight is his briefing of his inarticulate love rival on how to woo Roxane.  Left to his own devices, the best Christian can come up with is “I want to nibble your neck. Well, it’s alliteration, isn’t it?”

The ruse is successful and Christian marries Roxane, but within hours he and Cyrano are despatched to the siege of Arras. The dangers, hunger, boredom and privations of the siege are beautifully conveyed via a haunting melody “The Song of the Seasons”.

The final scene, 14 years after the siege, where the widowed Roxane finally realises that the dying Cyrano has loved her all along, is hugely affecting.

With high production values in both costume and set design, the play is very well-acted by all involved. Special mention goes to Francesca Mills who is an eye-catching bundle of energy, lighting up the stage in a series of cameo parts: a nifty pickpocket, apprentice baker and gossip-hungry nun. However, there was not a single weak link in the cast, with many playing several parts – and musical instruments. One of the highlights of the play is the original period-style music excellently performed by the very talented cast.

We hope that Northern Broadsides will visit Lancaster on their next tour.

Christine Hoey

Members of the Theatre Group went to Lancaster to the Duke’s Theatre on 1 April to see a matinée performance of Cyrano.   This was an outstandingly good performance by the theatre company Northern Broadsides in association with the New Vic Theatre of Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire.  We mentioned that we had come from far Leyland, but our table-companion told us she had travelled from London to see the performance: clearly, Northern Broadsides have a loyal and extensive following.  Having seen them for the first time, I shall watch for their future performances.  They are a touring company and take Cyrano to Scarborough, York, the Lowry, Cheltenham, Bury St Edmunds, Halifax, Derby, and Oxford over the next few months.

The dialogue and repartee were witty, and delivered with impeccable timing.  Act I is set in Paris in 1640, when France was at war against Spain.  Most of the male characters are cadets (junior officers) in the Gascony Guards, so there is plenty of sword-play, very well coached by the appropriately-named Philip D’Orleans.  The rustic origins of the Gascons are well suggested by the use of regional northern English accents, while Roxanne, ‘a brilliant and beautiful young woman’ played by Sharon Singh, spoke with a very ‘refined’ Scottish accent.  Cyrano, of the unmentionably long nose, was played by Christian Edwards, and dominated the action as ‘wing-man’ and speech-maker for Christian de Neuvillette, ‘the new boy in town’, in inarticulate love with Roxanne.  Francesca Mills used her short stature to great advantage, playing an impish pickpocket, apprentice to Ragueneau the Parisian pâtissier poet, and a solemn nun – she held the audience’s attention whenever she appeared.  All the other members of the cast gave polished professional performances.  When music was required, it was provided by the cast on violin, trumpet, flute or drums.  Ligniere, the troubadour guitarist, (played by Michael Hugo) was another comedic continuity character.

The romantic comedy was originally written in rhyming couplets by Edmond Rostand, as a fictionalised account of the real life of Cyrano de Bergerac.  Its first performance in Paris in 1897 drew an hour’s applause at the end.  There have since been many translations and adaptations in English and USAnian (otherwise called American!), and even one in Azerbaijani, for stage and film performance.  This version is a new adaptation in English by Deborah McAndrew.  She retains much of the rhyme and gives the play its French flavour by using many of the expressions in Franglais familiar to us all.  The result is a fresh portrayal of an everlasting theme.  Northern Broadsides performed it with appropriate panache (flamboyant confidence or style or manner).  Comments as we left the theatre were that many of us had not known what to expect, but all of us had enjoyed it immensely.

Alastair Thomas

Visit to Bury Market

Great trip to Bury Market on Friday 21 April. All went smoothly, in the capable hands of  Dave (driving) & Jenny & Keith (organising). Jenny even got free shopping bags for everyone- kudos!  Not just Black puddings, but an  amazing variety of goods for sale.  Loads of bargains in meat, fish, fruit & veg, material & sewing items and all kinds of everything. Reminded me of the shop content in Sids poem. Bought as much as I could carry (with a little help)  Let us know how you cook the kerala (strange spiky vegetable) & whether it is delicious Maureen.  Will definitely revisit.




Visit to Dewlay Cheese & Garstang

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A  large group of Leyland U3A members went on an outing today, first to Dewlay cheese at Garstang for a talk. tour & tasting and then to the town & markets.

The day began with brews & biscuits and we were told about Dewlay by the  enthusiastic, knowledgeable and cheese-loving Jane.  The founder George Kenyon, from Wigan, wanted a name that indicated quality food. Dewlay was how he thought  Du Lait , the French for “from milk “was written and the name stuck. Dewlay now produces top quality products from locally sourced milk. They make 5 basic cheeses, Lancs crumbly, creamy, tasty, white & Garstang  blue, all of which  are  totally vegetarian,  unlike eg Parmesan.  We saw the cheese being made. Turning the curds involved. very heavy manual work. Also Prince Charles personal Earl Grey teapot, which he left behind on Tuesday. We were given 2 generous boards of cheese to sample – we should have taken bread to make sandwiches.

We then went in Garstang had lunch and bought lots of shoes

Thanks to Ann France for her hard work in organising this successful trip.



March Monthly Meeting

A Lancashire Garland – Sid Calderbank 

17 03

Sid admitted he loves grubbing around dusty old archives researching Lancashire and its dialect and then performing the poems, songs and stories that form part of our ‘intangible heritage’.  He reminded us that his last talk took us up to 1856 and was about Edwin ‘Ned’ Waugh, the inspiration of hundreds of other dialect authors and poets. One of which was Samuel Laycock, a Yorkshire man born in Marsden but who moved to Stalybridge when he was eight.  Sam worked in the cotton mills and was inspired by Ned Waugh to write.  Sid performed one of his poems, “Bowton’s Yard”. Sam like half a million other cotton workers in Lancashire lost his job as a result of the Cotton Famine in the early 1860’s and he took to writing to support himself.  Sid performed one of his songs from that time, “Th’ Shurat Weaver’s Song”.  Sam later moved to Blackpool and became a supporter of the RNLI.  We were told of the loss of the Southport and St Anne’s lifeboats and 27 lifeboat men, the largest loss of life in the history of the RNLI, during the rescue of the crew of ‘The Mexico’ in 1886 and we learned that as a result Sir Charles Macara and his wife Marion were instrumental in establishing the first public collection days for the RNLI. Sam wrote “Tribute to the Drowned” following that disaster and Sid performed an excerpt from it. Sid then went on to discuss the “Bowton Luminary”, edited by John Taylor Staton, a penny dreadful which was published from 1852 to 1862. Staton later produced an anthology of poems and stories submitted to the “Bowtun Luminary”, one of which was Frank Ormerod’s “Owd Shunt” and we were treated to an excerpt from that.  Sid concluded with Edwardian musical hall poem by Ben Woods, “Bobby Grundy A Village Shopkeeper”, a veritable tour de force.  As always Sid demonstrated his knowledge and enthusiasm for the Lancashire dialect and the wit of its writers. His enthusiasm was felt by all and we were treated to an enjoyable and entertaining presentation.

David O’Malia