Saturday, 23 April 2016

New Eltham's Fiddler on the Roof

Musical theatre is not normally my thing. The final straw came a couple of decades ago when I had to walk out of Lloyd Webber’s never-ending show, Time, at the interval – I couldn't stand it anymore.

All that suspension of disbelief, all those excruciating looks on their faces as they emoted around tenuous plots – no. No more. I was done.

It may be surprising to hear this from a Brit-Asian bought up on a diet of Bollywood's musical films. In these films it was an unremarkable and frequent happening for 30, or more, backing singers and dancers to suddenly pop up and accompany the hero and heroine as they burst into song in some verdant scene.

Admittedly, the more excessive fantasy sequences went out with the 80s and 90s (I’m thinking demure Indian woman, with improbably blonde wig, with oversize silver puffball sleeves, swinging on a huge low-slung crescent moon amidst a smoke machine on full power…you get the picture). No, these days one is able to enjoy more ‘realism’ in Bollywood cinema, though it’s all relative of course. I mean, the highly-westernised, elite wealthy, light-skinned lives portrayed in many of today’s Indian blockbusters are a million miles away from the lives of ordinary Indians.

I was amazed then to find myself transfixed by last night’s production of Fiddler On The Roof by New Eltham Community Productions (NECP), a performing arts groups based at the New Eltham Methodist Church in the south-East of London. What had initially been a well-meaning booking to support some local artistic activity has now turned out to be a revelation.

From the Programme
The stunning quality of all the creative talent on show belied the fact that this was an amateur production. The spot-on choreography, the surprise live orchestral music, the period costumes, the track lighting and, of course, the acting, would not be out of place at a central London venue at a ticket four times the price. Instead, we were sitting in a small church community centre in a sleepy suburb (or ‘New Eltham Village’ if you please…)

‘Fiddler’ is of course a well-established musical play and film, a staple for amateur companies – the story of a life in Anatevka, pre-revolutionary Russian Jewish village, focussing on Tevye’, a dairyman and the ‘Papa’ trying to bring his daughters up according to the long-held traditions of the community. Modernity and love get in the way, as ever. The setting may seem obscure but its universal themes, and stonking tunes, have proved highly-appealing. Come to think of it, this IS every Bollywood film!

This NECP production is skilfully directed and choreographed by Hannah Bond.  The large cast challenged with many musical numbers and dances were brilliantly handled. The catchy opening whole-cast number ‘Tradition’ set the tone and was a refrain throughout. Later “If I was a Rich Man” was subtly done without giving into to hamming it up. The key lead Jewish father, Tevye is played brilliantly by Neil Stevens who, by all accounts, grew a beard especially for this part along with other male cast members. He struck just the right note with his combination of serious and comedic acting (“On the one hand…, on the other hand…, on the other hand, there is no hand”). For me, a large part of this production’s success was Neil Stevens’ ability to hold the audience for his solo pieces and to take us so convincingly with him on his journey. The acting was matched by his stage wife, Golde, played magnificently by Rachel King, with both of them excellent singers too.

A real and unexpected treat was the live orchestra and the entrancing 'fiddler' who started off playing in a small balcony above the stage and then descended later to interact with Tevye as he muses on life.

There was poignancy, comedy and romance in the portrayal of this little village but also the intrusion of the darker outside world. We see this Jewish community in Russia subjected to a progrom by anti-Semitic Czarist forces forcing our characters to flee and scatter, many setting off to emigrate to America as refugees, a sadly familiar scenario still with us though with different collection of communities, faiths and countries.

In short, I’d thoroughly recommend this production though it finishes its run tonight! However, I’m so glad to add the discovery of this gem to our list of local Eltham and SE London venues. We shall be looking out for the next NECP production.

See local professional photographer Robert Piwko's fabulous photographs of this production here.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

"Warm Welcome to Winter in Eltham" - Eltham Arts Winter Festival nearly here!

One of the biggest arts and cultural events to hit Eltham starts next Saturday.

The Eltham Arts Winter Festival takes place from 31 October to 22 November at venues all over the SE9 area. This unique three-week community festival also includes an Art Trail of fabulous art which can be seen in and around Eltham High Street and surrounding areas.

Poetry, theatre, music, exhibitions, talks, quizzes and yes, a beer festival (!), can all be found during the Festival in SE9's cafes, shop windows, galleries, community centres, theatres and historic buildings. It all kicks off with a Halloween-flavoured opening event on Saturday 31 October at Eltham's Passey Place from 11am to 3pm.

I'm very excited to have been involved in this entirely voluntary initiative organised by Eltham Arts, a community organisation established in 2013 to promote the arts and led by its energetic Chair, Gaynor Wingham. So many people have contributed, from local artists of all sorts, local venues, local businesses and many other Eltham Arts supporters. We were delighted to have the tremendous support of the widely-read Greenwich Visitor local newspaper which has published the full Festival programme in its October issue with an introductory article by me.

You can download the full Festival programme at the Eltham Arts website, including details of the Art Trail, or pick up a copy of Greenwich Visitor at various venues (including the Eltham Sainsbury's).  Do also check out Eltham Arts on Twitter for updates, news and any changes.

In the meantime, here's an at-a-glance run down of the events which you can enlarge:

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Eltham Hustings - GE 2015

Last night we had before us four out of the five candidates standing for the Eltham constituency in the General Election on 7 May.

Eltham is a marginal constituency, in the southern half of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, with some interesting developments. The 2010 election saw the Labour candidate hold his seat with a majority of 1,663 (4.0%).

We gathered at 7.30pm in the Eltham Baptist Church on Westmount Road for this little advertised event. It was a packed house. The chair turned out to be the resident pastor, 'Rev Paul' as he introduced himself. The candidates present were, in the order they were sitting, left to right:

Alex Cunliffe (Lib Dem), Spencer Drury (Conservative), Clive Efford (Labour), Paul Oakley (UKIP subbing for candidate Peter Whittle), James Parker (Green)
Efford and Cunliffe were the first to arrive, with the UKIP rep being about 10 mins late.
'Rev Paul' began the proceedings very efficiently explaining the structure but a bit disappointingly letting us know that there would be no questions from the floor - instead only pre-written questions, tidied and selected by a 'team', would be accepted, with no discussion.  This drew some consternation on Twitter (I was attempting to cack-handedly 'live tweet' the event):

Each candidate began with a five minute statement, timed with frightening efficiency via an overhead countdown display (we need this at work meetings...).

A terrible summary of their statements:

Lib Dems:  spoke on what they've stopped the Tories doing over last 5 years; what their own priorities are; listed the 'red lines' from their manifesto; being proud of holding back extreme positions and holding the centre ground.

Labour: Not been a greater divide between the parties. The choices are clear. Listed the services Labour would want to protect. Want to clear the debt but also want to do it in a fair way. Pointed out that young families have suffered most, according to a study he quoted. Wants to build houses, protect society and deal with the economy.

Cons: Stressed that he was part of the local community. Wants to get the big picture right, economy etc. and also focus on local issues ie. school places, housing etc.

UKIP: Concentrated on the national economic picture; questioned where the Tory £8bil for the NHS was coming from; HS2 "was ridiculous".

Greens: wanted to look not from a petty politics perspective but from an intelligent perspective; the coming climate crisis needed to be recognised. (sorry, I drifted a bit during this...)

And then they were off with the questions - paraphrasing them:
(Sadly, I don't have time now to post fully on their replies to the questions but there were no surprises, here's a flavour...I may be able to update this later, or not..)

Q1: How do you intend to deal with/resolve/manage (?) the spiralling debt of the NHS?

(Labour would build up a fund from various sources e.g. Mansion Tax. Tory was 'bemused' and felt Tories had sorted out things locally eg. QEH debt, Eltham community Hospital. LD (I drifted) but I'm sure he said they would sort it out, his wife works in NHS... UKIP said they disagreed with everyone. Gave Lewisham A&E example as one of people victory against Tories. Redirect Foreign Aid money)

Q2: Many children have not been offered their first choice of school; how will you resolve/address this, and we don't want to hear you doing the 'blame game' in your answer?

(This last clause drew a collective appreciative sigh!)

Q3: With the high deficit, are we living beyond our means and do we have the right to burden our children with it?
(everyone said yes, and no to this question)

Q4: What are you planning to do about the rise in violence?
(Bit of bemusement - what did the question mean? Some candidates answered on a local/national basis, others widened out to extremism; bit of discussion here about local Safer Neighbourhood Schemes)

Q5: Why are there no women on this panel? What are you doing to involve more women?

(All agreed should be encouraged. Drury held up Elizabeth Truss as a recent success story, so good now propelled to the heart of govt; UKIP agreed, said he'd been 'friends' with Truss 'for a long time' and pointed to their 'brilliant candidate' in Lewisham East, the controversial Anne Marie Waters...)

Q6: What are you planning to do to alleviate housing and give young people a choice of owning their own home? (asked by Eltham North Cllr, Linda Bird)
(Basically, need to increase the supply, restrict overseas buying, make affordable, against big local developments eg. Kidbrooke, that don't help)

Q7: What are your thoughts on freedom of speech, freedom of thought and dissent in society being suppressed due to laws on perceived bigotry?
(again the standard answers, with obligatory mention of the Voltaire quote (that wasn't actually a Voltaire quote); big clap for Drury when mentions the 'propaganda' of Greenwich Time)

Overall, although there were no surprises, it was good to see the candidates and hear from them in person. Questions from the floor would have been a good alternative but that would have involved a different ball game for organising this.

There's so much more to add but I have to feed the kids, make their packed lunches and go to work now...(cue violins).

Monday, 20 October 2014

Getting Arty in Eltham

For anyone interested in developing the arts locally, the place to be in Eltham at the weekend was a conference called Creative Eltham – Developing the Arts’. 
Over 70 people gathered last Saturday afternoon at the Friendship Centre, Glenure Road in Eltham for an afternoon of lively talks, debate and sharing, The aims of the event included discussing how the various arts in and around Eltham could be developed, both for practitioners and for audiences. 
Under the umbrella of Eltham Arts, the community organisation established in August 2013, many people were brought together ranging from local arts organisations, local residential groups, businesses, local councillors, individual artist practitioners and interested locals wanting to get involved (see below for list).  A range of the creative arts seemed to be represented - visual art, drama, dance, music, crafts and the voice and language arts.
Photo courtesy of @Eltham Arts
In her introduction to the proceedings, Gaynor Wingham, Chair of Eltham Arts, spoke about how the great value of all these arts has long been acknowledged for society, for individual health and for the environment and business. So how can we encourage them in Eltham and make more people aware of what’s going on in our wonderfully talented community?
The audience firstly heard from Miranda Williams, Cabinet Member for Culture and Creative Industries, who despite battling a cold, spoke about the role of Greenwich Council in developing the arts in Eltham. Inevitably audience questions homed in on funding. We were told about the Greenwich Community Arts Fund, a Council budget to which groups are encouraged to apply for funding. But we also later learnt about a Mayor’s High Street Fund,] in which grants of up to £20,000 are available to successful applications (this year by 1 December 2014, so skates on!).
Another need by local arts groups was space - the Cabinet Member undertook to find out about availability of Council spaces for such groups who are hard-pressed to meet commercial rates.
Next up was Heather Lilley, Senior Lecturer in Drama at University of Greenwich who spoke about the fascinating Reminiscence Theatre. In this initiative students work from the archives of Pam Schweitzer, performing for elderly audiences extracts from the poignant recorded reminiscences of people from times gone by. Hearing about these intergenerational encounters brought us back to the connection between the arts and well-being. The company had performed in sheltered homes and units and were open to invitations to perform in Eltham too - and they are free!
Providing an international perspective, our third and final keynote speaker was Amy Ash - artist, curator and teacher - currently the Learning and Participation Curator at the Gerald Moore Gallery in Mottingham. She spoke about experiences in her native Canada about connections between the arts and community and the nurturing of new talent. We heard how the Gerald Moore Gallery has been reaching out to the community with its public programme, courses and workshops.
Having been suitably enthused, the conference attendees were now ready to contribute their ideas. People divided into workshops, each looking at one big theme with the aim of coming up with at least one big idea. The themes were:
  • Publicity and Marketing
  • Business and Regeneration
  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Funding and Development
  • Arts for All
Much animated discussion later, we came together to hear the ideas which had been discussed. What were they? You shall have to wait for that - the ideas are being collated and will hopefully be shared soon on the Eltham Arts website. Photos from the event can be seen the Eltham Arts Facebook.
This first conference by Eltham Arts was a great success in bringing together such a wealth of talent, experience and interest from within our community. Keep tuned for the next steps.
Here’s the list of the organisations who were on the attendance list, showing the vast range and potential we have on our doorstep:
·         Avery Hill Winter Gardens
·         Bob Hope Theatre
·         CANE (New Eltham)
·         Conran Estates
·         Creative Arts Net
·         Eldorado Musical Productions
·         Eltham GPO
·         Eltham Park Residents’ Association
·         Eltham Regeneration
·         Emergency Exit Arts
·         Folkmob
·         Friends of Avery Hill Park
·         Gerald Moore Gallery
·         GLL - Eltham Library
·         Greenwich Heritage Centre
·         Greenwich Mind
·         Greenwich Theatre
·         Greenwich University
·         Lanaart
·         New Eltham Operatic Society
·         Priory Players
·         Progress Estate Resident’s Association
·         Royal Eltham Writers Circle
·         Royal Greenwich Council
·         St Thomas Moore Secondary School, Art Dept
·         White Hart pub
·         and many individual locals artists

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Eltham's history through its architecture

Listening to Pam Hildrew at the Library at the Eltham Centre
We went along tonight to the final talk in the successful 'Eltham Entertains' series. In 'Home is where the Heart Lies' Pam Hildrew gave a fascinating talk on how buildings reflect historical developments and the architectural styles of some local houses that reflect the history of Eltham.

Pam has trained as a London tour guide and now works as a yeoman guide at the Old Royal Naval College. Her fascination with history shone through as she gave a chronological run through Eltham from the early days of the time when Eltham Palace was built, all the way through to the between-the-world wars suburban developments.

Corbett's Eltham

We learnt that Eltham enjoyed a glorious rural past and later had magnificent villas and houses being commissioned by wealthy gentlefolk. The advent of the railway brought greater interest from further a field. The first prospective (rather than commissioned) houses were built by teetotal MP and philanthropist Cameron Corbett on the 340 acres of Eltham land which he had purchased.  His Edwardian Corbett houses proved popular and are still in demand today. 

One little nugget I picked up was about the attempt to individualise these houses as far as possible - look at the 'keystones' above the doorway arches and notice how on many Corbett houses they have different faces above them, often alternately male and female (in fact we spotted this on our walk back home, on the stretch of Grangehill Road opposite the Gordon Primary School entrance).

We heard about the incredible history of the Progress Estate, built on former farm land, with its current roads reflecting the original field boundaries which is why so many of them are curved. Our knowledgeable speaker also covered Severndroog Castle, Theobalds Cottages in Avery Hill Road, Green Lanes, impact of the great fire on window regulations, the houses in Court Road and Southend Crescent, the flamboyant Avery Hill gatehouse and so much more!

My young daughter, a history buff, came with me and I was impressed by the copious notes which she took. I should say that we unfortunately missed the early part of the talk.

Well done to Pam Hildrew, and to Eltham Arts for organising this wonderful series of talks. I hear that a Music Festival is next on the horizon...

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Eltham local elections results 2014

You've seen all the results by now. Labour of course held the Council, the London Borough of Royal Greenwich, but managed to increase its majority - Labour now have 43 seats compared to 40 in 2010, the Conservatives now have 8 seats, three less compared to 11 previously.

Out of the Council's 17 wards, much of the tension during the count on the Friday, following voting on the Thursday (22 May), was focused on the two Eltham wards which I'm closest to. My brief pre-election post here.

Following the other ward results dribbling in from mid-afternoon, we had to wait until the evening for Eltham North's results, and nail-bittingly a bit later for Eltham South's.

Finally, while I was knee-deep in cooking the family's dinner, the Royal Greenwich twitter account tweeted at 6.47pm:

It proved to be one of the most startling results for the borough. The previous three Tory councillors had been reduced to one, with Labour taking the other two, for the first time ever. Here's the full result for that ward:

 Results for Eltham North ward:

Linda BIRD
Paul Stephen BUTLER
Spencer DRURY
Patrick EARLY
Liberal Democrats
Liberal Democrats
Simon Warwick PEIRCE
Green Party
Roberta Florence Louise WOODS

And here are the two new Labour councillors:

Spencer Drury retained his seat - fortunate for them as he is Leader of the Tory Group (and was re-elected as such following this election) and is also the chosen Tory candidate in next year's National Election, against the current popular Labour MP, Clive Efford. Obviously the Tories have chosen to play it safer this time rather than parachute in a candidate as they did last time with David Gold, for this key marginal seat.

The now ex-Deputy Leader of the Tories, Nigel Fletcher, was one of the victims of the Labour gain though his count was very close showing just how highly-contested this ward was. He was much admired for the graciousness with which he accepted his defeat, posting his reactions on Twitter.

So did UKIP steal the Tory vote? Well, if UKIP's 1,221 votes are added wholesale to the total Tory numbers (5,317 + 1,221 = 6,538), then UKIP did steal the Tory hatrick (total Labour votes: 5,444). But we don't know how many previous Labour or BNP votes went to UKIP...

Two other results are startling too.The Lib Dem's total 3,015 votes in 2010 compared to 412 this time. And the BNP's 686 in 2010 compared to 307 this time.

In Eltham South, the Tory-UKIP battle was potentially complicated by the ex-Tory Eileen Glover standing as an Independent. In the end that wasn't a factor. The Conservatives managed to hold on to their three seats in a very closely-fought contest.

Results for Eltham South ward:

Michael David CHUTER
Liberal Democrats
Eileen Joan COX
Liberal Democrats
Mark Stuart ELLIOTT
John Robert EVANS
Eileen Wordie GLOVER
Liberal Democrats
Thelma Grace PEETE
Jagir Kaur SEKHON
David William TURNER
Green Party

The other striking news about the Eltham North ward was its extraordinary voter turnout. Whereas the overall turnout for the borough was 37.25 per cent (65,055 ballot papers) Eltham North had a turnout of 50.26%. Here's the borough's Turnout and verified papers by ward:

Verified ballot papers
Abbey Wood
Blackheath Westcombe
Coldharbour & New Eltham
Eltham North
Eltham South
Eltham West
Greenwich West
Kidbrooke with Hornfair
Middle Park and Sutcliffe
Shooters Hill
Thamesmead Moorings
Woolwich Common
Woolwich Riverside

Other results for the Royal Greenwich here.

There have been some interesting and noteworthy results around the Borough which I've been reading about but I haven't got time to cover them!  For that and for a great account of the results of the borough's local elections, including some close-insight into the 'count day', as ever, see the 853 blog.