Stories and announcements

15Dec. 2017.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk

....first and foremost a love story... 

Writer Daniel Jamieson explores the inspiration behind The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, 
his play for Kneehigh Theatre - the love of artists Marc and Bella Chagal.

From the moment they fell for each other in Vitebsk, Belarus in 1909, Marc Chagall and his wife, Bella, seemed to share a particular way of seeing the world. Bella was a talented writer and her description of their first encounter is like a Chagall painting in words: 'The door opened wider… I felt hot with apprehension… as if something were scorching me. Light spread over the walls, and against them appeared the face of a boy…his eyes, they were as blue as if they’d fallen straight out of the sky.'

Famously, Marc often painted himself and Bella flying together, as if their shared joy had such force it defied the law of gravity itself. In his painting Birthday, they appear surprised by their flight, rising towards the ceiling like two astonished bubbles of ecstasy. In Over the Town, they drift high over Vitebsk as you only fly in dreams, but magically sharing the same floating reverie. There can be few more vivid evocations in art of how it feels to be in love.

The Chagalls’ story is also remarkable because it is so interwoven with 20th-century history. Marc was in Paris before the First World War, when Modernism was at its height and Cubism was just taking off. He briefly returned to Russia to marry Bella and got trapped there by the war, narrowly avoiding conscription into the Tsar’s army. They were then swept up in the Russian Revolution and when they did finally make it back to Western Europe, they got caught up in the beginnings of the Holocaust. They just escaped from France to America by the skin of their teeth in 1941.

But there is a contemporary resonance to The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk as well because it deals with the trauma of the refugee experience. In exile, Marc and Bella watched in horror as the Jewish homeland of their youth was systematically destroyed and the Nazis set about murdering the entire Jewish population of Europe. There is a strong
sense of their homesickness for a home that no longer exists. This must surely echo the experience of those who’ve fled from Mosul or Homs or Rakhine State today. If and when these people can return, will there be anything left of the home they left behind?

The theme of exile also gives the show an international flavour, which carries through into the language - many of the songs are in Yiddish, Russian or French. There is a celebration of the texture of different languages, their beauty beyond meaning. In this way the show invites an enjoyment of moving between cultures as if laying down rugs between houses for a party. Perhaps we don’t always need to understand each other’s every word to enjoy each other’s company.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk
is quite unusual for Kneehigh in that it only has two characters – just Marc and Bella - but it has the chutzpah of Kneehigh’s grander work on a chamber scale. This intimacy suits what remains, after all, at its heart, the story of two people in love.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk comes to Wilton's from 17th January until 10th February, tickets on sale here.
Read more
21Nov. 2017.

Plays Without Décor Programme

Are you a young or emerging director looking for some space and support to workshop some of your brilliant ideas? Well, Wilton’s Plays Without Décor Programme may be for you. 
As part of our Learning and Participation Programme, Wilton’s is offering four emerging directors the chance to use Wilton’s Aldgate and Allhallows Learning and Participation Studio for one week between January - April 2018.  

Dates and Times

Monday 22nd – Friday 26th January 10.00 – 21.30
Monday 12th – Friday 18th February 10.00 – 21.30
Monday 19th – Friday 23rd March 10.00 – 21.30
Monday 9th – Friday 13th April 10.00 – 21.30  

The Space
Aldgate and Allhallows Learning and Participation Studio is a beautiful, light and airy purpose-built space dedicated to our learning and participation activities. The Studio has a capacity of 40, to include audience and company. Wilton’s would provide seating if requested and an usher, if needed, but this is a Plays Without Décor season and so we will not provide any technical equipment and we will ask that your pieces do not include any set, lighting, sound or any other technical equipment.  

The Offer
Wilton’s will give the space for free, although if you decide to use some of your time to produce a reading, a workshop or a semi-staged performance we will manage the Box Office for you and you will take 100% of the revenue which we would ask goes towards paying any practitioners you have asked to help you.  

You will also receive up to two hours mentoring from the Wilton’s team, which could include sessions on:
Producing – led by Becky Ruffell and/or Holly Kendrick
Marketing – led by Amy Wilkes
Fundraising – led by Rachael Palmer
You could choose what sessions are most useful to you and your project.  

If you are chosen then we would ask you to sign a simple agreement detailing what is expected of you and what we expect of you.  

Some things to note: Plays with Décor is just that – please don’t apply to produce something with technical kit. We are happy for you to do a performance to a paying audience but we can only support one performance during the week and we will set ticket prices.  

How to Apply
If you would like to apply for a slot in the Plays Without Décor Programme you can do so by filling in the application form.
You will need to tell us how you would use your week in the Studio, why your project is important and what benefits you would gain from the experience. You can apply to do a workshop, readings, a performance without décor. We are looking for original and exciting ideas.

If you would like to work on a published text and wish to do a showing to a paying audience you must have the rights.

The deadline for applications is Monday 18th December 2018.
Read more
13Nov. 2017.

Drawing competition

To celebrate the world premiere of The Box of Delights Wilton’s is running a drawing competition for Key Stage 2 (years 3-6).

We would like you to draw or paint a picture of what you imagine might be contained within the magical Box of Delights. The winning entry will be printed on the front cover of The Box of Delights programme for the duration of the production’s run at Wilton’s, 1st December 2017 – 6th January 2018.

The winner will also receive four tickets to see a performance of their choice of The Box of Delights, subject to availability.

This competition closes on Friday 17th November at midday, so get drawing!

To find out more, download the information pack here
Read more
3Nov. 2017.

When did the first violin appear?

Kreutzer Quartet leader and violin virtuoso Peter Sheppard Skaerved returns to his favourite venue later this month, taking you through the history of the violin, and instilling in you some of his enthusiasm for the instrument... 

When did the first violin appear? That’s a question which I often get asked, and the answer is, well, complicated…

...But one thing can be said; in the mid-1500s a Cremonese luthier (string-instrument maker) called Andrea Amati (c.1500 – 1577) started producing instruments which set the model and the standard for every violin, viola and cello that followed. Very few of these instruments survive, and only a handful can be played. It’s incredibly exciting, as well as rare, to hold one of these violins and am lucky enough to regularly perform and record on the instrument which I will play tonight. The very fact that I can perform on an violin made during the reign of Elizabeth 1st is wonderful, but it is also an astonishing violin, offering challenges and colour which still exceed what a modern player will need. 

Andrea Amati violin (ca. 1570)

For the Amati violin, this Telemann Fantasy is a wonderful work to hear the range of colours and timbres of this violin; intimate and up close, the sound of the violin right under the player's ear! 

Andrea founded a dynasty; his son Girolamo (c. 1561 – 1630) made astonishing violins, one of which will also be heard tonight, dated the year before his death. This is, in every respect, a ‘modern’ violin; I have played everything from very early works, big concertos, and lots of ‘extreme’ contemporary music on this instrument; it fills the biggest halls, and has a truly sensual sound. 

Playing the Girolamo Amati 1629 to Mags from A-ha

In this video I play and talk about the violin, alongside contemporary precious objects from the early 1600s in the astonishing Waddesdon Room at the the British Museum. Early violins were prized for their visual beauty, and designed to be seen alongside precious works of art and curiosities such as these. 

Girolamo’s son, Nicolò Amati (1596 – 1684), most famous of the Amati dynasty, may have taught Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737) greatest of all makers. Tonight’s concert also features a unique small ‘Strad’ made in 1685 This is not a children’s violin, but reminder, that in the 17th century, there were as many sizes of instrument as clarinets; you simply used a different instrument for different colours or pitches. I would describe this as a ‘soprano’ violin. It’s in almost perfect condition, and is full of wonderful colours. 

Listen to music from the 1680s played on this 1685 Stradavari violin in this album, heard here in a miraculous Christopher Wren Church from built in the same decade!

Close up of the exquisite, and perfect back of the 1685 Stradivari

These are just three of the instruments that will be heard in our concert! There will be more, from the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries, each distinctive in their own way. Come along and hear them, playing music from four centuries. 

Listen to these pieces and more on The Voice of The Violin playlist on our Spotify here.

Peter Sheppard Skaerved performs The Voice of the Violin on 21st November. Tickets are available here.

Read more
25Oct. 2017.

A Perfect Fit

Sometimes, the artistic stars align and the right people find themselves collaborating on the right work in the right place at the right time. Such are the happy circumstances in which OperaGlass Works present their debut production here at Wilton’s: Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. The history of the opera, its story and that of the creative team behind the production are like the threads of a web, connecting people, places and times. If ever an opera was meant to find its way to Wilton’s stage, this must surely be the one.

Igor Stravinksy was inspired to write his only full-scale opera after seeing William Hogarth’s celebrated engravings in 1947. The artist, satirist and social critic engraved the series of eight scenes for print shortly after painting his original canvasses in the early 1730s. This second of what he referred to as his ‘modern moral subjects’ depicts the fate of Tom Rakewell, who inherits his miserly father’s fortune only to squander it twice, finally sinking into madness and ending his life in the Royal Bethlem Hospital in Moorfields, or Bedlam as it became known.

Stravinsky invited his fellow émigré to the US, W H Auden, to write the libretto for The Rake’s Progress, a commission which the poet felt to be one of the greatest honours of his life.  Auden enlisted the help of his companion, the poet, translator and opera-lover, Chester Kallman. The two had met shortly after Auden moved to New York in 1939. Kallman was 18 and beautiful and Auden, 14 years his senior, fell hopelessly in love with him. Their ‘marriage’ (as Auden liked to think of it) was, however, short-lived as Kallman soon proved himself utterly incapable of sexual fidelity - a true rake, in fact. Despite this, they remained friends and even shared a home until Auden’s death in 1973.  The opera was premiered at Venice’s Teatro La Fenice in 1951, followed by major productions in Paris and New York.

L-R: WIlliam Hogarth, Igor Stravinsky, Chester Kallman, Wystan Auden

The libretto is only loosely based on Hogarth’s story but shares its irony that Tom’s ‘progress’ is, of course, precisely the opposite. His lust for money and the high-life leads him to turn his back on his virtuous betrothed and head to London with the mysterious Nick Shadow, who turns out to be the Devil. He descends into debauchery, debt and prison, finally losing his mind and his life as well as his money. He becomes addicted to drink and gambling. He frequents brothels and the dens of iniquity that were precursors to the Victorian pubs and music halls condemned by the Methodists, who saw themselves as rescuing Wilton’s from the Devil’s hands when they took possession of the building in 1888. Just one of the reasons OperaGlass Works set their hearts on staging The Rake's Progress within these walls, with their evocative dilapidated grandeur to heighten the sense of decline and decay.

The company of directors, singers, musicians, actors and designers has been a long time in the making. They are friends, collaborators and seasoned professionals. Between them, they have a wealth of experience, skills and talents to complement and feed each other, dovetail and come together to create something very special. Their mission is to bring about change in the world of opera. They want to present world class, highly engaging productions in exquisite and intimate spaces. They want to do away with the fourth wall and put the performers back in contact with the audience. They want to reintroduce the immediacy of 18th century theatre and opera, with performers talking and singing directly to those watching, rather than at them from a physical and artistic distance.

OperaGlass Works was founded by Selina Cadell and Eliza Thompson, who discovered Wilton’s charm when they collaborated here on Congreve’s The Way of The World in 2003. Selina is not only a respected actor on stage and screen (you may have seen her in The Dresser in the West End, The Habit of Art at the National or in ITV’s Doc Martin) but also a director specialising in 17th and 18th century theatre and opera. She is Head of Drama at National Opera Studio (who presented Dubai – Rostov - New York at Wilton’s in May) and a regular coach at the Royal Opera House. Eliza is a composer, arranger and music supervisor and consultant for film, television and theatre. Together, they have worked on Love for Love at the RSC, The Rivals at the Arcola, Handel’s Arianna in Creta at the Britten Theatre and the film The Madness of King George, to name only a few.

In the Right Place: Selina arrives at Wilton's

Their methods are more akin to development and rehearsal for theatre than for opera. As Eliza explains, 'Singers spend most of their time perfecting their singing technique without the opportunity to explore how they can liberate that technique by learning acting methods'. Rehearsal periods will be lengthy to allow a full exploration of the irony and depth of text as well as score and, as Selina pointed out in day two of rehearsals: 'when you start to examine the words, it’s like peeling an onion, uncovering layer after layer of meaning and context'. The process is intensely collaborative for everyone involved and the team Eliza and Selina have brought together make for an extraordinarily rich mix.

Laurence Cummings, who will conduct on stage from his harpsichord, is one of this country’s foremost experts in historical performance and has been Artistic Director of the London Handel Festival for almost 20 years. He has conducted for countless opera companies and orchestras. For The rake’s Progress, he will lead the Southbank Sinfonia, a group of 33 outstanding graduates from all over the world. Here he is playing Air Harpsichord at his first costume fitting:

Tom Piper is one of the most sought-after designers in theatre today. He has been Associate Designer for the RSC since 2004, has won many awards including an Olivier and is renowned for the famous poppies installation at the Tower of London. He also happens to be designing The Box of Delights for Wilton’s this Christmas. Costume design is by none other than BAFTA winner, Rosalind Ebbutt, whose amazing work for ITV has included Victoria, Downton Abbey and Foyle’s War. And the principal cast is positively dazzling: Robert MurraySusanna Hurrell, Jonathan Lemalu, Stephen Richardson, Penelope Cousland, Harry NicollWe are deeply honoured to host such an extraordinary debut production.  

L to R:  Robert Murray, Eliza Thompson, Selina Cadell, Stephen Richardson - still smiling at the end of a hard day's rehearsals!

Although written in a post-war avant garde period, Stravinsky’s score is widely held to be his most melodious composition, borrowing from historic operatic conventions whilst remaining a distinctly modern work. Composer Thomas Adès conducted The Rake’s Progress at Covent Garden in 2008 and proclaimed it to be 'one of the greatest operas there is'. A bold statement for an exceptional work, and Hogarth’s moral tale has been inspiring similarly significant artistic responses for almost three hundred years. To list just a few 20th century examples: Gavin Gordon and Ninette de Valois’ 1935 ballet designed by Rex Whistler; David Hockney’s etchings of the same title (he also designed the 1975 production of Stravinsky’s opera at Glyndebourne); Grayson Perry’s tapestries, The Vanity of Small Differences; and Yinka Shonibare MBE’s photographic tableaux, Diary of a Victorian Dandy. Hogarth was a founding governor of the Foundling Hospital and, in 2014, the Foundling Museum marked the 250th anniversary of his death by showing Hockney, Shonibare and Perry alongside a new commission from Jessie Brennan. Brennan’s A Fall of Ordinariness and Light explored the concept of ‘progress’ in the context of gentrification in the deprived London Borough of Tower Hamlets – home to Wilton’s Music Hall. The Foundling Museum’s exhibition guide described A Rake’s Progress as 'an unflinching portrayal of the corruption, hypocrisy, vice and occasional virtue of eighteenth-century London'. Such perennial themes continue to strike chords today and an opera that questions whether it is love or money that is more important will forever be relevant.

If you fancy taking a look at Hogarth’s original paintings before enjoying OperaGlass Works’ production, you can find them on display in the Sir John Soane’s Museum, where they have been since 1810. Then why not hop over to to Leicester Square and say hello to the bust of Hogarth himself?

The Rake’s Progress runs 17th to 25th November and you can buy tickets here.
Read more
10Aug. 2017.

“She will never tell this story to anyone, to any other living soul ...

. . . so the audience becomes part of her psyche, part of her . . . they get to peek behind the curtain, peel back the layers of her mind and look inside.” Director, Bruce Guthrie on Ella Gericke, the central character in Manfred Karge’s Man to Man, played by Margaret Ann Bain.

The play was Karge’s first. Born in 1938, he trained as an actor and was talent spotted, persuaded by Brecht’s wife, Helene Weigel, to leave drama school and join the couple’s Berliner Ensemble company – with which he is still closely associated, despite partings along the way. He wrote Jacke Wie Hose for his wife, Lore Brunner, who longed to get her teeth into a lead role after years as an ensemble actor. Karge based his story on what he believed to be an urban myth: a woman is widowed during the depression of the 1920s and takes on her dead husband’s identity and job in order to survive. Years later, he was sent a newspaper report confirming that the story was, in fact, true. The real Ella kept up her deceit for 12 years, whereas his fictional character sees it through many decades to retirement, by which time she has all but lost her own identity, drowned in the macho, cheap liquor-soaked world she has inhabited for so long.

The first English translation as Man to Man, by Anthony Vivis, was directed by Stephen Unwin at Edinburgh’s Traverse in 1987, with a young Tilda Swinton as Ella. She reprised the role at the Royal Court and, again, five years later in the film directed by John Maybury. Since its German premier in 1982, the play has been translated into 30 languages and staged around the world in countless productions. Man to Man is Wales Millennium Centre’s first, full in-house production and began its journey there in March 2015, before selling out at Edinburgh later that year. Now, WMC are bringing this bold and widely-praised version to Wilton’s as part of their landmark first national and international tour, which will take it from Cardiff, via Birmingham, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Liverpool, to New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music. 

Co-directors Bruce Guthrie and Scott Graham

Poster for the Royal Court production, Tilda Swinton in John Maybury's film and Manfred Karge

Manfred Karge’s text, which has been compared to Eliot’s The Waste Land, comprises 27 ‘scenes’ or stanzas, each representing an individual memory re-lived by the now ageing Ella. He was always more interested in ordinary folk than heroes and villains so key events in 20th century German history are presented through Ella’s eyes, through the filter of her experience, from within her humble, fear-ridden existence.

Maggie Ann Bain on preparing for her role as Ella playing Max

Alexandra Wood’s translation, commissioned for this production, is the first by a woman, offering a female perspective on the plight of a woman whose life depends on successfully passing herself off as a man through the rise and fall of Nazi rule and beyond. Despite this historical context,
Producer Pádraig Cusack, points out that "It oozes with contemporary resonances that could not be more pertinent today, not least the startling reality that women’s inequality remains rampant".  Karge, influenced by the Brothers Grimm, had written the original as a modern German fairy tale but Bruce felt that previous translations had lost touch with that influence. Alexandra’s interpretation re-connects with those more magical elements, as well as tapping into Bruce’s love of German expressionistic cinema, prompting him and the creative team to conjure up a mood of shadowy, spooky beauty. What’s more, Karge deliberately omitted stage directions – a generous gift which, combined with Alexandra’s translation, opened up a wealth of possibilities for set, light, sound and projection; the latter, designed by Andrzej Goulding, was also greatly inspired by Karge’s relatively recent addition of a new section to include the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Andrzej Goulding on his projection design for Man to Man

Early in the creative process, Bruce Guthrie explained that “This adaptation will very much be about taking the audience on a sensory journey as opposed to a narrative one, and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to evoke different reactions from the audience based on the series of memories that are explored… It’s a fantastic play, and we’ll be trying various different techniques to establish a language and relationship with the audience, to take them on a journey with the character: projection, lighting, the way that we interact with the set, or with the audience, or the physicality of the piece.”

Bruce acknowledges that its episodic nature makes Man to Man very different to anything he has directed before, for stage or screen. His recent work has included The Bridge Project: Richard III with Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey and directing the recent 20th anniversary tour of Rent. Here, in stark contrast, he co-directs a cast of one, who just happens to be his wife. His co-director is Scott Graham, Artistic Director of Frantic Assembly, the renowned physical theatre company responsible for movement in The National Theatre’s multi-Olivier winner The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, to name just one of their highly acclaimed works. The two have collaborated before, including on The Merchant of Venice for Singapore Repertory Theatre, and work together in perfect harmony – fortunately for their outnumbered cast of one.

Co-directors Scott Graham and Bruce Guthrie

Maggie toured with Frantic Assembly’s uncompromising boxing drama Beautiful Burnout so is no stranger to the rigours of Scott’s approach to physical theatre. She has acted on stage and screen for over 15 years and appeared in Emma Rice’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe last year. Even though she can boast considerable prowess at many demanding sports, from middle distance running to cycling and martial arts, Maggie still has to follow a punishing training regime to prepare for a show in which Scott literally has her climbing the walls of Ella’s decaying apartment. 

As Bruce remarked when the show was in its infancy, “It’s all up for grabs because the text is so rich and the memories are so potent. It’s going to be very exciting.” We know it will be and we can’t wait to share it with our audiences. Despite his advancing age, Manfred Karge makes a point of visiting as many productions of his play as possible. We sincerely hope he will catch this revival as it tours, especially during its run at Wilton’s.

Man to Man runs 12th to 23rd September and you can buy tickets here. We are also delighted to present some special post-show extras:  a Q&A with the creative team on 14th September and a discussion between Alexandra Wood and Bruce Guthrie on their reworking of the play on 18th September.

Read more
27Jul. 2017.

Zigger Zagger, Zigger Zagger, Oi, Oi, Oi!

It’s fifty years since National Youth Theatre made history with Zigger Zagger, the first play to tackle the subject of football hooliganism.

After devoting their first decade to Shakespeare with an occasional nod in the direction of Ben Johnson or George Bernard Shaw, they took a bold step in commissioning this groundbreaking work from Peter Terson. Terson was still a relatively young writer and one of the grittiest, yet still poetic, playwrights of the time. Zigger Zagger was first staged at the Jeannetta Cochrane Theatre in 1967, screened by the BBC the same year, then enjoyed eight revivals and tours over the next 20 years. The play was the beginning of a long and highly successful collaboration between NYT and the prolific Peter Terson, with the company staging 11 more of his plays in 18 separate productions.  NYT’s founder and first Director, the legendary Michael Croft, always referred to his best times at NYT at The Terson Years. “Peter Terson was the writer I’d been looking for since we started,” Croft told The Stage’s Nick Smurthwaite in his final interview before he died in 1986, “somebody who could write plays for kids without patronising them, someone with a keen and wise eye, and a generosity of spirit towards the more unlikeable aspects of human nature.”

Reactions to the play were far in excess of anything expected and Zigger Zagger drew packed houses, attracted massive critical acclaim and generated a great deal of press and media interest. In his review for The Observer, Ronald Bryden commented “It leaves the back of one's neck in no doubt that something very big and happy indeed, in the person of Peter Terson, is about to happen to the British theatre”; and Benedict Nightingale describes it as “what may be the best football play yet”, claiming that Terson had “surpassed himself with this commission for the National Youth Theatre” when listing Zigger Zagger in The Times Great Moments in Theatre in 2010.

Scenes from the 1967 production featuring Nigel Humphreys as Harry Philton and Tony May as Zigger Zagger

Revivals in London and Barcelona from 1968, 1975 and 1987

Fifty years to the week after it took the theatre world by storm, NYT will revive Zigger Zagger here at Wilton’s as part of its East End Season. Rehearsals begin next week and we’re really looking forward to bringing you  glimpses behind the scenes and sharing the fun with you.

In the meantime, to give you an idea of the zeitgeist of the scene onto which Zigger Zagger exploded, here is a reminder of what was going on in 1967 (in no particular order and far from exhaustive):

It was the Summer of Love
Harold Wilson was in Number Ten
The UK applied for EEC membership
BBC Radio One was launched
So was the QE2
Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Marianne Faithful were arrested for drugs offences
The Sexual Offences Act partially decriminalised male homosexuality
Sandie Shaw went barefoot and won the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Puppet on a String’
Manchester United won the Football league First Division
Kings Road and Carnaby Street were hot spots to shop and Biba in Kensington was a Mecca for fashion-lovers
Vidal Sassoon still reigned as Scissor King
Jimi Hendrix recorded ‘Purple Haze’ and first set fire to his guitar on stage at the Finsbury Park Astoria
The breathalyser was introduced
The inquiry into the Aberfan disaster blamed the National Coal Board for the deaths of 164 people, mostly children, the previous year
Playwright Joe Orton was battered to death by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell in their Islington flat; Halliwell then committed suicide
The Forsyte Saga was on the telly (the first time round); so was The Prisoner, Dixon of Dock Green and Z-Cars
ITV launched News At Ten as Sooty abandoned the BBC to join it
BBC2 carried the first  scheduled colour television broadcast
Paul McCartney met Linda Eastman and Elvis married Priscilla
Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead premiered at the Old Vic and Olivier staged it at the National later that year
The Evening Standard Theatre Awards announced A Day in the Death of Joe Egg as Best Play and Sweet Charity as Best Musical
The Abortion Act was passed
The Queen Elizabeth Hall opened
Blow-Up was in the cinemas, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Birkin plus David Hemmings in a role inspired by Swinging London photographer David Bailey
Meanwhile, the real David Bailey was shooting Jean Shrimpton, Catherine Deneuve (then his wife) and Twiggy
Also on at the flicks: The Graduate, Casino Royale, Cool Hand Luke, Bonnie and Clyde and The Jungle Book
The first ATM dispensed cash from a branch of Barclays Bank in Enfield
The St Pancras Station and Former Midland Grand Hotel was Grade I listed
Pink Floyd released their debut album and single
Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape was published
Ford started making their super-new car in Dagenham – they named it the Escort
The Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and opened their Apple Shop on the corner of Paddington and Baker Streets
The world’s first live satellite broadcast included the Beatles performing ‘All You Need is Love’
Scott Walker recorded his first solo album
Meanwhile, over the water, Aretha Franklin recorded ‘Respect’
Alan Ayckbourn had his first major West End success with Relatively Speaking at the Duke Of York’s Theatre
The Conservatives won the Greater London Council elections
The Kray brothers murdered Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie
Forty nine people died in the Hither Green rail disaster and eighty four were killed when a British Midland Airways plane crashed near Stockport

Read more
13Jul. 2017.

A Very Special Centenary

On 6 April 1917, US President Woodrow Wilson abandoned neutrality to join Britain and its allies at war with Germany. The following day, George M Cohan wrote a song titled ‘Over There’. It took him barely two hours. Despite not being published until June or publicly aired until the autumn of that year, it became the most popular song of the First World War, selling more than 2 million copies. A century later, it will be performed here at Wilton’s and is the title of the London English Song Festival’s annual celebration of words and music through song and poetry.

This year’s festival is the second in LESF’s series commemorating the First World War and follows 2016’s Songs of the Somme. The festival was founded in 2011 by Artistic Director, award-winning pianist and conductor, William Vann. Conscious of the English tendency to be reticent about sounding our own trumpet (sorry, couldn’t resist that), William responded by creating this platform for promoting and celebrating the wide and varied repertoire of English Song in London and throughout the UK. The festivals present lesser known and performed works alongside all-time classics, art songs alongside popular music hall ditties and dramatised performances by marrying the music with readings and images. They have collaborated with organisations such as the Imperial War Museum and attract internationally renowned artists such as James Gilchrist, Dame Ann Murray, Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside. Some of you may recall that Simon Callow took the role of guest reader for Songs of the Somme and may have read his blog post about the show.

The power of popular music, song in particular, is undeniable. Long before people gathered round a radio or television, before computers, the virtual world and social media were dreamt of, families, friends and communities clustered around pianos and they sang together. As a consequence, by the turn of the Twentieth Century, sheet music sales were booming as every front parlour, every pub or bar, every church, village and civic hall rang with the sounds of the latest tunes. Communal singing, especially in times of crisis, helps to forge common bonds and galvanise people into action. No surprise, then, that song lyrics can so accurately reflect social or political trends and can so easily be used for propaganda. This is clearly illustrated by the way that American sheet music  - with over 35,000 songs copyrighted during the war – perfectly maps changing attitudes in the lead up to 1917. Initial anti-war sentiments were expressed in songs such as ‘Uncle Sam won’t go to War’ and ‘I didn’t raise my Boy to be a Soldier’ . As events unfolded which made it clear that America could no longer remain neutral, those sentiments gave way to the likes of ‘When Yankee Doodle Learns to Parlez-vous Francais’ and ‘Hang the Kaiser to a Sour Apple tree’. Plus, of course, the marvellous (and rather less bellicose) ‘Over There!’.

Meanwhile, in England, a movement christened the ‘English Musical Renaissance’ by music critics had been burgeoning since the turn of the Twentieth Century. Rather than the then dominant style of German Lied, this nurtured a very home-grown song tradition, one which endured through both world wars. In particular, composers such as Hubert Parry, George Butterworth and Ivor Gurney were setting the poetry of writers such as Robert Graves, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon and poet of an earlier war, A E Housman. These were poems driven by romanticism, sentimentality and idealisation of the pastoral, rich in rural imagery. This resulted in verse which was overwhelmingly preoccupied with England and redolent of Englishness. Small wonder that this was extremely popular during WW1. These songs may not have had the mass appeal of ‘Over There!’ but there is no doubt that they heightened national feeling and contributed effectively to wartime propaganda. Young Gurney signed up in February 1915. His yearning for the beauty of his native Gloucestershire countryside is a constant theme throughout his wartime works and he often compared the safety of his personal pastoral idyll to the hell of the trenches. He was not alone. Think of Canadian John McCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields', Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ and Edward Thomas’s ‘Lights Out’, to name a few.

Ivor Gurney

Such are the works and themes explored by Over There! through music, song and poetry. And, to really get you in the mood, there will even be a selection of original 1917 recordings of some of the year’s most popular songs, playing before the performance begins.

William Vann will be accompanying an acclaimed group of singers and musicians: mezzo-soprano Katie Bray, tenor Nick Pritchard, bass-baritone Craig Colclough and Louise Williams on viola. They will be joined by a very special guest reader, William K Gorrie. William studied singing, acting and dancing in his youth, before being called for National Service in 1959. He then served a further 17 years as a professional soldier whilst continuing to act and direct in theatre and light entertainment. William now resides at The Royal Hospital Chelsea as one of London’s iconic Chelsea Pensioners. When William Vann directed Britten's Noyes Fludde at the Royal Hospital’s Wren Chapel in 2013, William Gorrie played the Voice of God so they are both thoroughly delighted to be working together again.

William K Gorrie

Education is at the heart of LESF’s work and, with generous support from the Concordia Foundation and The Foyle Foundation, there will be two educational matinées for children, which will include an introduction from William Vann and a Q&A session with the artists; the team describe the 2016 Q&A as one of their greatest educational highlights to date! LESF also run an annual children’s competition  to design the educational progamme cover and the winners will be announced at the matinée shows.

Over There! runs 18 to 20 July with educational matinées on Wednesday and Thursday. You can book tickets here.

Read more
25Jun. 2017.

A Taste of Hong Kong

Think of Hong Kong. What springs to mind? What sights? What sounds? Whether you know the city intimately or have only glimpsed this vibrant, cosmopolitan hub in magazines and on-screen, Hong Kong Episodes will surprise and delight you.

Hong Kong Episodes was created for the 2015 biennial World Cultures Festival, a celebration of the rich and diversified cultures around the world through music, dance and theatre. For their 10th anniversary festival, The Leisure and Cultural Services Department of Hong Kong felt it was rather incongruous to present artists from many other countries yet none from the host city itself. So they commissioned a work from two of Hong Kong’s foremost native musicians and composers: Fung Lam and Teriver Cheung.

Fung Lam has yet to reach the age of 40, yet has a profile at least as distinguished as many his senior. His works have been performed by internationally renowned orchestras such as the BBC Symphony, London Symphony and Tokyo Philharmonic. In 2007 he became the youngest Chinese composer, and the only one from Hong Kong, to be commissioned by the legendary BBC Concert Orchestra; his Unlocking, inspired by an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, was featured in BBC Radio 3’s ‘Discovering Music’. Another work, Endless Forms, was premiered at the 2012 BBC Proms.

Fung Lam

Teriver Cheung is a world-renowned jazz guitarist and composer with a difference. Influenced by classical piano training from the age of five, he has developed a distinctive style of playing and composing, which has won him great acclaim in the highest jazz circles. After studies at home and in the USA, Teriver has toured extensively in Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico and America and appearing at just about every jazz festival in the world. After moving to New York City in 2009, he became an important figure on the jazz scene, as a bandleader as well guesting with influential musicians such as Latin Grammy Award winner Eddie Gomez, Billy Drummond and Jeremy Monteiro. Teriver has guested on many recordings, made his own albums and owns his own record label.

Teriver Cheung

Put the two of them together and what do you get? Fung explains that as soon as they put their creative heads and hearts together, they agreed on the essential elements of Hong Kong Episodes, one of which was the reversal of the usual scenario. “We wanted to include visual elements but in a similar role to the soundtrack to a movie – it should add something to the overall experience but not overtake the main focus of the music. We also wanted to divide the concert into a number of ‘episodes’ to present a virtual 24-hour day in Hong Kong. In the original production, we presented 12 episodes at two-hour intervals, but in this new 2017 touring version, we have eight episodes at three-hour intervals.” They also knew that they did not want to portray the stereotypical view of a city comprised exclusively of high-rise buildings and teeming streets. “We wanted to re-present Hong Kong in a slightly different light.  Familiar places (to locals, at least) would be presented visually from different artistic angles which, when combined with original music, creates an interpretation that is strangely familiar yet refreshingly different.” That refreshingly different view is seen through the eyes of architect Anthony Lai, who adds an extra dimension to the audience's experience.

Snapshots of just a few of Anthony Lai's striking images

Musically, this is very much an equal partnership with half of the pieces written by Fung and half by Teriver. "My music is often more contemplative in nature, leaving space for the jazz musicians to improvise.  Teriver’s music is often more vibrant and uplifting.  I think it makes a nice contrast.”

It most certainly does and you can savour the very special flavours of Hong Kong Episodes on 7 and 8 July.

To keep you in the mood, flamboyant pianist Fingerman (aka Kajeng Wong) will lead an exciting trio of performances from the innovative young Hong Kong musicians of Music Lab on 10 and 11 July. Book for both Hong Kong Episodes and Music Lab to take advantage of our 20% discount offer. Both shows are presented by Hong Kong Arts Development Council and Music Lab is also a co-poduction with Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, London.
Read more
25May. 2017.

Food for Thought

‘Been there, seen it, done it’ is an expression that could well have been coined with Elizabeth Pisani in mind.

Born in the US, raised and educated in Europe and Hong Kong, Elizabeth speaks French, Spanish and Indonesian and modestly describes herself as able to 'fake' Mandarin. She has an MA in Classical Chinese from Oxford, an MSc in Medical Demography from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a PhD in Infectious Disease Epidemiology. She began her career as a foreign correspondent. Her work for Reuters, The Economist and Asia Times thrust her into Tiananmen Square as the troops invaded, into Aceh to cover the civil war and, at less risk to life and limb, into Hong Kong to investigate the impact of the 1986 stock market crash on nightclub hostesses. Her zest and curiosity have prompted her to live, work and travel extensively, particularly throughout the Far East. She has written books, as well as countless essays, research papers and reports and has delivered two TED talks. She swapped one high-level career for another when she became an epidemiologist and insists that the skills are the same: find the right people; ask them the right questions; organise and analyse the information intelligently; communicate it to people who can do something about it. She has advised health ministries and organisations the world over and now runs her own public health consultancy. Here is a woman who has even taken tea with a stranger’s dead granny, for heaven’s sake. But she has never channelled her zeal to spread the word about what really drives decision making in global health, and the mismatch between need and resource, into creating a musical show. Until now.

In the autumn of 2014, Elizabeth dropped in, on a whim, to see Grand Union Orchestra’s spectacular Undream’d Shores at the Hackney Empire. Witnessing the phenomenal energy GUO generated around the weighty subject of migration scratched at an itch she’d been harbouring for a while. After years studying the data, Elizabeth knows that the diseases causing most suffering around the world are rarely those receiving the lion’s share of attention or funding. Yet the health establishment’s answer is to keep throwing ever more technical evidence at the problems, ignoring historical, social and political evidence and solving nothing much in the process.

Elizabeth yearns for a different approach. What about music, for instance? Why not take the statistics around a disease  - geographical spread, demographic, the amount of publicity it gets, how well treatment is funded – and assign musical elements such as rhythm, tempo, volume or specific instruments to each? Could people ‘hear’ the difference between diseases and the way the world treats them? Surely, this might set people thinking more creatively than what she describes as endless "po-faced conferences with power point presentations to an audience that has seen them all before".

So she stuck her neck out and emailed Tony Haynes, GUO’s founder and, for over 30 years, it’s composer and artistic director. Fortunately, Tony (no stranger to Wilton's) is also a great fan of long shots. With support from Wellcome Trust, many brainstorms, workshops, revelations, discussions, dinners and disagreements later, Song of Contagion premiers at Wilton’s in a few weeks. "I was so thrilled when Tony agreed to take on the challenge. I’ve worked with lots of brilliant scientists, but Song of Contagion is my first collaboration with musical genius, and it has been a real education.”

The very first workshop and, after an inspiring brainstorm, Tony Haynes explores the similarity between the didgeridoo and London's drains

Their first task was to decide which diseases to feature and the final work explores five stories. Here’s how Elizabeth describes them:

Cholera: London versus Kolkata: the disease was rife in both during the 1850s but their outcomes differ radically. When The Big Stink drove parliamentarians out of their riverside offices, pure self-interest led them to authorise funding for Bazalgette’s sewers, which happened to halt the water-borne disease in its tracks. In India, where such environmental investment has never been made, cholera continues to cause death and misery.

Zika versus dengue fever: both are spread by the same mosquito, Zika does not kill, yet received huge publicity when it was linked to a few thousand cases of abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development in Brazil in the run up to the Rio Olympics. For decades, dengue has killed 10-20,000 people every single year (many of them children), expensively hospitalising half a million or more, yet few people know of it and it never hits the headlines. Images of deformed babies make front page news but photographically unremarkable dengue shock syndrome never will.


HIV in the US versus Africa and the first case of successful patient activism: faced with the US government’s inaction, the well-connected, media-savvy gay community bravely campaigned for research and drugs, pulling stunts such as closing down the Stock Exchange for the first time in history. Treatment was available far sooner than it would have been without them. Meanwhile, the high cost of those drugs was prohibitive for sufferers in other continents, especially sub-Saharan Africa. But US public support (and George W Bush’s $60 billion in aid) for the campaign for cheaper drugs and treatment for Africa was only won after victims were widely shown to be innocent women and their babies, rather than gay men, drug users and prostitute.

AIDS on a graph and on a stave

Coronary heart disease and ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’: though it may just end up killing you, particularly if corporate lobbyists from the food and sugar industries have their way and block public health measures to reduce consumption.

Post traumatic stress disorder – inequities in diagnosis and treatment:  if you are a soldier with a rich country and a guilty government behind you, you will probably get treatment for the effects of dropping bombs on people. If you’re a civilian and those bombs killed your husband and three children, you will probably just be left to get on with it.

Through traditional music hall songs, African drum beats, Brazilian samba, strings, brass, sitars and the gamelan, plus all-too-human voices from around the world, these stories will colourfully and energetically unfold. And, hopefully, no-one will resist the urge to get on their feet for the Dengue Merengue. “Tony’s brilliance is that he manages to create shows that are simultaneously thought-provoking, moving, and damned good fun."

Elizabeth is keen to stress, however, that there will be no preaching or heavy messaging. "This is a fascinating topic, full of questions and answers with so much yet to learn. It encompasses all of life around the world. Yet what drives it is so embedded in our lives - the way we do business and so on - that we’re not necessarily aware of it. We’ve tried to make more explicit things that we don’t always articulate. We simply want to provoke thought and hope that people will perhaps question for the first time – why am I being sold this drug and not that one? Why have I heard of Zika but not dengue shock syndrome? Then begin to find answers and make connections. And, above all, have fun!"

There will certainly be plenty of opportunities for all that and more as the show will include schools and family matinees plus pre- and post-show presentations and discussions (strictly NOT po-faced). There is even an East End cholera walk ending at Wilton’s in time for the show.

Elizabeth delivering TED talks and with the portable tools of her trade(s): laptop and beer

The irony of all this is that music is one talent Elizabeth Pisani claims to lack in abundance. Aged seven, her piano teacher proclaimed her ‘unteachable’ after one lesson, insisting on refunding the full term’s fees there and then. Who knows, perhaps it was not being constrained by knowledge of musical theory that allowed her to make that creative leap and see (hear?) music as a new way to present these issues?

Song of Contagion runs 13 to 17 June. See our website for full details of all performances and associated events.

If you would like to read more about the fascinating story behind Song of Contagion and read the blog tracking its development, visit the website here.

Portrait of Elizabeth Pisani by Marit Miners.

Read more
  • HLF 2
Your cart  
Check Out