Winchester – the First 100m Years!

23
June
2018

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Winchester – the first 100,000,000 years!

Yes, that’s right – the first 100,000,000 years of Winchester’s history abridged into a couple of hours on stage. An undertaking which takes us on a frenetic ‘romp’ through history, from the days when dinosaurs roamed the present site of Theatre Royal Winchester, through a vast migration from the African continent northwards to Europe; it sees the Romans come and go in a twinkling, the Black Death, William of Wykeham shows us his plans and there is that awful eviction of Winchester’s Jewish community.

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Jane Austen ends her days in Winchester, William Walker famously saves Winchester Cathedral from subsidence, the twentieth century sees the return of at least one Jewish family, the Habels, to become very much a part of the fabric of the city, through the colourful 60s and a Saturday night relapse to witness other, more modern creatures roam the city in search of music and recreation.

Finally, we are reminded of how insignificant our time is on this earth and in turn how insignificant the earth is in the vast space beyond.

Wow. Some plot, eh? And rather a lot to fit into a short evening’s entertainment. I came away exhausted and emotionally drained from this performance, as did my fellow audience, by the sheer scale and audacity of such an undertaking, let alone by the hugely talented and dynamic way the story was told. Richard Conlan, artistic director, writer and director, deserves a medal for creating such an involving, amusing, informative and endearing production and for bringing it to life.

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Blue Apple Theatre is earning a name for itself, not just in Winchester, but regionally and even nationally, as one of the very few theatre companies to be specifically founded to ‘support performers with learning difficulties to develop and present high quality productions … theatre, dance and film’.

Founded in 2005 by Jane Jessop – whose son Tommy is one of Blue Apple’s performers – the group calls on professionals, performers, parents, friends and supporters of all kinds to provide an enviable collaboration that encourages inclusion, camaraderie, fun and the kind of challenges that most of us would shy away from.

Everyone in the company is very much part of the team; there are no shadows to hide in and everyone gets to shine and to support their fellow performers. The enthusiasm, energy and inspiration coming from these performers on stage are palpable, so much so that the audience claps and laughs along unashamed. Audience participation has never been so good!

This summer show, the most recent of their productions that ranges from Shakespeare to Jules Verne and beyond, is simply set and beautifully lit to create numerous different scenes. Much use is made of image projection to create an infinite number of backdrops from dinosaurs to the underwater scene with William Walker, the diver who is attributed with saving the cathedral. Included is pre-recorded video and audio that assist the storytelling and scene setting.

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There is puppetry, dance and movement, a few simple props and costumes to help depict the changing scenes, and, my goodness, what a lot of lines to learn.

A glance through the programme at photos of the performers in rehearsal is an insight into how much fun these guys have putting it together; I am guessing that the show itself is the icing on the cake, that the rehearsals make up the substance of the whole experience. To quote a previous Blue Apple director, Peter Clerke, “every rehearsal is a journey … a lot of work, much concentration and great deal of good humour”.

Indeed, humour is and essential element in this show and some very clever, ‘in’ jokes abound: “In 1960 a star in the East appeared – and His name was Colin Firth”.

By the time you read this it will probably be too late to get to see Blue Apple’s final performance tonight; but no matter, so long as you catch at least one of their forthcoming shows – next weekend they will be performing a specially written piece called ‘Mother, Mater, Co-creator’ at Winchester’s Hat Fair (Cathedral Outer Close, Saturday 30th June, 12.10pm).

Or if you want a full length, ‘Big Blue Apple’ production, make sure you get tickets to see their interpretation of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Theatre Royal 11-13 January 2019, a chance to encounter Blue Apple’s ‘unique style of uplifting theatre that includes drama, dance, puppetry and music’.

In the meantime, do take a few moments to check out this inspiring group’s website at www.blueappletheatre.com and follow them on social media for the latest information, including how you can support them through donations, becoming a Friend of Blue Apple, volunteering to help on and offstage or even by becoming a trustee of this innovative charity.

(David Cradduck)