Archive for November, 2016

Review of ‘The Railway Children’ by King’s Ely Junior School in the Hayward Theatre on Wednesday 23rd November 2016

November 24, 2016

The Kings School is known for its high standard of productions and the Junior School’s presentation of ‘The Railway Children’ was as delightful as expected. All the characters were there and well presented. The three children soon developed their personalities and indulged in realistically childish banter. They were Bobbie (played by Eva McGrath), the more ‘grown-up’ oldest child, Peter (Nicholas Denny), the only boy making efforts to keep up his macho image but not always getting it right and the youngest Phyllis (Isabel Duckworth), who had wonderful facial expressions and gave  hilarious reactions and comments.

Representing people who are much older is not easy, but Mother (Abigail Hughes) and Father (Hugo McGuinness) made excellent parents. We could really believe they were adult and living through the nightmare.

Other essential contributions to this very successful show included: Perks (Bertie Whymark), Old Gentleman (Edward Spencer), Mr Szezcpansky (William Biggs), Maid/Mrs Perks (Olivia Thomas), Butler (Rhys Williams), Doctor (Jesse Dennis), Cook (Charlotte Donnelly), Mrs Viney (Minty Gordon), Jim (Robbie Allan), Perks’ children, Persons one and two and the railway workers.

The realistic train was especially impressive as were the lights in the night scene and the sound effects, notably the landslide and staging and costumes were splendid.

Congratulations must go to the director Miss Charlton and the rest of her team for a highly entertaining evening.

Review of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in Cambridge Corn Exchange on Tuesday 15th November 2016

November 17, 2016

The concert given by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in Cambridge Corn Exchange on Tuesday was splendid. The conductors Heiko Mathias Förster and Libor Pešek and the soloist Natalie Clein worked with this highly competent orchestra to present a most entertaining programme.

Musicologist Jonathan James began the evening with an enthusiastic and informative talk in Cambridge University Bookshop, explaining the highlights of the composers and their works in preparation for the event.

Schubert’s delightful  ‘Unfinished Symphony’ conducted by the orchestra’s principal guest conductor Heiko Mathias Förster opened the concert in the Corn Exchange. The performers brought out Schubert’s lyrical mastery beautifully, shaping the phrasing colourfully with moods transforming clearly from sweetness and light to sudden dramatic darkness.

In Shostakovich’s ‘Cello Concerto No 1’ the solo cellist Natalie Clein performed with passion, infusing her performance with the essence of the pain and urgency of Shostakovich’s style. There were some stirring moments in the orchestra which played with immaculate precision even in the trickiest places. The demonic woodwind were amazing.

The cellist’s encore was an enchanting extra.

After interval under the baton of Libor Pešek we were treated to a lovely performance of Dvořák’s ‘Symphony no. 8 in G major’. It was melodious from the start, the sonority of the cellos and the bird-like flurries from the flute fully explored. This work provided a much lighter contrast to the previous composition and moved easily with momentum from moments of fluffy joy or calm to flashes of anxiety.  The conductor’s management of the pauses was exquisite.

Their encore provided yet another delightful contrast. Latin rhythms and sensuous turns in ‘Tango Siempre’ by Piazzolla allowed the trumpet soloist to demonstrate his capacity for genuinely intoxicating showmanship. This was real entertainment.

The next concert in the Cambridge Classical Series at the Corn Exchange will feature the Zürich Chamber Orchestra on Saturday 3rd December.



Review of a Guardian Column Writing Course: Owen Jones on Monday 14th November 2016

November 15, 2016

This was well worth attending, mostly because of Owen’s undoubted enthusiasm for his job as a columnist for the Guardian newspaper.

He is quite right when he says that journalism should hold the powerful to account.

He gave an interesting account of his background, of the decline in the print media and of investigative journalism although now newspapers online are thriving.

Advice I found most useful:

Write a blog and update it two or three times a week. (Yes, I must do this.)

Register a domain in your own name. (I’m not sure I’ll do this one because it will cost money.)

Your approach to a subject should be different, unique and should be made relevant to current events/opinions.

Your blog should be written with:

  • font 12, Arial
  • each paragraph should have more than 9 lines (I must take heed.)
  • a photo with each blog
  • long-winded sentences (yes, my downfall)
  • always spellcheck

Your column should be no more than 600-800 words, snappy with information about you and your background (but not too much) e.g. ‘Here’s my experience…’ You should show your personality.

He is in favour of effective blog headers e.g. Laurie Penny’s. (I’m not sure how to do this. L)

You must use Twitter (While I am on twitter, @DrRoe, I’m not using it much). What I do notice is that it is important to make sure what you say will make sense to someone who hasn’t been following the thread.)

Use Facebook – the optimum time is 0900 Monday to Thursday. (Interesting!)

Useful sites to write for, where they pay or not and whether they edit your work:

Labour List: no fee, minimal editing

Huffington Post: no fee, some editing but feedback given. It has a bigger audience.

New Statesman: £50-75 editing

Comment is Free: £90 some editing



Write only 5 or so sentences: ‘Here’s me, here’s the issue, here’s my take, here’s my previous work.’

Don’t pitch with a finished article. (I did this with the Times Ed, – they thought it would be OK as a letter and never heard from them again – I’ve no idea if they published or not and I certainly didn’t get paid for it. L)

Start with an intriguing question: e.g. ‘Have you wondered if turtles are responsible for the financial crisis?’ Say why you are the person to write it, give a link to your blog and attach a CV.

Hook your content to recent stories – even pop culture.

The best pitching time is 8 am (a bit early for me!)

Getting ideas: sources:

  • NGO press officers. (He never did say what NGO stands for – I suspect it means National Government Offices.)
  • think tanks
  • upcoming books
  • seminars, public talks,
  • foreign e.g. American, Indian press (being Australian born, I try to use the Aussie papers)


  • googlebooks and google scholar ( have used these, but never thought of them as source material before)
  • JSTOR academic , have to pay (I wonder JSTOR what it stands for?


Use a hyperlink to your source: cover your own back.


Use personal stories and if you’re going to use statistics, weave them inside your story.

When you generalise and talk about groups of people it loses its impact.

When you’re having to explain what you’ve written, you are losing.

Emotionally compelling stories are better.


Getting stories:

-stop people in the streets, get out of London (already there!)

-use internet forums for interest groups e.g. disabled campaigners

-make requests to NGOs/campaigners

-on Twitter, ask someone who has a lot of followers to retweet your requests. (I assume that was RT stands for.)


The opening:

The first sentence has to grab your attention – no beating about the bush. Make it punchy and short.

Use a dramatic contrast e.g. everyone is saying this, but they’re wrong.

Knock down something that is commonly accepted.

The last paragraph should be a summary of what matters and what should be done about it, and what happens if nothing is done.



Use the simplest words that accurately sum up the meaning. (Why then do Guardian reviewers of concerts use such highfalutin words? – maybe there’s an opening for me here?)

Use the active not the passive voice i.e. not ‘The child was bitten by a dog.’ but ‘The dog bit the child.)

Avoid cliché’s/f figures of speech metaphors. (I’m not sure I agree with this, for I think they help to colour the text and indicate something of your personality.)

Avoid jargon, elitist, foreign, ‘aren’t I clever?’ – types of words.

Be conversational/chatty, but don’t overdo it.

Use radical ideas but moderate them.

Start with where we are e.g. ‘We all know…’


For tabloid columns use:

-shorter snappier sentences

– more emotive language, e.g. ‘They are downright lies.’

– use rhetorical questions e.g. ‘Who’d have thought…?’


launch pad:

Start with saying where you’ve got expertise – you don’t want an editor to think your material should be good for someone else to write.


Guardian contacts that Owen praises that might be worth seeing what they write as examples of their interests and style:

Simon Jenkins e.g. ‘home ownership is rubbish’,

Mark Steel exposes absurdity of situations

Tom Olivers – shows two extremes – both wrong, I’m in the middle – always right

Peter Oborne – I’m Labour but I’m going to surprise the Tories


You can write anonymously

Stick to the deadlines.


Dealing with responses:

-don’t’ take them personally

-know the difference between critics and trolls

-learn from critics, it’s easy to be defensive


How to change the world:

Public shame through the media is more effective than approaching the powers that be personally with your stories/with information.


To pitch to the Guardian:

  • look up commissioning editors e.g. Joseph Harker, Sarah Phillips.


END of my review of Own Jones.


I hope to present some of these ideas in my 20-minute talk at ‘Ely Writers’ Day’ on 1st July 2017, 1000 to 1500 in Ely Library Cambridgeshire for the ‘Ely Arts Festival’. Spaces for this free event are limited, so book early by contacting (Free coffee and biscuits and lunchtime refreshments will be provided, although donations against costs may be requested.)

Review of Elgar’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ in Ely Cathedral on 12th November 2016

November 13, 2016

Elgar’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ in Ely Cathedral on Saturday was magnificent. Under the baton of Mark Williams, choirs from Jesus, Clare, Gonville and Caius, and Selwyn colleges, Cambridge University Chamber Choir, choristers of Jesus College and Girls’ Choirs of St. Catharine’s College and Ely Cathedral and Britten Sinfonia gave a most moving performance.

Every nuance of Elgar’s style was explored. The anguish and wide-ranging emotions of a dying man’s soul were beautifully and effectively revealed, the choirs harmonizing with a full rich tone, creating well-balanced, complex textures in the more intense sections. The singers filled the cathedral with demonic fire, strong Parry-like angelic praise, or gentle serenity as the mood of the work changed.

The soloists: Ben Johnson (tenor), Allison Cook (mezzo soprano) and Duncan Ross (bass) were splendid, colouring vital words with drama and characterizing their different roles wonderfully. The single word ‘Alleulia’ was exquisitely expressed by Allison as the Angel, a typical example of her expertise that was equally matched by that of Ben and Duncan. Ben gave an especially credible sonorous performance.

Britten Sinfonia is an excellent orchestra, all sections responding skilfully to create a wonderful effect, moving through a wide range of expressions from dramatic urgency and intensity, poignancy, and despair to sheer joy and serenity. Elgar’s leitmotifs, such as ‘judgement’, ‘fear’, ‘prayer’, ‘sleep’, and ‘miserere’ were seamlessly interwoven in a meaningful way throughout the work from the beginning.

It was no wonder the whole performance had the packed cathedral transfixed.

The next event for the Cambridge Music Festival will feature Philip Higham (cello) in Trinity Chapel on Tuesday 15th November at 8 pm.


Review of Viva’s production of ‘The Lady in the Van’ in the Brook on Friday 11th November 2016

November 12, 2016

Viva’s productions are always a delight to see. ‘The Lady in the Van’ by Alan Bennett Viva produced in the Brook on Friday was no exception. There was something quite magical about this performance. Not only had the characters all been clearly defined, but careful management of pace, diction and action brought the script alive and captured the essential qualities of Alan Bennett’s style perfectly.

Key actors, the older Alan Bennett (played by Daniel White), the younger Bennett (David Blyth) and the Lady in the Van, Mary Shepherd (Mary Barnes) established an easy, credible relationship that never lost strength from the beginning. The skillful writing developed moments of down to earth reality that readily joined other more fanciful ideas. The talent of all of the actors held us right there with events. These amazingly people included the lovely ‘depressed’ Mam (Gail Baker), the caricatured up-and-coming couple Rufus (Jon Bolderson) and Pauline (Emma Moat) and the excruciatingly ‘sympathetic’ Social Worker (Kate Weekes). Other essential and effective contributions were made by Underwood (Frank Crosby), Leo Fairchild (Vaughan Moll), Lout (Scott Robertson), Miss Shepherd’s doctor (Geoff Fisher), Interviewer and Mam’s doctor(Sarah Boor), Interviewer (Emily Docwra) and Priest and ambulance man (Lars Carr). Mention should also be made of the singing coach (Sophie Plachcinski) who produced such a wonderfully realistic, natural but imperfect singing from the symbolic motley crowd that opened and closed the show.

The witty jokes and philosophic words of wisdom were invariably appreciated. Some of these gems had us laughing out loud, making the ghastly thought of having a dirty, unkempt, slightly off-key old lady park in your garden and march into your house making demands, just one of those things that can happen. As Bennett says, he thought that having someone like this taking over your life made you mark time, but no, time marks you.

Of course, as always, the support people to the production helped make it such a success: with wonderful props, scenery, costumes, lighting, sound and back and front stage arrangements.

Congratulations must go to director and producer David Moat and associate producer James Wood for such a fantastic production. This was an excellent production and it was no wonder that Friday night was sold out so soon.

You should book early when you can for their next production: ‘Shakers’ 9-11th February 2017. More information from