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Theatre in Villages entertains Buckinghamshire this autumn

PUBLISHED: 09:01 03 October 2013 | UPDATED: 09:02 03 October 2013

Storyteller Cat Weatherill

Storyteller Cat Weatherill

Archant

Proof that some of the smallest venues can host performances that have delighted royalty and international audiences is provided by Theatre in the Villages. Sandra Smith finds out more.

Theatre in the Villages takes place in local, accessible venues throughout Buckinghamshire between September and December 2013. TIV is a member of the National Rural Touring Forum which was formed in 1997. Tickets can be purchased from individual village organisers. Details of shows are available via district councils: www.aylesburyvaledc.gov.uk, www.wycombe.gov.uk and www.southbucks.gov.uk

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With autumn fast approaching, this time of the year heralds a season of shortening days when the onset of cooler temperatures threatens to pervade even the most sun-kissed afternoon. So how will you be spending the forthcoming weekends? Endlessly raking crisp, golden leaves from soggy lawns, perhaps? Followed by long evenings in front of the television?

If such predictability leaves you uninspired, don’t worry, there is an alternative. While nature can’t be persuaded from taking its course, one of the highlights of Buckinghamshire’s social calendar begins this month, providing an opportunity for all ages to enjoy a choice of entertainment, without either overloading the finances or having to venture too far from home.

Theatre in the Villages was born out of a national movement for rural touring theatre. When it first began in the late 1990s a mere dozen shows were performed in the Aylesbury Vale area. But such has been its success that this year over 30 venues across the county - including first timers Frieth and Gerrards Cross - are staging performances. Organisers are hoping to beat the record 2,750 tickets sold in 2012 and with shows from Buckingham and beyond down to Burnham in the south of the county, this seems very likely.

The annual event kicks off on September 7 at Kimble’s Stewart Hall. ‘In an Evening with Victor and Albert’, identical twins Tim and Roland Taylor declare, with unabashed gusto, “there will be slapstick comedy and songs of merriment for we are purveyors of fine musical comedy.” Given their penchant for audience participation, and with appearances at the Edinburgh Fringe behind them, it’s a TIV debut locals are eagerly awaiting.

One of the aims of Theatre in the Villages aims is to provide as varied a programme as possible and this year’s acts are as diverse as comedy, singing, storytelling and puppets.

For instance, Proteus is an award winning, innovative company. They have a history of touring, both nationally and internationally, to their credit and in their second successive TIV appearance are presenting a production of Alice in Wonderland which promises to keep audiences on their toes.

Samantha Clarke, Assistant Producer, explains the concept: “We will bring our trademark fusion of music, physical theatre, circus and puppetry in a mad-as-a-hatter version of Lewis Carroll’s classic tales, Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass.”

TIV is supported by Aylesbury Vale, South Bucks and Wycombe District Councils. The organisation works with local communities, relying upon volunteers to manage all aspects of hosting a show. Individual organisers choose the play, sell tickets and supervise the production. Venues include village halls, schools and churches. At an average of £10 to £12 per ticket, prices remain refreshingly modest.

Hardly surprising, then, that this venture stimulates community bonding while simultaneously promoting performing companies as well as generating funds for neighbourhood causes.

Stoke Mandeville Methodist Hall, for instance, is benefiting from a healthy profit raised last year and Padbury village hall is currently having its kitchen upgraded with funds from 2012’s TIV contributing towards the refurbishment. Meanwhile, over in Drayton Beauchamp the local parish council used their proceeds to purchase a plaque in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Plenty of new entertainers will this year mingle with acts returning by popular demand such as Iestyn Edwards’ Anything for a Tenor. Here the singer seamlessly blends the most delightful Cole Porter and Ivor Novello compositions with comic military anecdotes and a camp twist in an evening guaranteed to be memorable. After leaving Ellesborough residents spellbound in 2012 he is now booked at Micklefield, Downley and Hardwick.

But if a tutu wearing male singer doesn’t appeal to you then perhaps an evening with storyteller Cat Weatherill might be more tempting.

“I will be performing stories and songs to stir the soul and captivate the heart,” Cat explains. “Heartsong is for those places where the walls seem charged with centuries of memory. I have created the show because when I perform in churches and old buildings something happens. My heart opens, my spirit soars and my stories shimmer in a completely different way. I feel wonder. It’s a very special kind of magic, and the audience can feel it too. As a performer, I treasure such moments.”

One of the attractions for artists in these outreach productions is the intimacy of modestly sized venues, as Cat enthuses: “I love the warmth and hospitality of TIV. The sense of community, of connection, makes a difference too. When audience members know each other, interaction between the performer and audience has added delight. And I am welcomed, given homemade cake and sandwiches; you don’t get that at the Barbican!”

Sandra Hunt, about to embark on her fourth stint in Buckinghamshire, this time with The Ladies of Cranford at Booker, High Wycombe, on October 12, concurs. “We love coming to Theatre in the Villages, the area is beautiful, the tea shop fare delicious and the natives friendly!”

Iestyn Edwards sums up this common sentiment: “It’s the incidental things like dealing with the promoter and lovely touches of hospitality that make Theatre in the Villages so special. The audience was so responsive last year. TIV offers a keyhole into people’s lives; points of interest and eccentricity that you find out because you have the time. People care, they make an effort, and I’m given lovely food!”

So there is no need to be distracted by declining temperatures and onset of dark evenings. Not with an abundance of professional entertainment for you to witness this autumn. Theatre in the Village offers quality performances and an eclectic range of shows that is second to none.

Remember, they won’t cost much. They are bound to be more stimulating than the television, too. In fact, with any luck, you might even be able to walk to your chosen venue.

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More dates for your diary

Storyteller Cat Weatherill grew up on the streets of Liverpool and says that a childhood with very few influences from television, radio or computer games allowed her imagination to develop through play, together with inheriting the skill of storytelling from her father. He also gave her a love of language, which she describes as a ‘Golden Ticket’ to a professional career where she is still able to play as a grown up.

Her skills have resulted in performances at venues such as the South Bank Centre and The Barbican and across the world, including Singapore, Moscow and Kenya, but she has been touring village halls, community centres and churches since 1999.

26 Oct: St Mary’s Church, Wendover; 30 Nov St Mary Magdalene Church, Shabbington.

Movies and Musicals is an evening of songs from Hollywood and Broadway performed by acclaimed West End singers Jayne O’Mahony (Les Miserables, Evita) and John Langley (Phantom, Mamma Mia, Whistle Down the Wind).

11 Oct: Colston Hall, Gerrards Cross; 18 Oct: Burnham Park Hall; 19 Oct:

Oakley Village Hall; 26 Oct: Padbury Village Hall; 2 Nov: St Paul’s Church Hall, Wooburn Green.

Rather strange twins Victor and Albert, the characters of real life brothers Tim and Roland Taylor, apparently live together in the Cathedral City of Insterminster. Audiences may well come to understand why Victor and Albert appear to have been abandoned by their escapee wives, but are guaranteed to enjoy their songs, poetry and shared stories in a performance full of laughter.

7 Sept: Little Kimble; Sat 28 Sept: North Marston Village Hall; 5 Oct: Frieth Village Hall; 12 Oct: North Dean Village Hall; 19 Oct: St Laurence Room, Winslow; 16 Nov: Great Hampden Village Hall.

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