REMINISCENCE MUSIC HALL
The last of our shows before Christmas was held this week at Bluebell Court in Grays. Brian Walker and Michael Topping performed for a happy group of residents, many of whom were frail, but all were in Christmas mood, including staff who joined in the singing with great seasonal spirit!
Christmas Party Season
Bexley Macular Society
With the Christmas party season now in full swing, this week saw Brian Walker and Michael Topping making a visit to Bexley Macular Society, where they were joined by Master magician, John Styles.
This was our second visit to the Society and the team were greeted like old friends. The entertainment was greatly appreciated by a lively crowd, with plenty of audience participation!
A Magical Afternoon in Barnet
Ewan Hall Show
Master magician, John Styles joined Brian Walker and Michael Topping for an outreach show in Barnet, organised by Penny Baxter, who managed to bring together 140 frail residents from several local homes to Ewan Hall for an afternoon of enertainment. Penny wrote:
“Thank you Brick Lane. The effects are not only on the individuals who come but also how they communicate with their relatives and carers for quite a while afterwards.”
Late Summer Garden Party!
Shrewsbury House, East Ham
Brian Walker and Michael Topping enjoyed the late summer weather performing at a garden party held for patients at Shrewsbury House, East Ham, a recovery unit for people of all ages who have had a spell in hospital and are being cared for by the wonderful staff.
Fish and Chip Lunch
The Rufus Centre, Flitwick
Brian Walker and Michael Topping were joined by John Styles at The Rufus Centre, Flitwick, where as well as fish and chips and ice cream, the audience were treated to entertainment from the talented trio, including John and his famous Chelsea Pensioner routine.
Fulham Good Neighbours
Brian Walker and Michael Topping helped the celebrations for the Queen’s Birthday go with a swing in Fulham, in a luncheon show organised by Fulham Good Neighbours. Everyone joined in a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday to You in honour of Her Majesty and there was a moving moment when the pair sang The National Anthem and everyone in the room insisted on standing, despite varying levels of frailty.
Tower Hamlets Friends and Neighbours
Brian Walker and Michael Topping were greeted with gusto at Donnybrook House in Old Ford for a show organised by Tower Hamlets Friends and Neighbours. The lively and enthusiastic bunch of mixed ages were keen to join in with the show and even added a few numbers of their own.
The sunshine in your smile
March and District Probus
The Outreach team made a visit to Cambridgeshire this week, as guests of the March and District Probus Club who hosted a lunch for local pensioners. Brian Walker and Musical Director, Michael Topping were joined by regular Brick Lane Music Hall artist, Bill Byrne and magical maestro John Styles for the afternoon.
“Thank you very much to all of the cast for a great afternoon’s entertainment. We hope that you will be able to visit us again in the not to distant future. Our thanks to Brick Lane for their work to enable the outreach work to continue.” Robin Pridmore, March and District Probus.
A Good Time Was Had By All
Brian Walker and Michael Topping were in fine form at Rochester Court in Bethnal Green, where they had plenty of help from the audience, including the lovely Hazel, who gamely volunteered to demonstrate the dance routine and took great delight in learning some of the old songs. The travelling duo received loud applause from the lively audience and whistles of appreciation during and after the show. The afternoon finished with tea and sandwiches with bread pudding!
A warm East End welcome
Sundial Day Care Centre
A good time was had by all when the Outreach team visited the Peabody Sundial Day Care Centre in Bethnal Green. Having visited the centre several times now, the team were met like old friends by the audience and staff alike. Joined by Brick Lane Music Hall regular, Peter John, Brian Walker and Musical Director, Michael Topping had nothing but praise for the warmth of the hospitality provided by the Centre and the enthusiasm of the East End audience.
A Little Help From Our Friends
The Outreach team return to Clifton Gardens
Brian Walker and Michael Topping made their third visit to Clifton Gardens in Chiswick this week. “Yet another very satisfying day”, reported Brian, “We were greeted warmly by our old friend, the lovely Michelle and about 30 residents. They all seemed very pleased to see us, these residents were quite jolly in spite of being rather debilitated”
Finding an audience largely confined to their wheelchairs, Brian wasn’t sure how he would find “volunteers” to join in with the show. However staff members gamely stepped up to the plate. In the end, Michelle, the Activities Co-ordinator, told us that “All the residents had a fabulous time”. Seen below, left, staff help create a party atmosphere. Centre, Brian with Alan demonstrating Ballin’ the Jack, and right, Michelle even gave everyone a song.
An Honour Indeed
The Outreach team in Ipswich
Brian Walker and Michael Topping went to Ipswich this week, joined by Lowri-Ann Richards. The show was enjoyed by residents, many of whom were confined to wheelchairs. Brian’s eye was caught by one particularly stylish gentleman. On admiring his attire, Brian found that the man was none other than Flight Officer Basil Fish of 617 Squadron.
Otherwise known as the Dambusters, 617 Squadron is probably the most famous squadron in history because of their audacious raids flying Avro Lancaster bombers during World War II.
Whilst studying for a degree in Civil Engineering, Basil Fish joined the Squadron as a navigator in 1944. Later that year, he took part in a raid on Pollitz. On its return run the plane crashed in dense fog and he was the only person in the crew who was able to continue flying on operations. He completed 24 special sorties, including raids on Kembs and Urft dams and the battleships Lutzau and Tirpitz.
Pictured above, Basil Fish during his active service years. Below, Lowri-Ann Richards performs a Judy Garland medley. Musical Director, Michael Topping in fine form, as ever. Pictured with Michael, Brian’s wife, Pammie.
Happy New Year!
And Happy Birthday Bob!
The Brick Lane Music Hall Outreach team kicked off 2015 with a lively birthday party for Bob – who was 100. They have kicked off 2016 with Bob’s 101st birthday party! A great time was had by all, especially Bob, who insisted on dancing his way through most of the show.
The show took place at Fernways Extra Care Housing Scheme in Ilford and was attended by fellow residents and Bob’s family, friends and old neighbours and was organised by his grandson. Brian Walker led the show, with Musical Direction from Michael Topping.
From the Outreach team at Bluebell Court, Grays
Yet another heart-warming event today, from the moment we pulled up at the front door we were so warmly welcomed. Most of the staff recognised us and there was even a framed photo of our last visit on shelf. The lovely Maxine had filled the large front room with most of the residents and their visitors so off we went.
All the songs were sung loudly, all the participations were participated in, and we couldn’t keep the livelier residents off of the dance floor. Some of the more seriously affected residents even managed to get up and try their best to move to the music.
The show went down so well, we look forward to another visit soon!
Brian Walker and Michael Topping
Christmas is coming…
And a good time was had by all at Theydon Bois!
The Outreach team have a busy schedule most of the year, and December is especially busy with shows right up until Christmas Eve. Last week they were in Theydon Bois, Essex, and through the month they will be travelling to care homes in London, Kent, Essex and West Sussex.
Pictured above, Brian Walker led the show at Theydon Bois, where Linda Watts wowed the audience. They were accompanied by Musical Director, Michael Topping.
Out and About
With Lowri-Ann Richards
Lowri-Ann Richards is one of the artists who regularly joins the team for our Outreach shows programme. A versatile performer, Lowri-Ann first appeared on stage at Brick Lane Music Hall in the Truman’s Brewery days. She has appeared in Music Hall shows, the Seaside Show and many more, notably in pantomime, where her roles have ranged from Principal Boy in Aladdin to the Wicked Queen in Snow White and the evil Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood. Lowri-Ann started her career in the pop group Tight Fit. She has appeared in many television roles, including a lead character in the top Welsh soap, Pobol y Cwm. A gifted singer and performer, her one-woman show, Whatever Happened to Lala Shockette? was nominated for a London Cabaret Award in 2015.
Pictured above with Musical Director, Michael Topping, Lowri-Ann Richards delighted an audience in Chigwell with a medley of Judy Garland songs, including a show-stopping rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Below, giving her all at the Royal Star and Garter home for retired service men and women.
Below, another rousing performance, Lowri-Ann with Brian Walker on St George’s Day at Hawthorne Green in Stepney.
There’ll Always Be An England!
Central Park Primary School, Newham
A team of artists from Brick Lane Music Hall have been working through the Summer term to help local schools produce end of year shows which reflect this year’s curriculum, where they studied World War II.
Left, Vincent Hayes receives flowers from the students at Central Park School. Centre, some of the team members (left to right: Chris Draper, Leigh Rayner, Laura Hayward and Anthony Friggens) with Year 6 pupils and siblings! Right, the Head of Central Park Primary thanks the team and congratulates the students for “The best show ever!” Below, Year 6 pupils put on a great show.
Bromley Parlour Party!
The Outreach team enjoy the unique atmosphere of Clairleigh Nursing Home
Brian Walker reported that there was a great feeling of warmth and fun at the Outreach show at Clairleigh Nursing Home, as 20 residents plus staff members crammed into a “small but comfortable” room. As they set up, the audience chatted and were ready for a good afternoon. “Because the room was so intimate, we didn’t use any amps or mics, giving the feel of a Parlour Party and from the very beginning everyone enjoyed the participation and banter. We had plenty of backchat and they all got the gags, even clapping them, with Jeannie (pictured with Musical Director, Michael Topping) keeping us on our toes”.
Brian and Michael were joined by Bill Byrne for the show. “After an hour or so we performed the finale to a wonderful round of applause, but that was not to be the end of the proceedings. The residents started singing again and who were we to ignore them? An impromptu sing-a-long started and went on for another 20 minutes or so. None of us wanted to go home!”
Jolly Good Show!
St George’s Day in Stepney
The Outreach team visited Hawthorne Green Residential and Nursing Home on St George’s Day for a classic East End knees up. Staff and residents were joined by pupils from nearby St Paul’s Way Trust School, who volunteered to serve tea and joined in the fun, with Brian Walker putting them through their paces. Brian was joined by Lowri-Ann Richards with Musical Director, Michael Topping.
A touch of glamour in Twickenham
The Outreach team visit Brinsworth House
Brinsworth House in Twickenham was set up as a home for retired variety and music hall artists and currently houses 36 residents who are all retired actors or artistes connected with British theatre and entertainment. Equipped with a library, an in-house bar and its own stage, it is owned by the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund and funded by donations, including funds raised by the Royal Variety Performances and Britain’s Got Talent. The visit held some trepidation for our Outreach team who were invited to entertain the assembled group of well-seasoned professionals. Pictured below, left to right, Michael Topping, Lowri-Ann Richards, Brian Walker.
“We were greeted by the charming Joy Francois at the door of Brinsworth today”, reported Brian Walker, leading the team, “She showed us around before the welcomed tea was given to us. About 30 rather staid and silent residents had gathered in the large sitting room and I had visions of them critically marking us out of ten. But my visions were soon dispelled when they joined in all the responses and smiled at my feeble gags. When we performed ‘Ballin the Jack’ I asked one lady if she could dance, she replied “I used to be a Tiller Girl”, so that put me in my place. Another small dark lady turned out to be Lady Secombe, Harry’s wife. They both got stuck into the dance routine with gusto. They sang all the songs, loved Lowri-Ann and Topping and I even had a little bit of heckling. The 45 minutes seemed to fly by, we came off to good applause and a couple of thumbs-up gestures, with Joy making us promise to return.”
Creating Pandemonium in Chiswick!
Brian Walker reports in on our Outreach work
Today we went to Clifton Gardens for the third time and we were welcomed like the old friends that we have become. The large events room was packed with residents and staff all eager for a party and that is what we gave them. From the very start the somewhat distant characters in the audience took a special notice and within no time were enjoying the wonderful atmosphere, some who had not stirred for a long time were shuffling across the floor and smiling.
The angelic Maureen (pictured left) gave us a couple of tear jerking Irish songs, and Michelle, our host, (pictured above, centre) who has aspirations to be a singer, sang with a beautifully clear an tuneful voice. More dancing and even one of the office staff, who I named ‘Beyonce’, came into the room laden with office files and could not resist the opportunity to strut her stuff.
Even more staff appeared and were thrilled to see the uplifting pandemonium that was taking place. The cleaning lady had to stop sweeping to fully enjoy the fun.
Topping excelled himself with a thrilling version of Delilah and so it went on until it was time to go home.
I do hope that we will be able to go back to this special place.
Happy Birthday Bob!
The Outreach team get the party going for Bob’s 100th birthday
The Brick Lane Music Hall Outreach team continued the party mood into the New Year, travelling to Ilford, where they were invited to lead the celebrations for Bob Govey’s 100th birthday. The event was held at the Fernways Care Home in Cecil Road and was well attended by Bob’s friends and large family, one daughter having come all the way from Australia to join the celebration. The party was attended by Redbridge Mayor Cllr Ashley Kissin and Mayoress Hilary Kissin and local press.
Brian Walker, who led the show, ably accompanied by Musical Director, Michael Topping, said the event was a joy. “Bob was lively, cheeky, comical and so pleased to be the centre of attention. He sang, danced and even volunteered to join in the demonstration of ‘Ballin’ the Jack'”.
The Outreach team in festive mood
The Brick Lane Music Hall Outreach team is in party mood, as they travel to homes around the South-east over the festive period. Pictured, Brian Walker (right) and Michael Topping take the Brick Lane Music Hall Christmas spirit to homes throughout December, culminating in a special show on Christmas Eve at Groveland Park Care Home in Bexleyheath. We would like to take this opportunity to thank them both and all the artists who represent Brick Lane Music Hall in the Outreach shows for their tireless work and incredible professionalism and enthusiasm which brings so much pleasure and touches so many lives. A special Merry Christmas to you and to all those who support this work.
A Right Royal Knees Up!
November is the liveliest month
Our November shows have proved to be lively affairs, with plenty of audience participation from staff and residents alike. We were invited to the RetailTRUST retirement housing scheme early in the month to take part in a 100th birthday celebration. Such was the party mood, led by Brian Walker, with musical accompaniment from Michael Topping, that even the Major, attending with his wife, found himself in the dancing as the room erupted to a rousing chorus of Knees Up Muvver Brown!
Brian had his heart stolen by “Helen, a radiant lady who was about 4 feet tall. Helen thought she was about 84, was a professional dancer and acrobat who had played the halls and once appeared with Charlie Chaplin, she was delightful!” Thanking us for helping to make Mrs Scully’s birthday a day to remember, the organisers told us “It was such a fabulous thing to watch”.
The following week, Brian and Michael (above left and front centre) were joined by Peter John for shows in Leyton and Whetstone, where the lively atmosphere and general party mood continued apace.
To the Manor Born!
Outreach Show at Iden Manor
When Brian Walker and Michael Topping arrived at Iden Manor, it was like walking onto the set of Downton Abbey. Situated in 15 acres of landscaped grounds and approached by an impressive drive, Iden Manor has 47 rooms shared between The Good Shepherd dimentia care and the Iden Unit for the frail elderly. The oak panelling and lofty ceilings provided a stately setting for the show. Residents were provided with blankets to stave off any Autumn chill, although, of course, our talented duo soon brought a warm glow to the room.
Back on the Road Again!
The Brick Lane Music Hall Outreach team was back on the road this week, with their first show of the Autumn season at Chelmsford Centre for the Blind. Brian Walker (left) led the show, most ably assisted by Musical Director, Michael Topping (centre) and Brick Lane Music Hall regular, Bill Byrne, pictured right. This is the second time the show has gone to the Centre, where the team felt they were greeted like old friends. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers, not least for the generous amounts of tea and biscuits….
In coming weeks the team will be travelling far and wide, North to Essex and Cambridgeshire and South to West Sussex and Kent. Please contact us for details if you would like the them to drop in to your home or centre!
2014 Schools Programme
Congratulations all round!
Tom Canning OBE, inspirational head of Tollgate Primary School, Plaistow, congratulated Vincent Hayes and the Brick Lane Music Hall team, after a moving end of year speech to his Year 6’s following their extremely entertaining, enthusiastic, and, at times, nothing short of awesome performances in Oliver!
Wishing the Year 6’s luck, Tom said how proud he and his staff were of their achievement and fantastic effort. He thanked the Brick Lane Music Hall team for having “worked wonders”, and for giving the children “the opportunity to perform and deliver a first class show!”
Nigel Ellacott pays a visit to Tollgate School during rehearsals
Today I visited Tollgate Primary School in Newham, East London. Three miles away in 1930 Lionel Begleiter was born, and went to a Victorian school very much like this, in Stepney. Fifty four years ago Lionel Bart, as he was now known, wrote his hit musical “Oliver!”. He would have loved to have been where I was today, watching a talented bunch of Year Six Primary school children performing his show- steered by some pretty talented professionals from Brick Lane Music Hall.
Joni Talks, Alan McHale and Jeff Chandler
Seeing the rehearsal today might have softened the blow when, to finance two of his failing musicals, Lionel Bart sold the rights to “Oliver!” to Max Bygraves for £350. They were later resold for £250,000 and now Cameron Mackintosh owns half of this wonderful show. Lionel Bart died in the 1999. He would have loved to have witnessed his Musical being performed by East End kids, from the same locale, but now with many different languages and creeds, just like him, in not just one school, but in five different schools spread around the area- stretching from Plaistow to Chingford!
Rehearsals for a previous production of Oliver at Selwyn Primary, Plaistow
When Brick Lane Music Hall gets involved in a project it does it big- and since the beginning of June a team of five performers have been working with over 320 children to bring Bart’s musical landscape of Victorian London to life. The artistes involved are Joni Talks, Hayley-Jo Whitney, Alan McHale, Jeff Chandler and Ross Tomlinson. The Brick Lane Schools Project is an annual event, organised by Vincent Hayes MBE in conjunction with Head Teachers- and this year’s schools are Tollgate Primary and Selwyn Primary in E13, Cleves Primary in E6, Davis Lane Primary in E11 and another school called Selwyn Primary in Chingford, E4. All these schools can, in the words of Mr Bart “Consider yourself well in!”
Previous musical ventures in association with Brick Lane Music Hall have included “Mary Poppins”, “The Wizard Of Oz” “Annie” and productions of “Oliver!” prior to this one. “Oliver!” suits itself perfectly to adapting for a primary school, and Joni Talks has done this superbly. In fact, Joni has written, staged and steered the entire project in all five schools, with a superb eye for detail and a director’s skill at multi tasking. Joni’s copious and meticulous notes are evidence that once the show has been formatted in her mind, it is then recreated by the Brick Lane team in all five schools. Each production will have very similar scenes and movements but, of course, each one will be individual because of the different personalities of the children who play the parts, and appear in the ensemble for what will be, in a few short days time a live performance to parents and teachers over two nights lasting an hour an a quarter.
Tollgate Primary School, 2013
All this- a cast of sixty or so in each production, achieved in just ten short days! From the moment the Brick Lane professionals set foot in the school hall the children are guided, encouraged and drilled in the skills and discipline of theatre from people who make their living from that same source- Theatre. There is an enormous amount of back up from their teachers- they will be running through the scenes, the dialogue and moves in between visits.
In ten rehearsal days the children go through the audition process, vocal and physical warm ups, discussions about the grim Victorian world of Oliver Twist and Fagin, through line learning, choreography and blocking- on the way they learn to project, to emote, and most importantly- to act as a team- to work together to achieve something amazing by the end of term, and, in case this isn’t evident- they have a huge amount of fun doing it!
Joni Talks, Ross Tomlinson and Hayley-Jo Whitney at Cleves School
I arrived at Tollgate just after a run through had started. Oliver was about to be apprenticed to Mr and Mrs Sowerbury in the Funeral Parlour, and the scene was set for Noah Claypole to give the young orphan a hard time. At first glance, as you enter the school, you have the feeling that this is something a little bit special- it is very bright, well maintained with a relaxed atmosphere- and when I met Tom Canning OBE the head of this school, and Executive Head of Cleves Primary, you can see that his enthusiasm and passion is the driving force. When you look at the welcoming reception areas, the bright and well equipped classrooms, along with the safe and secure playgrounds, you can see the major changes undertaken by Tom Canning, who has transformed this, and other schools from “Bleak To Beautiful”.
Entrance to Tollgate Primary
Tom has worked closely with Vincent Hayes and Brick Lane Music Hall before, and his praise for the team and their achievements is immediate. He joined me to watch this run through in the hall and his delight in what has happened in just eight sessions is obvious. “I had no idea I was watching a show by Tollgate Children- this could have been a Stage School! You now have one VERY proud Head Teacher! Well done!”
Tom Canning OBE
Joni has staged the Musical so that there is the minimum of entrance and exits to and from the raised stage. A raised stage. With microphones. With a sound system like the one I tour on The Pantomime Roadshow. Up above there is lighting- this school takes its drama very seriously, and you can tell that every effort has been made to ensure the children get the most out of their hall. Year Six are the lucky ones who take part in “Oliver!” They sit either side of the stage and in the big ensemble number fill the stage then return to their places. Only a few of the main characters make entrances which is part of Joni’s direction to keep noise and disruption to a minimum.
Each school, using the “Talks Template” will recreate this staging, even though most will not have the raised stage area. Benches will replace the edge of the acting area in their case, and Hayley-Jo, Alan and Jeff will stage their schools according to the template. This means that when another professional- a lighting and sound operator from Brick Lane arrives to stage manage the actual show, it will be the same “Plot” for them in all five schools.
Sitting at the back of the school hall observing, the most impressive thing that struck me was the total discipline on show. During this run through the concentration from everyone on the stage was marked. If you can get sixty children this concentrated, then something pretty powerful is going on- and on this, the eighth day of rehearsals, is a credit to everyone, especially Year Six! Perhaps that is the magic ingredient that professional performers can pass on to the children in all these schools- Theatre discipline. It is like the discipline that teachers instill in school, but it encompasses self discipline- to be alert and wait for your cue, to be prepared, with your lines learnt and your songs learnt, and to steel yourself to get up in front of a lot of parents, teachers and your peers and perform.
Joni Talks leads rehearsals at Selwyn Primary in a previous production of Oliver
Oliver here at Tollgate is played by eleven year old Thaj. He’s a bit smaller than most of his contempories and has true “Orphan Appeal!” When he stepped forward and sang “Where Is Love?” centre stage, it was a truly magical moment- Tom Canning, Ross and Joni exchanged a look that said “This is going to please the crowd!” The artful Dodger at Tollgate is played by Kemay. He has the cockney accent and the humour that you’d look for, and along with the fifty odd ensemble around him threw himself into “Consider Yourself” with obvious enjoyment. It is so difficult to pick out individual children for praise- everyone there is part of a creative process that is also a short learning curve. Skills they possibly never knew they had are being used. “Pick A Pocket Or Two” was full of clever staging and was obviously one of the set pieces all the children enjoyed being in, and watching. They found it genuinely funny- well done Lionel Bart!
Eleven year old Jennifer is narrator, and links together the story. She is bursting with energy, and has already mastered that stage technique of selling it “Out Front”- she can be heard from the back of the hall. Bett, Nancy’s friend is played by Ayan, and one studied performance in acting came from Ibrahim as Mr Brownlow. He was even able to prompt a fellow actor- he’d learnt every word. When Tom Canning told the children that it was like watching a Stage School rehearsal, one of the contributers here was Skye in the role of Nancy. A mature performance and voice – and great confidence. “As Long As He Needs Me” will be a “Wow” moment on the night of the show.
Bear in mind I’ve seen just ONE school and one rehearsal- the last here at Tollgate Primary before the afternoon of the show when all those costumes and props co-ordinated by staff will be employed. One school- Hayley-Jo, Alan and Jeff will be engaged in another four productions equally as impressive and impressively well organised.
Joni told me about the early sessions- building the confidence of the children through games and exercises- everyone pretending to be pickpockets for example. This she pointed out engages the boys first- getting them interested and enthusiastic because- well because it is fun! She tells me that they will then “Focus on the group that you might get the most resistance from”- she will start the vocal warm-up not with an “Oliver” number, but with a current pop song, “So they will associate rehearsals with fun and, because the song is contemporary, it will gain the creative team respect- they are of this moment- and if there is no respect, you won’t get results.”
Joni Talks and Ross Tomlinson at Tollgate Primary School
It’s all back to discipline really- all the Brick Lane team will impart a chunk of the theatre etiquette that goes with the job, especially when dealing with Year Six, who in a week’s time will be leaving the cosy surroundings of Primary School and will start at a new secondary school with all the pressures that come with that change. Joni says “They are the top dogs at this school. They are naturally anxious about what is to come, and you have to make the best of the situation”- and if any part of my early teacher training has remained with me, it is that I recognise what this project does is give the children a very special gift- confidence. The confidence it takes to stand up there in front of your mates- your teachers, parents, relatives and strangers- and deliver lines, sing songs and remember choreography- that is the essential quality they will need as they move onto the next stage towards adult hood.
Production shot of Oliver taken at Cleves Primary School
“Oliver!” will give them this confidence. Tom Canning has given these children the environment to nurture it, and by inviting Theatre professionals in to work with his staff, he has opened the cage for these young adults of the future to fly a little bit higher. To everyone I saw and met today- and to the five other “Oliver!” productions that will be performed next week- Consider Yourself Congratulated!
An Afternoon Out in Edenbridge, Kent
In addition to attending a 100th birthday party this week, our Outreach team were invited by Edenbridge Rotary Club to perform at a Strawberry Tea that they held for local elderly residents. Having been plied with cakes, the team managed to entertain the guests royally, with performances from Brick Lane Music Hall favourites, Peter John and John Styles, led by Brian Walker, with Musical Director, Michael Topping.
2014 Schools Programme
Our 2014 Schools Programme is underway, this year working with five East End schools
Brick Lane Music Hall is this year working with five schools on productions of Oliver. This is something of a logistical feat for our team, who started work at the beginning of June, led by Joni Talks. The schools involved are Selwyn and Tollgate Primaries in Plaistow; Cleves School, Upton Park; Selwyn Primary, Chingford and Davis Lane Primary, Leytonstone. Joni Talks, who is currently appearing in The Sixties Show at Brick Lane Music Hall, is joined in the schools project by Hayley-Jo Whitney, also in the show, along with Brick Lane Music Hall artists Alan McHale and Ross Tomlinson, and drama coach Jeff Chandler.
An Outing to Mile End!
The value of Laughter and Song – Nigel Ellacott enjoys an afternoon out at Coopers Court
Having worked at Brick Lane in the recent pantomime there, I was always curious about the talk of their “Outreach” programme. I knew that money was raised for the Outreach Charity, with donations and bequests from customers.
While I was there giving my Betty The Cook, a few times we were told that a customer had made a donation to subsidise a visit to a local care home or to a hospice in the area, and I would bump into Brian Walker or Joni Talks from time to time, en route to a Brick Lane visit.
It was a great joy to be invited along last week to one such “Outreach” show in Mile End, and to see for myself what goes on at these shows. What a great afternoon it was, and I’m so pleased I’ve witnessed for myself what Vincent, Zara and Joanne have described to me as “Reminiscence Music Hall!”
Today’s show was led by Brian Walker (pictured before the show, below, left) and Michael Topping (right). Hackney born Brian has been involved in Music Hall since way back when, and has been involved with Brick Lane through its journey from Brick Lane, to Curtain Row and now to Silvertown in the East End. Michael Topping I have had the pleasure of working with many times in tours of “Pinocchio” and “Hansel & Gretel” and variety shows around the country. Michael has the most infectious laugh you could ever hope to hear, and it used to ring out from the orchestra pit on many, many happy occasions!
When I arrived at Coopers Court in Mile End the residents were already assembling in the main room. Chairs had been set up by the staff and the first impression I got on walking in was that this was a jolly atmosphere. The staff and residents were looking forward to the show, and tea and cakes were the order of the day!
Michael was setting up his keyboard, and assisted by Brian they got the microphones and amp set up in a matter of minutes. About thirty five to forty residents and guests (some had been joined by their family I noticed) and about eight members of staff and carers were attending. Michael struck up “There’s No Business like Show Business!” as an overture, and the show began.
Recently I took my touring Pantomime Roadshow to a couple of Care Homes in the Midlands. Although intended for children we adapted the show, but I felt there was a vital element missing from our version- music. Music it seems can unlock the memory. Vincent tells his Brick Lane audiences about this, and I’ve heard him describe the effect of songs on those who suffer from memory loss, often as a result of long term illness. I had heard him describe it, and now I was witness to it.
Brian very skilfully has put together a programme of songs and jokes that does just this. As the show progressed I could see for myself how that formula was working. To begin with a few of the residents tentatively joined in with some of the “standards” of Music Hall- some of course might have been a bit shy to begin with, but it seemed to me that, as the hour and a half passed, more and more were joining in singing along and interacting with Michael and Brian.
I was fascinated to watch one lady who had barely looked up for the first five minutes of the show. Her lips moved from time to time. A group at the back were joining in at odd times, but mostly they were keeping time, tapping their feet. Brian’s opening number set the whole thing into motion. He opened with “I Wanna Say Hello, I wanna See you Smile”- which (and I admit I am a hopeless nostalgic and geek when it comes to all things 40’s) I recognised as Betty Driver’s hit number from the post war years! Yes- Betty from Corrie- her of Hotpot fame- She became a huge recording and variety star thanks to Gracie Fields and her producer husband, and this was one of her big hits!
A few joined in the odd word or too- prompted by Brian: “Do you remember it? Yes? Well why aren’t you singing it then! All together now…..” His warm up dated back to Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald- singing “When I’m calling You-ohh-e-ohhh-ohhh-ohh-ohh!” and a fair number of voices sang back the reply from “Rosemarie”. By now the room was turning into a party. A few more staff joined and a few more residents arrived and were settled in. Brian moved onto the songs from Music Hall that no-one in the room could have recalled from their heyday.
I remember when I started doing what we called “Old Time” Music Hall shows in the late 1970’s, I did a reminiscence spot with the audiences. We’d recall catchphrases and talk about local cinemas no longer in existence. On pensioner matinees, now and then someone would tell me how they’d been taken to see Marie Lloyd as a child, or had been to see G.H.Elliott in Pantomime. Not today. Those Music Hall days are too far away to be recalled now, but some of the “standards” or “Anthems” still live on. “She was a Sweet Little Dickie Bird.. Tweet Tweet Tweet….” Sang Brian. A Dozen or so residents chirped back “I was one of the worms!”.
The lady in the centre who had moved her lips a few times earlier now started to mouth “Hello! Hello! Who’s your lady friend” quite clearly, and almost everyone in the room was singing or at least mouthing the words of “Daisy, Daisy”. Brian’s patter turned to reminiscence. “Do you remember….?” And the faces lit up. He took them on a journey back to when the Coronation was on the 10” TV sets (along with a risqué gag about The Duke Of Edinburgh which went down a storm!) and led them on to recalling the jingles to commercials. “Murray Mints!” one lady yelled out to the great delight of the staff- she’d trodden all over Brian’s punch line, and he was delighted! The party was now in full swing!
I believe the oldest resident here today was approaching ninety, and a good number of the audience were in their seventies and early eighties. Their Music Hall isn’t Marie Lloyd, and it isn’t George Robey. Their memories are from the ‘Fifties. Brian said to me at the end of the show that their Music Hall is now Elvis Presley. The Fifties is that nostalgia, and the songs from the late 1940’s through to the Beatles are the ones that they can, if prompted, recall.
For residents with illnesses like Alzheimer’s and memory loss, to have the powerful prompt of music help unlock those memories, even for a short while, it is great medicine. Today’s audience started tentatively, but soon got into the swing of things. “You’re Nobody, ‘Til Somebody Loves You” was one song I noticed had the right effect. Those ladies at the back were singing EVERY word. Most of the lyric of “I Know That Someday”, a big Connie Francis hit was being recalled, as was “Embraceable You”, sung by Michael. Michael also gave the residents an up to date version of the old Clinton Ford song “The Old Bazaar In Cairo”- a bit naughty, but very nice!
More and more the residents were getting involved. Now it was the turn of the staff. Showing off his very dapper red suede shoes, Brian coaxed two lady staff members up to join him in the new dance sensation “Ballin’ The Jack”- this proved to be hugely popular and got its own encore before they returned to their seats!
Song after song followed- “Down at The Old Bull and Bush”, “Heart of My Heart” – that got a big response in the sing-a-long stakes, and “Underneath the Arches”. Brian asked if anyone had taken part in National Service. One or two residents had, and he recalled his own service in China and the Far East before getting everyone joining in “She Wears Red Feathers and a Hooley Hooley Skirt”- with actions!
“Pistol Packing Momma”, “You Are My Sunshine” and Hackney born Anthony Newley’s “Why- Because I Love You” were followed by what I think was the unqualified success of the day- the biggest response, the most complete recall of lyrics was “Irene, Goodnight”, first heard in 1934 but hugely popular in the 1950’s and once again last year from Eric Clapton. The lady in the middle sang every single word, and the same with “Your Cheating Heart”. It was quite something to watch, and a joy to behold.
One thing I especially noted was the reaction of the staff and carers here. It was obvious from the moment I arrived that this was a “happy” home- it was a place where residents were accompanied out to the local shop, or I’m sure the odd visit to the bookies- the hustle and bustle of the Mile End Road is just thirty yards away- and the atmosphere was jolly. This show was a fun event for the staff as well. For an hour and a half they get to relax, join in and be entertained themselves for a change, and get the added kick of watching their residents having a really good time.
Anyone can pick up the phone, or send an email to Brick Lane Music Hall to request a visit, so long as it is within the M25, or they are willing to pay travel expenses further afield in the South East region. There are over thirty of these shows a year. Sometimes Brian and Michael are joined by one of the Brick Lane Music Hall regulars, such as Joni Talks, Andrew Robley or Bill Byrne and all the fun of Brick Lane can be experienced by those who are unable to travel to the theatre.
Vincent Hayes started this charity when his first Music Hall building opened to help with community projects and schemes. He was honoured with an MBE for his work last year. The Music Hall is involved with local schools as well, and works alongside teachers to help the children put on their own performances at the end of a few weeks of working together with professionals.
There are many care homes and day centres and hospices that would enjoy a visit from Brick Lane-with donations coming in, the aim of this charity is to visit as many homes and hospices as possible during a year. This means those unable to visit Brick Lane can be offered the show at a subsidised rate.
A fleeting lyric from fifty years ago can bring all the memories flooding back- not just of that song, but of “the way we were” when that song was first heard. These memories are priceless, and judging by my visit today to Coopers Court, you cannot put a price on that. Huge thanks to all concerned for my visit, and to Brian Walker and Michael Topping for a lovely afternoon in the East End! Nigel Ellacott
A good old sing-song!
The Brick Lane Music Hall outreach team recently made a trip to Gillingham, Kent, to perform a show at a care home, which had been kindly sponsored by the Lions Club of Gillingham. Two of their members were in attendance to welcome our team and to witness one of our more raucous events!
With an audience of about 40 people in various stages of Dementia, even our experienced artists were shocked by the ability of the residents to sing at the tops of their voices! “They also laughed at all the jokes”, Brian Walker was pleased to report. He added “They had come to enjoy themselves and that is exactly what they did. A man who announced that he was so pleased to see us again had a great big gap-toothed grin on his face all the time, and when I asked him if he wanted to sing, he was up like a shot. He gave us three good songs. One of the staff got up and gave us her hearty rendition of ‘Delilah’. In all a very happy and fulfilling day!”
Many thanks to Gillingham Lions, who made this possible and to Martin Bobycomb for organising the event. Pictured above, Groveland’s star resident, with Pammie Walker enjoying the show. Pammie went along to the event with husband, Brian who led the show, accompanied by Musical Director, Michael Topping.
When Irish Eyes Are Smiling
The new year has got off to a rip-roaring start, with shows in Stoke Newington, Chiswick, Bexleyheath and Banstead. Brian Walker and Michael Topping were joined in Chiswick by Joni Talks. The three were also joined for an impromptu performance from an Irish lady, Maureen, one of the residents who they remembered from last year, who was once again persuaded to take the floor. “She she gave us two songs ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘When You Were Sweet Sixteen’ in a beautiful and plaintif voice”, reported Brian, “All the time she sang, she looked me in the eye. I promised myself that I would keep my eyes dry, but I failed miserably.“