Titanic – a legend

Image: Pamela Wraith

Titanic – a legend. Inspired by one of the greatest maritime disasters in history, Titanic The Musical, hit Bromley town centre at the Churchill Theatre from 16th to 18th March. The ‘unsinkable’ ship sets sail for her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, with a cast of 25 talented actors taking us through epic moments of passengers living their hopes and dreams, but unaware of the fate that awaits them.

Inspired by real-life stories of passengers, the music and lyrics written by Maury Yeston and book by Peter Stone presents a beautiful story-telling of soloist, duets and ensembles to convey the final hours of the RMS Titanic, 14th April 1912, where the ‘floating city’ vanishes beneath the freezing icy waters on the 15th April after colliding with an iceberg.

Having recently interviewed Abi Hudson (The Maid) from Bromley, the Bromley Buzz Podcast were excited and eager to see her performance and show.  Listen to her interview here.

As the curtains drew back, we are presented with a simple set that was spot-on, used to perfection, and the lighting was used to great effect, whether conveying the coldness of the air, the blinding brightness of the iceberg, or the eeriness of missed opportunities and the demise of key figures in the tale.  

The show begins with a rather long song that introduces us to the various characters who are about to set sail on the “unsinkable” modern miracle the RMS Titanic. We meet J Bruce Ismay, the owner, Thomas Andrews the designer, Edward Smith the ship’s Captain, the crew and the passengers from first-class billionaires to the second-class, the not so rich travelling to third class immigrants, the poor who have scraped enough money to get them to the promised land of America across the Atlantic Ocean.

Taking a box of tissues along, we were a tad bit disappointed that they remained untouched. Whilst a very good show put together with strong singing voices; with lots going on with long ballads this did not always give the characters time for the audience to connect and enjoy each character on an emotional level.  There was just too much jumping around from the first-class opulence to the cramped decks below of third-class.  A little more fleshing out of the third-class characters would help to make you feel more connected to them.

The majority of the tale is sung, therefore there is very little spoken dialogue. More dialogue would have given the extra edge to resonating with the characters more.

Yes, there were some really moving points within the production that provided some goosebump moments, like the moment when the lookout yells, ‘iceberg right ahead!’ and sounds the warning bell, and as the delightful elderly Strauss couple sang and danced their final moments.

The final scenes are moving as one might expect from such a tragic tale. Amid all the singing and dancing of the musical, more than 100 years on, one will never forget the terrible human tragedy of the Titanic and it will continue live on in history…

All in all, a good way to pass a few hours on a Friday evening.

Zeenat Noorani & Sarah Marsh-Collings

Wodehouse In Wonderland: a one-man wonder

Images: Pamela Raith

From the first chords of the Jazz music that heralded the opening of the show ‘Wodehouse In Wonderland’ at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre last night, and on until 11th March, a perfect note was struck that actor Robert Daws, performing as the late, great lyricist and literary humourist PG ‘Plum’ Wodehouse, sustained throughout.

It was a remarkable one man show. The scene was Wodehouse’s study in his home in the US, with Wodehouse by then a prolific, highly successful author in his older age. The subject was Wodehouse’s life story, sampling some of the iconic characters that he penned, including Jeeves, the incomparable gentleman’s personal gentleman; the good-hearted Bertie Wooster and his motley crew of fellow Drones Club members; aunts a-plenty; Lord Emsworth; and the porcine Empress of Blandings.

The words, fittingly for the story of an author responsible for some of the best comic prose in all of English literature, were scripted with a delightful lightness of touch by playwright William Humble. The direction of Robin Herford must have brought the best from Robert Daws, an actor with a fine track record, including playing Tuppy Glossop in TV’s Jeeves and Wooster alongside Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. The stagecraft he employed to exploit the full space of the stage was sublime: sitting, leaning, reading, singing, typing, declaiming, and interacting with some very clever noises off. A moveable feast of acting.

The form of the play, too, worked very well. It was, in essence, a mix of anecdote and life history, punctuated by occasional songs. I sat with reviewers from Entertainment Focus (their review is here), who agreed that Robert’s singing voice was outstanding. Along the way, we were treated to Daws’ Wodehouse recounting letters to his daughter Leonora, and a spiky interview with an American journalist looking for scandal. It was all rather well woven together. Robert Daws soon had the audience in his hand, as well as a martini or two. Much of the storytelling and reflections were as light and innocent as Wodehouse’s novels. However, in the second half the play went on to explore Wodehouse’s internment by the German military in World War Two, the greatest mistake of his life, and its sad repercussions. In this, I was unexpectedly reminded of Kerrin Roberts moving performance as the mistreated codebreaker Alan Turing in ‘Breaking The Code’ at Bromley Little Theatre. There was a touch of that same sense of a man rendered an injustice, a venomous response that marred his life.

Robert Daws is clearly a born raconteur, and he is so suited to this part. I had forgotten most of what I knew of Wodehouse’s life from reading his autobiography, ‘Wodehouse On Wodehouse’, and it was lovely to be so thoroughly reminded, with many a highlight depicted. Wodehouse’s ‘empire orphan’ upbringing, the Rise of the Aunts, his eventual daily routine, his singular appreciation of Shakespeare, these and other details added a pleasing depth to the show.

Wodehouse, who, as the play suggested (almost) ‘avoided real life altogether’, may well have been rather less charismatic in person than Robert Daws played him. Thus when Daws read scenes from a very small handful of Wodehouse’s books, the characters sparkled, brought to life even more than they had appeared in my own imagination when I first read them.

One of the songs of the show was ‘You’re the Tops!’ It would have been easy to deliver this show as a showcase for Wodehouse’s great characters and to lose the character of Wodehouse himself. Or to turn it into a laughter-fest sending up Wodehouse, his habits, and his quite narrow jolly writing tone and his unchanging (or timeless) characters. Neither occurred here. For Wodehouse fans, and lovers of a genuinely interesting story well told, this show is The Tops! 

Our Bromley Buzz podcast interview with Robert Daws can be heard here, and tickets are available here.

Darren, and Jacqui, Weale, 10th March 2023

Nine tries and a conversion

It felt as if the ground shook as the two teams, Bromley’s Westcombe Park Rugby Football Club (RFC) and Colchester RFC, in what amounted to a decider for the Regional 1 South East title, took to the field at Goddington Dene on Saturday 4th March. A mere £5 for a match programme saw me admitted.

Rugby teams don’t consist of the relative waifs found on football pitches, and a favourite moment of the whole game was an early massive collision in centre field between two strapping lads vying to catch an up and under. With a thud that could be heard across the ground they met, at speed, and got up, slowly, slapped each others backs, and were looking about them just in time to see Westcombe Park’s first points go on the board through a penalty. 3-0 soon became 8-0 with the first try, and then 10-0. Then another try, 15-0, and I was soon to lose count, forgetting to consult the busy scoreboard near one set of posts. This was one-way traffic from a Westcombe side sensing the glory of a return to the national league, I was told, for the first time in a couple of decades. A missed conversion was followed by another try, and I had time to ponder just how high a standard of rugby was on view. It wasn’t just that the referee’s whistle, much-used for tries and conversions, sounded just like what you hear on the TV for international games, here were slick moves, high quality handling, and precise kicking. These players might not be the man-mountains to be found in the international game, but they can play.

By then, at 29-0 to the ‘Combe’, I was touring the ground, chatting to people as I went, but still keeping my eyes and ears on the game. A player’s girlfriend told me that the Tuesday and Wednesday night training gave her a bit of time to herself, but that she also washed her man’s kit, clearly not an everyday wash. I passed the one stand to the left of the field, and an ecstatic black Labrador dog being stroked, one of several canine onlookers. The stand was filled with enthusiastic supporters of both sides, and I went onto ‘the mound’, where a naturally good view is to be had.

From there I went to stand behind the far posts and pass a few remarks with ‘Chairman Rugby Playing’, Steve Reynolds (above), as Combe scored another lovely try on the left wing. “Yes! That’s the bonus point”, came from Steve. He asked a player, “Still nervous?”, and the reply came back, “Not now. It’s good nerves. Channelled it.” More bluntly, as Colchester exerted perhaps their first pressure of the match, a player exhorted his team mates with the rallying call, “Right boys, let’s dig deep here. Let’s get f**king through it.” A disallowed Colchester try followed, then a fine finish for a first opposition try by one of the team’s Army contingent. Undaunted, an under the posts discussion as the conversion was attempted included another Combe rallying cry, “Let’s put another try on them before half time.” By then my companion Steve was getting a little nervous, “This ain’t over by a long shot”, he said as Colchester sought to exert themselves further. In a happier vein, soon he was to say, accurately, “Oh, we’re going to score here.” 34-7. But that one bonus point needed to be added to, and Steve revealed, “That means they’ve got to get to 41… it’s a good performance so far, a cracking performance.”

Half-time intervened and as the second half began, Westcombe didn’t slacken their efforts, rapidly scoring a disallowed try. By then the crowd had relaxed somewhat and had got on to discussing the finer points of rugby. In an already entertaining game, another Westcombe try was followed by a conversion attempt bouncing, unscored, off a post, but the magic 41 point mark had been passed. At that point Colchester, largely starved of possession, broke through for another try of their own. The crowd’s calls of ‘Come on, Combe!’ were answered again and again with more and more tries scored until the final score of 60-19 was achieved. I was lucky enough to interview bearded Westcombe fan Graham on the cusp of the final whistle, and the cheers can be heard in the audio recorded as it happened.

Both teams went into a post-whistle huddle to absorb what the day meant to them. As I went to photograph the players, one of the crowd said, “We won the league in style today.” He was right, and, as Steve Reynolds confessed, now he could sleep again for the first time in days.

I found one more interviewee, Westcombe Captain Harry Hudson, a very happy, proud man, and scorer of one try on the day. He and his team mates were tired, and as one tried to dispose of some rubbish, he said wryly, “I can’t even hit the bin now.” Yet the team had put over nine tries, and one conversion. Me. I will be back. Seeing that quality of rugby at that price, and what it meant to every man, woman, and perhaps dog there, means I am no longer an entirely armchair rugby viewer. Go, Combe. The National League awaits.

The club’s own match report and the names of all the scorers can be read here. Congratulations to Raf Dutta, named man of the match.

Our first podcast interview with a member of the club, Chairman John Vallely, is here (April 2022).

Darren Weale, 7 March 2023

Blood Brothers – Not a dry eye in the house!

Image credit: Jack Merriman

The multi-award-winning Blood Brothers production by Billy Kenwright, written by Willy Russell, didn’t disappoint one bit! For many years I’ve been wanting to see this and finally it is here in our home town, Bromley at the Churchill Theatre, playing until the 4th of March 2023.

This is a moving and captivating story about two brothers, twins, who were separated at birth. As the story unfolds from opposite sides of the tracks, we get a glimpse into two different classes, family values, and the true realities of living in Liverpool in the 1970s. The two brothers paths through unfortunate circumstances find serendipity gravitating them back together in adulthood, where the audience experiences a touching story of unconditional love…

From the get-go, the curtain rose with a stunning night scene of Liverpool. The production captivated the audience with ‘ooh’s’, ‘aah’s’, laughter, and tears…. There was not a moment of boredom. A truly wonderful show, everything was on point from start to finish, keeping every single one of us on the edge of our seats. The play is funny, touching, and honest.

7-year-old Mickey (Sean Jones) a grown adult, was superbly acted along with his Blood Brother Eddie (Joe Sleight). I wasn’t so sure how well this would work, but wow! It was so believable. The love and friendship portrayed by both these characters was truly deep and heart-warming. The mother of Mickey and Eddie, Mrs Johnston, (Paula Tappenden) played an outstanding performance of a hard-working mother who continually strives to keep the wolf from the door. It is no walk in the park for her. Her extraordinary performance brought the joy and sadness of her emotions right through to the audience.

Sarah Marsh-Collings (another Bromley Buzzer) accompanied me to the opening night and it absolutely ticked every box for both of us. The audience was thoroughly immersed into every second of the musical production from start to finish.  This is what Sarah had to say, ‘Great set, acting superb, accents fab, diction spot on (I hate it when you can understand what they’re singing about in a musical!) very moving. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the final curtain came down. Standing ovation and 4 curtain calls.’ That says it all.

If you haven’t seen Blood Brothers, then don’t wait. I highly recommend see it as it might open your eyes up to a new way of thinking. A truly legendary production that will leave you talking about it all the way home.  The Daily Mail said about the show, ‘It brings the audience cheering to its feet and roaring its approval.’ It did exactly that with four standing ovations on this opening night!

Playing now at Churchill Theatre, Bromley from Tuesday 28th February – Saturday 4th March. Tickets here.

Zeenat Noorani, 2nd March 2023

Designer Death in Farnborough

Walter Pearce, Member of Parliament, isn’t much of an advert for modern British politics, as we discover in Rob Urbinati’s play, Death By Design, which was presented by the Farnborough Dramatic Society (FDS) in a 3-night run that concluded on 18th February. Pompous and philandering, he is central to the action of the play. Convincingly portrayed by Robin Walker, he is surrounded by an array of characters joining him in congregating at the home of Edward (Martin Dale) and Sorrell Bennett (Nicola Hollow), respectively a playwright of dubious talent and his narcissistic wife. Martin, hitherto outstanding in the earlier FDS production Dangerous Obsession, was once again in fine form, and he has a real talent for playing both innocence and evil. Here he was well-matched by Nicola Hollow, who did a fine line in sheer battiness.

As the night unfolds, more characters are woven in and are found to be related in more ways than at first meet the eye. Housemaid Bridget (Barbara Jones) develops a surprisingly pivotal role. Chauffeur Jack (Nick Abbott) deadpanned his way effectively throughout and had the best comic line of the night, featuring a popular meat product. Left-field and leftward-leaning politically Eric (Mark Hollidge) produced some of the night’s livelier moments. The liveliest of all are embraced with aplomb by Victoria Van Roth (Victoria Hollidge).

This is an oddball, slightly bonkers murder mystery directed by Holly Seijo, and Victoria was the oddest ball of all, sweeping, curvetting, and gasping around the stage, and that before she encountered several too many martinis. The simple set provided a suitable backdrop and, not for the first time, a lot of ‘alcohol’ is consumed on stage, suggesting the theatre has some good behind the scenes celebrations. The night passed quickly, and was constantly entertaining, absorbing and fun, and a reminder of just why, when we arrived early, there was already a queue outside.

Do pop along to Farnborough Village Hall and see an FDS production. They’re well worth it, and good value at around £10 a ticket. The next show is Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott, on from 18th to 20th May 2023. Congratulations to the FDS on their 80th anniversary this year. The FDS website is here.

Darren Weale, 20th February 2023

Rock Of Ages at the Churchill Theatre

Image: The Other Richard

Dreams can come true. The musical show Rock of Ages now at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre deals with highs and lows of life in Los Angeles, California, where a love story unfolds at the famous Bourbon Room on Sunset Strip. A young girl, Sherrie (played by Gabriella Williams), from Kansas, wishes to become an actress, and is with a talented guy, Drew (played by Sam Turrell), from Detroit, whose desire is to be a rock star.

Kevin Kennedy (Coronation Street, Curly Watts) as Dennis Dupree, the owner of the Bourbon Room, is pretty cool at pulling the musical together, working the audience to join in with the music.

Rock of Ages sure got the audience going singing, clapping, and grooving along to many famous 80’s rock songs, where the show kicked off with, ‘We Built This City.’ A truly entertaining show with a cross between musical, comedy, and theatre with a bit of slapstick panto style banter thrown in! An outstanding hilarious performance as the cast shuffled across the stage to get their moment in the limelight, with comedy often full of innuendos.

Throughout the show, classical rock anthems rolled out, such as, ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’, ‘Can’t Fight this Feeling’, ‘The Final Countdown’, ‘Here I Go Again’, ‘I Want To Know What Love is’, ‘Oh Sherrie’, and ‘Waiting for a Girl Like You’. The songs, closing to one of my favourite inspirational tunes, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’, fed their way into the production at perfect moments in relation to the storyline, and were performed loud and proud by an awesome rocking live band on stage.

Audience members commented that at times some of the singers’ microphones sounded unbalanced, losing some of the lyrics. But that did not stop anyone from thoroughly relishing the show.

Overall, this was an entertaining night where you can transport yourself back to the 80’s to feel Rock vibrate through your soul! A jam-packed, beautifully brought together performance, with awesome comedy, dancing and acting.

Don’t miss out on your chance to Rock with Ages, playing at the Churchill Theatre until; 11th February 2023. Tickets here.

Zeenat Noorani 7th February 2023

Swan Lake: Total awe

I was in total awe as I sat, immersed, watching the beautiful performance of Swan Lake presented by The International Classic Ballet Theatre at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre. Swan Lake is a tragic tale of love that triumphs over evil. Prince Siegfried, given a bow and arrows, heads off hunting into the forest where he meets and falls in love with Odette, Queen of the Swans, merely to be tricked into betraying her with devastating consequences. 

The beautiful performance brought back a flood of wonderful memories of my time as a ex-dancer and ex-professional ice-skater performing to the famous composer Tchaikovsky. Here, his music was exquisitely played by a full live orchestra. A score that will always be remembered. Every time I hear the tune, it gives me goosebumps- transporting me to another world. 

The company of international dancers touring now, from the United States, take to the stage with delightful pirouettes, grande jetes and battements, and incredible arabesques with such elegance and ease. The jester (a very good dancer) kept the audience entertained with his leaps across the floor and quirky mischievous actions.

International ballerinas were selected by the Artistic Director, Marina Medvetskaya, a former prima ballerina of Tbilisi State Academic Opera and Ballet. Each dancer is evidently chosen for their gracefulness, skill and flexibility, all essential for the classical style of ballet presented.

One of the audience, who had never been to a ballet performance before, told me that he found the performance interesting, but was slightly lost about the storyline until he read the brochure at the interval.  When asked if he would see it again and any other balletic performances, he replied, ‘Yes, as this has opened my eyes to something new and different to what I would normally see. It has given me a different perspective of the meaning of ballet. A great evening out!’

The International Classic Ballet Theatre perform Swan Lake at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley from Wednesday 11th to Thursday 12th January. They then move straight onto the Nutcracker, from Friday 13th to Saturday 14th January. Tickets here.

Zeenat Noorani, 12 January 2023

Hamper competition with Laura’s Larder

The Bromley Buzz podcast team have teamed up with Laura’s Larder in Petts Wood to offer a New Year’s competition. The prize is a hamper with a range of food and drink to get 2023 off to a lovely start for one winner. It’s crammed with a selection of Laura’s Larder’s best-selling fine food and wine in one of their beautiful signature grey wicker hampers, total value £100.

How to enter? Answer the following questions in an email to hello@bromleybuzz.co.uk, titled ‘Bromley Buzz competition 1’

1.   Name the local Bromley Members of Parliament who have been interviewed by the Bromley Buzz podcast

2.   Name the brand of garlic butter stocked by Laura’s Larder. Bromley Buzz co-presenter Darren loves it, especially the smoked garlic variety, and he has talked about it on the podcast. He will be again in January. Do go and try some for yourself from Laura’s Larder!

Entries should be sent by email by midnight on Friday 17th February 2023 to hello@bromleybuzz.co.uk titled “Bromley Buzz competition 1”. The single winner will be chosen, at random, from those who answer the two questions correctly, as judged by Bromley Buzz co-presenters Darren Weale and Zeenat Noorani. It would be helpful if you could supply a telephone number, which would only be used to notify you if you win.

This will be a collection-only prize, so anyone who cannot go to the shop in normal, published  opening hours to collect the hamper on or before 17th March 2023 will be disqualified and another winner chosen from correct entries submitted.

If the second (back up) winner drawn on the same basis from remaining entries and notified were not to collect the prize on or by 17th April 2023, the hamper will be donated to Bromley Foodbank.

The image is used for promotional purposes and is indicative. The final hamper and contents will vary from the selection in the image.

The only prize on offer is the hamper, and its contents are at the discretion of Laura’s Larder. There is no monetary or other alternative. Including the value of the hamper itself, the contents will be no less than to the value of £100 at retail prices.

Laura’s Larder is a specialist food store and delicatessen, bringing carefully curated, quality groceries, provisions and eco-friendly refills to Petts Wood and surrounding areas. You can hear Laura, a supplier, and a customer in episode 34 of the Bromley Buzz podcast .

Overview: The business landscape in Bromley

Bromley’s Mayor, and former Small Business Champion, Cllr Hannah Gray (pictured) says, “Bromley is simply a great place to start and do business.”

It is good to remember that opinion as 2023 begins amid many stories of economic gloom and doom. You can listen to our most recent interview with Hannah below.

In June 2022, I wrote an article for the blog of Startups magazine entitled ‘The London borough of Bromley – a buzzing role model for business?’. The answer I gave was a positive one, and I see no reason to change it, despite genuine concern and harm caused by rising fuel and other costs and other factors.

Since that article was written, the Bromley Buzz website was created and then this blog. So, as the new year begins, I will revisit and expand on that earlier writing, using this blog, our new Bromley channel.

One thing has hardly changed. Our affection for the Start Up Bromley service – one based in three of Bromley’s libraries that provides working space, workshops and education opportunities for local businesspeople and people considering starting a business. In the Startups magazine article, it was a pleasure to quote David Smith, Economics Editor of The Sunday Times, saying that “Start Up Bromley is fantastic… a role model”.

Did you know that the first episode of the Bromley Buzz podcast was recorded in the Start Up Bromley business lounge in Bromley central library? If not, you do now. Take a listen.

Here, too, is an interview we conducted with staff from Start Up Bromley.

Is there an economic over view of Bromley? Well, yes, there is. You might like to read Bromley Council’s Economic Strategy 2021-2031 document here.

It sets out 7 ambitions:

1. Our residents have access to the right opportunities for skills and education that will ensure healthy employment

2. Our businesses have access to the right employment spaces in the right places with local business clusters which encourage enterprise and facilitate sustained growth

3. Our borough is an exciting, attractive, healthy, sustainable and welcoming place where businesses thrive, people aspire to live and visit, and new enterprises seek to invest

4. Our High Streets are places where people want to work, visit and live

5. Our residents and business community are well connected through diverse physical and digital infrastructure networks which underpins mobility across the whole borough

6. Our cultural and tourism industries continue to grow and diversify, and our unique historical features are promoted for the world to see

7. Our green economy will help to sustain and advance economic, environmental and social wellbeing

That was published in 2021, while the pandemic was unfolding, Brexit was having its impact, and before the invasion of Ukraine. Those strategic aims are still there to be delivered. We will be inviting Councillors and Council staff to share progress with us here and in our podcast. One item of news is that Bromley has funding as a Night Time Enterprise Zone – details here. Another is the opportunity (until mid-February) to bid for funding from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund – see this post on the Bromley Business Hub website.

Do you know about Bromley’s BID’s? BID stands for Business Improvement District. These are locations that have organisations working for town centre high street businesses to encourage footfall and a better experience for people using those streets. In Bromley we have them in:

  • Bromley town centre – ‘Your Bromley’ – here. We interviewed two of Your Bromley’s team here.
  • Beckenham town centre – ‘Beckenham Together’ – here.
  • Orpington – ‘Orpington 1st‘ – here.
  • Penge BID – ‘Penge SE20’ – here.

They are behind numerous events, high street improvements, and communications that lift the places they are in. You can hear our interviews from Orpington 1st’s ‘Santa Dash’ in 2021 in our podcast here. Yes, we dashed in the Dash.

One of the other highlights of Bromley’s business scene is the Beckenham Business Association and the events it runs. We interviewed the Association Chair, Jane Rogers, here.

Businesspeople love to get together to network, to do business, learn, and, in some cases, be less lonely. This is another strength in Bromley, with opportunities including:

  • Local chapters of Business Networking International (BNI), such as BNI Lightning in Orpington, where you will find me half awake at 6.30am every Thursday.
  • Ladies Who Latte – here.
  • Federation of Small Business (FSB) events – here.
  • Business Over Breakfast (BOB) – here.
  • Rotary Clubs – Bromley club here.

Tip: local businessman (office supplies/branded workwear) Chandra Sharma is a local font of knowledge on networking and has himself founded or contributed to many groups, and won awards for doing so. Questions? Ask Chandra of Elmcroft Business Services.

Location, location, location… where do business people work from in Bromley?

Above: Sophie, Jaya and Aimee at Newman Flexible Workspace

Business people can work from their bedrooms or living rooms or garden offices (especially while at the ‘side hustle’ or start up stage), hot desk in shared locations, rent offices, or whole buildings. Some of the local opportunities for flexible working include:

Bromley has some special attractions beyond being a large, green borough with the assets I have already described. It has heritage and current stars. For example, David Bowie, Charles Darwin, HG Wells, Emma Raducanu and Dina Asher-Smith. It is a borough on the outskirts of London with a well-educated workforce (some of it supplied by London Colleges South East), many outstanding schools, and excellent transport links with railway stations and the M25 close by. There are several regular markets for makers and artisans across the borough from ones held at the Biggin Hill Memorial Museum to those at the Signature Care Home in Beckenham. Bromley has a lively arts scene, and is, simply, a lovely place to live, and to do business in.

If you’re reading this from outside Bromley, come and see for yourself. Take in the Churchill and other theatres here, award-winning restaurants such as the Copper Ceylon (we interviewed owner Haran here). And listen to more of our podcast episodes as we talk with more people in our business community.

Even as I write, new businesses are opening up in Bromley. There is a new bubble tea establishment where I live in Orpington to investigate, and in central Bromley my Bromley Buzz co-presenter Zeenat Noorani and I were some of the first people through the newly-opened doors of the Dorothy & Marshall restaurant in December, and we’ll be talking about that in the Bromley Buzz podcast.

Darren Weale, 4 January 2023

What do we need? FAB-U-LOUS panto

“I needed that”, said Bromley Buzz co-presenter Zeenat Noorani as she exited the Churchill Theatre on 6th December, after seeing the pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk. It was clear from behind-the-scenes remarks by theatre staff and on-stage ones by the cast that they too welcomed this, an old school, old style, faces to faces experience in which all concerned conspire to have a great time.

Pantomime is a special art form, on the one hand an innocent, laugh a minute spectacle for kids, on the other a succession of gags that it will often take them a decade or more of added lifetime to understand. In a good pantomime, the kids love most of the jokes even as some of the content goes over their heads. Meanwhile, while their accompanying adults get that, they often fail to resist the juvenile humour, and are soon to be seen boo’ing and ‘Oh, no she won’t-ing’ with the best of their young companions. Even so, the real test of the quality of a panto is in the reaction of children, and those present, among them pupils from at least two local primary schools and a nearby Brownies troop, were noisily engrossed from the very start.

Jack and the Beanstalk achieved this delicate balance of pleasure for all brilliantly. The unspoken Master of Ceremonies for the night and co-writer of the script was the well-named ‘Comedy Wordsmith’ Lloyd Hollet, aka Silly Simon (pictured, credit Danny Kaan). The script was a joy, and as Zeenat observed, the tuning of the script to reflect and to poke gentle fun at Bromley (and include the 75 Glades shopping centre businesses Lloyd promised us when interviewed for the Bromley Buzz podcast!), made it extra special. He didn’t tell us, incidentally, that Dame Trot (Darren Machin) would be marvellous, and he was. Nor did he refer to the second half spell of music-based repartee that would have graced any comedy stage.

From the start, the panto was loud (boosted by live musicians in the orchestra pit led by Ian Townsend), big, bold, rousing, and colourful. Did we say big? Big set, big, bright costumes (extra credit to Bethany Page and Celine Castillon for those), big sound, big comedy, big songs. Just big. The deep, roomy stage was well-used for dance numbers that showcased Strictly dancer and judge Anton Du Beke (interview here), at times at home under a glitter ball, and led into some quite demanding wordplay by the Comedy Wordsmith.

To the plot, or at least, a hint of it. Boy (Jack, played by Anton Du Beke) has met girl (Princess Jill, played by Rhiane Drummond, interview here), and is aided by his brother, Silly Simon, in attempting to rescue Daisy the cow from the clutches of Mrs Blunderbore (Rachel Izen) and the hungry Giant, generated in 3D as we donned 3D glasses in the second half, bringing some scary creature moments right into the eyeballs of the audience. Zeenat especially appreciated the immediacy and thrill factor of the 3D, observing that it “added another dimension”.

It isn’t a complex plot, but it works, it has a shape, and it provides the backdrop to the glorious jokes and glitz.

If we were going to channel our inner Craig Revel-Horwood’s, we might say the night ended a little soon, a little abruptly, or warn the parents of very young children that the loudness might put some off, and that one or two characters might have been more to the fore, but why go down that route? We can settle for Craig’s famed summary. This show pulled out all the stops to entertain and to be memorable, and it is FAB-U-LOUS. And big.

The show runs at the Churchill Theatre until 31st December. Tickets here.

Darren Weale and Zeenat Noorani, 6th December 2022