Rev Richard Coles – stand out storyteller

Vicars. They’re dull, right? They dress in grey and often deliver sermons to match. So much for clichés (well-deserved or not). The Reverend Richard Coles is an utter exception. Sure enough, when we saw him on his ‘first night in Bromley’, he dressed in grey and had on his white clerical collar, but he proved that he can talk in technicolour!

That proof came when the Churchill Theatre in Bromley hosted ‘An Audience with the Rev Richard Coles’ on 24th August. He is pictured above (centre) near the stage door, flanked by Bromley Buzz podcast co-presenters Zeenat Noorani and Darren Weale. Our one regret on the night was that Richard has retired as a vicar, so there is no chance to attend a service he leads and to listen to one of his sermons.

You have to be living quite a life to hold an audience spellbound talking on stage by yourself with no more than a glass of water on a small table for company. The Reverend Richard Coles is living such a life. Coming from a family of shoe manufacturers, whose UK business faded alongside so many others decades ago, a choirboy, musician in The Communards when they hit the charts, broadcaster, University Chancellor, crime writer, Strictly Come Dancing contestant, and retired vicar, Richard has led and is leading a uniquely varied and full life.

Richard clearly could have talked for many hours, if not days, and drawn further on his past and present. Reading up on him now, there is so much more that he could have said. Yet from talking about Roland Rat to his initial disinclination to go anywhere near joining the priesthood, to belated romance and the madness of grief – a very personal story – and winning the ‘golden whisk’ in a Christmas MasterChef competition, he showed himself to be a captivating, charming and funny storyteller, and an artist of the spoken word.

A man with a rare ability to talk about so much without his story wandering into a lengthy discourse on faith, music or any other tempting topic, Richard was a delight. He was also a patient delight, still answering questions from the audience when one or two ignored his ‘last question’ request as he eyed his journey to home and the south coast.

We hope Richard enjoyed his first visit (!) to Bromley as much as we did. He will appear at the Rye Literary Festival on 22nd September – details here. If you’re going from Bromley, he is worth the journey.

Sara Barron at Three Hounds Beer, Beckenham

Sara Barron with Bromley Buzz co-hosts Zeenat Noorani and Darren Weale

Edinburgh and the USA came to The Three Hounds Beer Cafe & Bottle Shop in Beckenham on THAT very hot day, Tuesday 19th July during the Bromley Arts Festival, in the shape of comedian Sara Barron, an American now living in London, and on her way to Scotland soon for the Edinburgh Fringe. She came to the small, friendly Three Hounds Beer Cafe – where you can bring your own food – to run her act past an intimate audience in the 25-or so capacity basement venue. Sara had been there twice before, as she told us when we interviewed her briefly for the Bromley Buzz podcast, here.

It’s great that top entertainers come to smaller venues locally in Bromley – we’ll add the Bridge House Theatre in Penge and Bromley Little Theatre to that short local list – and Sara gave our podcast co-hosts Zeenat Noorani and Darren Weale a memorable evening.

The behaviour of Sara’s husband during child-making efforts (in these stories, a study in remote working…) was a theme, and a funny one. Biology and behaviour were frequent sources of humour and Sara sometimes stepped into dangerous comedic territory – miscarriage? – but comedy should be about the full human experience and she has an endearing way of checking back with the audience if she felt there was a risk of actual offence on those occasions when she engaged people directly.

Sara’s delivery was snappy, physical (she paced and gesticulated surprisingly successfully in the small space), and her Edinburgh warm-up warmed her up only too well in those sticky conditions. Not surprisingly, Sara reflected on contrasts between British and American customs and people, which put a new spin on our special relationship. It was a really punchy hour or so of comedy, the very best of it more in the first half, as it did feel that the story arc that ran across the later part of the set was rough around the edges. Hardly surprising when some of it had only been penned that morning. Lucky us for getting comedy literally hot off the press.

Sara will be different and her act better-honed (with Bromley’s help) for those upcoming Edinburgh audiences.

Watch out, Edinburgh, Sara Barron and her at times gynaecological humour are coming north. We would like to see her in Bromley again and we will be seeing more of the other excellent talents appearing regularly at the Three Hounds.

Breaking the Code – and other barriers

All of us involved in the Bromley Buzz podcast love the arts in one form or another, from The Jersey Boys (Sarah) to figure skating (Zeenat), to The Lament for Icarus by Draper (Darren), to Comicon (Tim). So much more that is uplifting and beautiful and that makes life worth living could be added.

Breaking the Code at Bromley Little Theatre, which runs until 9th July during the Bromley Arts Festival, is just as worthy of love, being a fine piece of theatre, but emotionally it is vexing as it reflects so painfully on the way some people were treated during a period of history that we have not moved fully away from. The theatre website describes it in these words, “Last performed at BLT in 1991, this compassionate play is the story of Alan Turing, mathematician and father of computer science. Turing ‘broke the code’ in two ways: he cracked the German Enigma code during World War II and also shattered the English code of sexual discretion with his homosexuality. A compelling piece of modern theatre that has certainly stood the test of time.”

Kerrin Roberts in the lead role brilliantly conveyed both Turing’s passion and the tunnel vision that changed history and made him sadly vulnerable to an establishment that used his vision, then condemned his lifestyle. Charlie D’Imperio as the slippery Ron Miller, one of Turing’s partners, the suitably soulless policeman Mick Ross (Giles Tebbitts) and Paul Ackroyd as Dillwyn Knox stood out in a strong cast that brought out the best of what is a remarkable story.

We could talk more about the simple set that was frequently re-shuffled to good effect, the wonderful opening to the second half, and the Desdemona-like conclusion for Turing, but we won’t. What we will talk about is respect. Respect for the play, for the performance, and for its importance. What happened to Turing was very recent in historical terms. The law has changed, but how far has society moved on? When it is a surprise and a celebration when an isolated famous LGBTQ+ person ‘comes out’ in sport, have we really moved on so much? Are the pressures that tortured Turing – who experienced chemical castration – so well resolved now? Perhaps doubt about the extent of that resolution reinforces why this play is one where anger might be for some the dominant emotion as the play concludes.

Yet that is part of the beauty of the arts. Their ability to evoke negative emotions which spark constructive thinking can often be an engine for positive change, a force for good, as this play can be viewed. This was a great choice of play to put on in the 50th year of Pride, a celebration Turing did not live to see, although he should have. Pride events continue across the UK and can be viewed here. Tickets to Breaking the Code are here.

You can listen to a full interview with the Bromley Little Theatre here and learn about LGBTQ+ services in Bromley here.

Darren Weale, 6th July 2022

Theatre 62: Memorable local theatre

Image: Freda Caplan (Mercedes Yearley) and Robert Caplan (Geoff Dillon)

On the eve of the July-long Bromley Arts Festival, Theatre 62 in West Wickham put on a highly polished performance of J.B. Priestley’s play ‘Dangerous Corner’, in their 60th anniversary year. It was a first visit to the theatre for myself and my Bromley Buzz podcast co-presenter Zeenat Noorani, and once the curtains parted to start the show it was quickly striking how small the gap can be between amateur and professional theatre.

The box office was dinky, the seats lightweight, the air conditioning absent, but there the differences with bigger theatres largely ended. The essence of live entertainment is what happens on stage, and this was a highly entertaining, slick and apparently well-rehearsed show.

The play, performed on a single, well-dressed 1930’s-style set occupied by even better-dressed actors, centres on a group of close friends and business associates. They come together for an evening which unravels from the moment that they can’t tune into dance music on a radiogram. Instead, they talk. Soon, they come to wish they hadn’t. The atmosphere becomes more and more tense as they tease truths, half-truths and revelations from each other.

The evening proceeds as half Spanish Inquisition, half game of truth and consequences, and one joy of the night is that each actor, even Betty Whitehouse (Christabel Wickert), who edges out with an incipient headache at one point, has their time in the spotlight of growing scandal. An exception is Miss Mockridge (Jane Sheraton), whose cameo appearances as a scandal-seeking Downton Abbey Dowager Duchess type figure are briefer, but still amusing. Much of the night concerns an absent friend, Martin, beautifully described as “as cruel as a cat”, and, absent or not, he still manages to drive the plot.

In what amounts to a detective-less investigation, Robert Caplan (Geoff Dillon), Freda Caplan (Mercedes Yeardley), Gordon Whitehouse (Stuart Scott), Betty Whitehouse (Christabel Wickert), Olwen Peel (Rebecca East), Charles Stanton (Andy Masters) pick and probe and poke at each other, gaining insights into hidden loves and motivations dark and light alike. What is revealed is a searching examination of what we are as human beings in our relations with those closest to us.

The quality of set, costume (especially Betty’s elegant dress), and atmosphere in this intimate theatre were excellent, and the acting was to match, with Charles perhaps having some of the very best lines, and his actor Andy Masters made the most of the opportunity to play what was something of a Jeckyll and Hyde character. Though he was not alone in this in a cast seemingly without weaknesses. The direction (by Patricia Melluish) kept the pace tight and, for that matter, the male characters as they wolfed down glass after glass of strong spirits appeared just as tight, developing a convincing ‘wobble’ in the second act, as Zeenat pointed out.

That was the only wobble on view on view in this night of proper entertainment.

Dangerous Corner runs until 2nd July, and is followed by God Of Carnage, 15th to 20th October.

Darren Weale, 30th June 2022

Summer entertainment: Bromley Arts Festival

Launch event with Sir Bob Neill MP, Cllr Hannah Gray, Mayor of Bromley, and actors Zoe Tapper and Freya Collins. Image: Rik Ward – Instagram: rikwardphotoart

Guest post by Caroline Jenner of Sardines magazine.

If the constant news reports reminding you of food shortages, rising fuel costs and chaos at our airports has left you feeling that the summer, despite some glorious June weather, is guaranteed to be one of disappointments, perhaps now is the time to look closer to home for some summer entertainment.

Inaugurated last year with a handful of events, the Bromley Arts Festival has moved on in leaps and bounds and is showcasing to host over 100 events and 150 dates during the month of July.  Pauline Armour, Director of Bromley Little Theatre and one of the festival organisers was involved in last year’s excellent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ performed in the amphitheatre of the Churchill Gardens.  This year she is directing Great Expectations, but said the festival promises a wide diversity of events including much great theatre with many local amateur groups putting on performances.  From the very modern The Last Quiz Night on Earth’ performed by Matchbox Theatre, Theatre 62’s performance of Priestley’s Dangerous Corner, Chelsfield Players Ladies Down Under or Bromley Little Theatre’s Breaking the Code, there is something to suit everyone.  All theatres suffered during the pandemic and amateur theatre particularly struggled with their inability to rehearse in their normal spaces, often village halls and community centres.  If you have never checked out your local amateur company perhaps this is your opportunity to see what great shows can be had at reasonable prices on your doorstep, and it might even inspire you to take a turn at treading the boards yourself or get involved behind the scenes or front of house.

Of course, the Churchill Theatre is also an option with a choice of musical extravaganzas ranging from the ever popular We Will Rock You musical, featuring the songs of Queen, through a whole raft of events including tributes to Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston or discover the best of new young talent from bands to the spoken word at their Live and Unreleased event.  Maybe, for those of you who love the 80s you might choose to escape back to the world of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Soft Cell at the Planet Earth event.

However, there are many other much-loved, familiar local organisations bringing their talents to the festival.  If you fancy something a little more classical Southborough School Fields is playing host to the Bromley Youth Music Trust Garden Party and admire the talent of the borough’s young musicians as they provide a day of entertainment alongside Pimm’s, Prosecco and the ubiquitous summer BBQ. Alternatively, Penge Chamber Choir will be celebrating the summer at the Bridge House Theatre with madrigals, sacred and secular pieces alongside a few jazzy numbers or perhaps visit the Ripley Arts Centre to hear entertainer James Hay interviewing a series of opera singers. From open mic nights to stand up comedy many of our local pubs have also added their events into the mix.

For those of you who would like to try something a little more interactive there are mosaic workshops, rainforest workshops, adult ballet classes or head along to the Cleaner Greener Hub in the Glades and discover the wonders of rolled paper butterflies, paper beads or stuffed rag rug animals. For a little light exercise Bromley’s Heritage Walks are running a Family Heritage Trail. If you have more of a literary bent perhaps try your hand at a poetry workshop in the idyllic setting of Beckenham Place Park run by the 2019 award winning Young Poet Laureate, Theresa Lola or pop along to The Bluebell Café for Penge Poet’s evening.

Whatever your interests Bromley Borough is buzzing with activity this July so shake off the doom and gloom of what’s going on elsewhere in the world and have fun supporting your local arts festival. Details of all the events mentioned and many, many more can be found at www.bromleyartsfestival.com.

Welcome to the Bromley Buzz

The Bromley Buzz podcast is available on Podbean, Alexa, Spotify, Apple, Audible, Amazon, Google Podcasts, Tune In, and Listen Notes.

On 4th August 2021, the first episode of the Bromley Buzz podcast, named ‘Pilot’ was published. Co-hosts Darren Weale and Zeenat Noorani didn’t know what to expect. The podcast, suddenly put together to get some long-overdue talking going about what the people in the London borough of Bromley are up to, might have ended there if it hadn’t been well-received. However, then promoted solely via Darren and Zeenat’s LinkedIn pages, and shared by Sarah Marsh-Collings, who suggested the name, that first post produced a surprising amount of views. Comments like these inspired us:

“Love this and please let me know more so I can promote it and help in any way.” – former Mayor of Bromley and Bromley’s current Small Business Champion, Councillor Hannah Grey

“Great initiative Darren Weale, Zeenat Noorani and catchy name Sarah Marsh-Collings. Greatly looking forward to hearing more and how Rotary can contribute.” – Christine Atkinson, Bromley Rotary Club

“I loved listening to this – you both covered a lot of ground and I believe this will be a real success. Happy to help in any way that I can.” – Chandra Sharma, Elmcroft Business Services

“Looks like you have hit on something here Darren.” – Nicky Barclay, Priory Live Festival and Everybreath UK

“What an awesome pilot episode . As a Bromley resident for over 21 years, i reckon it is a great way to highlight “Bromley Vibes” by such skilled and talented individuals. Love all the work you and Sarah Marsh-Collings and Tangent Office Resources do in making a difference to others. Looking forward to your next podcast.” – Sushma Raval, Naani Maas Cuisine.

We share how great Bromley is whenever we can and have appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio London, in First Voice (FSB magazine), and in Life In Bromley and Life In Orpington magazines.

“Fantastic! Well done Darren – such a wonderful idea! 💡.” – Lauretta Wright, Life In Bromley and Life in Orpington magazines

“Well done Darren. Let’s celebrate all the great things about our fantastic Borough of Bromley. Informative Proactive rather than reactive. A fantastic place to live and work. Keep up the good work.” – Lee Thomas, Fairlight Group

“This is what podcasting does BEST. Creating conversation in spaces where there hasn’t been any previously! And those who take that first step go down in history as pioneers.” – Neal Veglio, podcasting expert