Tag Archives: The Tree of War

In The Last Week I Have

18 Nov
  • Photo by Pam RobinsonDisplaying FB_IMG_1479336801999.jpg
  • Given three short poetry readings
  • Hosted my firstborn child, Rarity Boy
  • Made the best fairy cakes I’ve ever baked
  • Made the worst fairy cakes I’ve ever baked
  • Baked!  Who’d have thunk it?
  • Chatted to the Mayor
  • Put a hole in my knee (and my favourite black leggings)
  • Proofread and/or critiqued at least five documents of one sort or another
  • Missed the Supermoon, as expected – Stockport doesn’t do celestial events, being under one continuous cloud blanket since I moved here in 1996
  • Made a roast dinner in a state of mild hysteria
  • Attended two meetings
  • Been unable to buy train tickets on a website because it’s just too hard!
  • Allowed my last born child to patronise me because he knows how to buy train tickets off the internet
  • Felt immense guilt that I haven’t replied to your comments or returned your visits
  • Not been paid for anything on this list
  • Wished I had a penny for every moment of guilt felt because then I could pay someone to reply to your comments and return your visits
  • Found the first photo of me I’ve actually liked since 2003 (banner photo notwithstanding, because that’s of the Hub and I, who I love soooooo much)
  • Considered replacing the Hub, who broke my Tree of War mug, even though he offered to give me his as a replacement; maybe I’ll replace him with his mug…or just bean him with it
  • Put off going in the shower by writing this when I should be getting ready to go out to another meeting

I apologise for the smell

The Tree Of More

19 Sep

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It’s been quite a week.  We spent all of Saturday afternoon at The Tree of War rehearsal, filming and photographing background stuff.   Monday evening we were at the press preview; the show opened on Tuesday.  It is phenomenal.  

I can’t tell you how good this new piece of theatre is: the music, the lyrics, the story.  And to see it acted and sung with such passion and enthusiasm; to hear the wonderful music from the live band; to come out crying after every single performance…there is no one involved in this production who doesn’t believe that it is something special, something above the ordinary.

One of the most consistent comments – though you heard it here first, last year – is that it belongs on a West End stage.  As I stand behind my camera each night and listen to the audience as they file out, many sobbing into their snotty tissues – men and women – I hear them saying it over and over.  People with no connection to the show rave about it; and they are right to do so.

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Some reviews, personal and professional:

Ollie Mills’ and Rachel Mann’s masterpiece is beautifully poignant, thought-provoking and utterly authentic.

Chris Oatway, North West End

Scottish hard man Dougie (Jamie Rahman) gives a sweet rendition of ‘Being A Lad,’ and it’s a stony individual indeed who won’t be moved to tears (as I was) by the heartbreaking climax.    4 *

  Philip Caveney, Bouquets & Brickbats

I thought Alex really brought out the personal, but also universal, pain and intensity of the WWI horrors. As the show progressed, he displayed real pathos – having been excellent too in the earlier, happier, scenes. I thought both he and Sam made very strong leads. But then I felt the whole cast was strikingly good – having, I judge, been brilliantly prepared by [Ollie].   

A personal email to Paul from Roderic Dunnett, a professional reviewer, whose official review will be out shortly

Comments left on the official The Tree of War Facebook page:

Went to see one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen today! Well done to all the Cast and Crew of The Tree of War you were AMAZING! You completely reduced me to tears.

Amazing piece of theatre! Really powerful.

Just got back from watching The Tree of War what a fantastic play each and every cast member played a brilliant part, it should go on TV or all around the country, well done to all of you, it was just brilliant.

It was, quite simply, one of the most powerful pieces of theatre I’ve seen. Oliver Mills’ score is brilliant and if he and Rachel Mann don’t make a cd I shall be really disappointed. The cast were all fantastic. Sam Gilliatt and Alex Cosgriff in particular. Remember Alex’s name. He’ll be winning Olivier awards one day. I don’t know if they have any tickets left, but if they do and you’re free, go!

Ollie Mills’ music was quite amazing.

If you live in the area, today is your last chance to see it.  There are a few tickets left for the matinée and evening and they are on special offer at £5 each on the door.  But booking online will guarantee you a seat.

Trust me: go if you can.  If you don’t, you will always regret missing the start of something big.

The Tree Of Bore

5 Sep

Performance Week is almost upon us!


I suspect my Facebook friends are sick to death of all The Tree of War posts I’ve been sharing – but I don’t care: it’s an amazing show and needs to be seen by everyone.  So there.

Blog readers have probably forgotten all about it, so here’s a recap: it’s a musical about life in the trenches, written by a vicar and a (then) university student. Here’s last year’s review of the preview show.  The show has been extended, with more songs added – including a solo for Bert.  It’s bigger, better and I’m bursting with excitement!  

Tree of War BertFor your interest, there are some cast interview links on the Facebook page (you don’t need to be on Facebook to watch them).  Excuse Alex, who – as his mother, I’m sad to report – sounds supremely unintelligent with his ums and ahs.  He’s saving everything for the performance.  No, really.  

Or you can listen to three of the songs. The cast sang at Manchester Cathedral two weeks ago and they sounded phenomenal.  

If you live anywhere near Burnage, do yourself a favour and go see the show (September 15-19).  You won’t regret it.  You’ll be calling it The Tree of Awe.

Oops!

25 Aug

Judyt54 made a shocking comment on my previous post – it’s been two months since I wrote it.

I’m sorry folks; I honestly didn’t know it had been that long.  In mitigation, I’ve been working on my second poetry collection; been to see VivinFrance; became a school governor; and faffed about reading free downloads from BookBub.

I’ve been wanting to tell you about France (I got back last Thursday) but I was out Saturday (Spud sang with The Tree of War cast at Manchester Cathedral) and Sunday; had a visitor yesterday; and I’m out this afternoon and tomorrow.

I’m holding up two fingers to you now – no, sorry: three fingers – and swearing on my previous career as a daily blogger that you’ll hear from me again in your lifetime.

Open Casting Call

24 Mar

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If you live in the Greater Manchester area you might be interested in this from The Tree of War website:

Now Casting Actors and Crew

The team behind September 2014’s show once again head up the production of this new, extended show. Composer Oliver Mills will return to Direct and Produce, whilst Writer Rachel Mann will share Production duties.

The show calls for a cast of 18+ performers and a 12-piece orchestra. There are backstage and crew positions in departments including, but not limited to, Art, Design, Set Building, Stage Management, Front of House, Publicity and Tech.

For Casting, there will be a number of Audition dates in the coming weeks. We welcome anyone of any age and experience to audition.

Rehearsals will take place throughout the summer. Involvement in the show may require commitment from April, and will require regular availability during August and September.

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Check the website for more details.

Of Death, Tin, Trees & Moles

2 Mar

 Photo courtesy of Spud’s friend on Facebook

Tinman TWoOz 24hr Musical 1

Tinman regretted the tiny costume budget…

Spud is rather busy at the moment.  We missed him as Tinman in The Wizard of Oz.  The students do what’s called a 24-hour musical: they turn up one night, are told what the musical is and what part they’ve been cast in; rehearse through the night and next day; and go on that evening.  It’s a lot of fun and raises money for charity.

We did see him as Happy in Death of a Salesman last week.  The whole production was excellent and the young cast brought real maturity to the performance.  Flora Turnbull as Linda Loman was particularly good.  She’s one to watch.

 Photo courtesy of Spud’s friend on Facebook

DoaS

Happy spots his next victim

The play and Spud got two great reviews.  If you’re interested, you can read them here and here; but I’ll give you the edited highlights:

Tom Williams as the conflicted Biff, and Alex Cosgriff as the overlooked Happy, also deliver outstanding performances as Loman’s two wayward sons. Alex’s comedic timing is exceptional

Laura Elliott, Kettlemag.co.uk

[Happy], the excellent Alex Cosgriff

Matthew Drew, ForgetToday.com

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Click on the image to find out more 

You may remember how I raved about The Tree of War last September; well, this just in: it has been extended, extra songs added, and is to be staged for a week in September in a bigger venue.  Spud has been asked to reprise his role as Bert; as has Sam Gilliatt as Grev.  You can hear their duet on Soundcloud; as well as an ensemble piece.  Spud is the second voice on the first song and first voice on the second song.*

Spud has had three scripts in his head for the past few weeks – there’s no danger of Alzheimer’s in his old age but his head might explode at some point.    Death of a Salesman finished its run on Saturday night. He got to bed at eight a.m. Sunday and then was up for rehearsals at one for one of the two plays he’s appearing in next weekend.  The university runs an event called Platform, which showcases student plays; Spud is in two of them.  After that, it’s straight into rehearsals for The Wind in the Willows.  He’s playing Mole.

He has managed to fit everything in around his studies (his marks show that he is actually studying) but he doesn’t have much of the typical student life.  I’m glad to say.  No heavy boozing for him, unless it’s the after-show party for Death of a Salesman

Ah, the life of an actor.

I’m All Poemed Out

17 Sep

What a weekend I’ve just had!

Stockport Writers Do It In Church

On Saturday, it was my church’s Fun Day.  We invite local community groups to come and share their info with the local community.  It’s free and always popular.  I represented Stockport Writers.

You may recall that last year I offered free poetry workshops and not one person came.  This year, I offered to write poems for people.  I asked for their name, age and five random facts, and then wrote something in the style of the birthday poems I have written for you, my readers.

For the first takers I said, Come back in ten minutes.  More people signed up; I told them to come back at the end of the day to collect their poem.  Eventually it was, I’ll email it to you tomorrow.  And finally, You’ll have it by the end of next week, I promise.

Photo © Pam Robinson

Photo © Pam Robinson

Forty people wanted poems about themselves!  I’m still busy typing them up and emailing them out.

At the same time as writing the poems, I invited people – at my friend Pam’s suggestion – to write a community poem: the theme for the day was joy, so I asked people to name three things that brought them happiness; and why.  Roughly forty people (not the same forty people) completed that form, resulting in a poem three pages long, in fifteen five-line stanzas. I’ll post it at the bottom, in case you’re interested.

I cut out the answers and sorted them into themes and voilà!  One community poem!  It was a fun activity and easy enough to coordinate; you should try it.

Photo © Pam Robinson

Photo © Pam Robinson

Sunday, I chaired the monthly meeting of Stockport Writers at the Hatworks.

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Spud & Mum Do World War One

On Monday night, Spud and I read poems for an hour, to an audience of nineteen. Not a bad turn out for a Monday night poetry reading.  It was a commemorative event for the start of the war.  I had intended to read poems written only in 1914, but there aren’t that many; I suppose because the war was only a couple of months old in that year.

I chose poems written about the period, and ordered them roughly chronologically in terms of event.  I began with an Andrew Motion poem about Archduke Ferdinand between assassination attempts; moved on to jingoistic poems and songs intended to encourage enlistment; followed by first time events e.g. going over the top; and concluded with poems about the effects of the war.  I used War Poets, modern poets, and female poets.  Spud complained that to listen to poetry for too long was tedious, so I introduced each poem with pertinent information, which also helped the chronological flow.  It seemed to go down well.

Spud and I read for thirty minutes and then there was a break for tea – very English.  In the second half, we read three of my own poems, to prove to the audience I am a poet (I hope); and then he read poems by Wilfred Owen and I read poems by Siegfried Sassoon, taking turns.  We finished with Spud reading two in succession: Anthem For Doomed Youth (my favourite) and Dulce Et Decorum Est (Spud’s favourite).  I wanted to close with the war still ongoing, as it was, 100 years ago to the date we read.

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Boast Post

Spud was good.  When he shouts, Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! it sends shivers down your spine.  When his voice breaks on we were young at the end of Houseman’s Here Dead We Lie, you get a lump in your throat.  His plaintive Why don’t they come? at the end of Owen’s Disabled is pathetic in the best sense of the word.  To paraphrase I’ll Make A Man Of You, it makes me oh so proud to be a mother.

Almost a quarter of the audience was made up of Spud’s friends, and I was under strict instructions not to say anything embarrassing.  That’s usually a forlorn hope – at the award ceremony when he won the Drama prize, I managed to confuse his First Year tutor with a rugby player we know, asked about his wife (he’s not married),  and compounded the problem by explaining my confusion was because he had ‘a rugby face’ i.e. broken nose.

This time, however, I was good; though he did tell me off for roping two of the girls into Stockport Writers and suggesting they friend me on Facebook.

I think Spud’s poetry performance was helped by appearing in The Tree of War. You may recall that he was amazing in that. Not that I’m biased or anything, but his a cappella singing of Pack Up Your Troubles was a moment when, according to X Factor thinking, he made the song his own.  Not bad for a song that’s a century old.  He played drunk pretty good, too; and I fervently hope that’s not based on experience.  But it was the moment he was huddled at the bottom of the trench, terrified, crying, that made me realise he had something special.

Thinking about his character Bert, he imagined what it would be like at eighteen – his age now – to go blithely off to war; and then to learn of its horrors and sacrifices.  Some of that informed his poetry reading.  For someone who dislikes poetry, he did an incredible job; although not according to one critic, who told him, ‘You murdered that Ivor Gurney poem, didn’t you?’  

Those who can’t, critique those who can, is my motherly response.

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Hot Stuff

Spud and I dressed in vaguely period costume to enhance the mood; and I wondered how women managed on summer evenings in long skirts and hats. The church was warm and I felt a hot flush come on.  I thought I was going to faint at one point, particularly when the poetry folder on the music stand in front of me began to recede.  Then I realised that it wasn’t the menopause so much as a not-screwed-tightly-enough bolt: I was merely glowing but the stand was slowly lowering.  I had to bite my lip to stop myself giggling during Spud’s moving rendition of A Dead Boche.

Honestly, I don’t know why he finds me embarrassing.

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St Matthew’s Community Poem:

 

Happiness is a Serious Business

 

The smile of a child when they find something funny.

Seeing other people smile.

Seeing people smile when I’ve baked them a cake.

Cuddles and tickling.

A good laugh with anybody.

 

Miles of sandy beaches.  The smell of the sea.

Looking out over Kent Estuary and Lakes –

mountains meeting the sea.  Going on holiday.

Sunshine, because you can go out with friends.

A sunny day.  Sunshine.

 

Being in the garden.

Growing my own veg in the garden

(shared with many, many slugs).

Being outdoors in the fresh air.

Getting caught in the rain.  The seasons.

 

Bus rides on the top deck of a double-decker.

Going to Cornwall to see Nana.

Spending time with Grace (granddaughter).

Running around after my daughter.

Happy daughters playing together.  Daughter.

 

To see my Sarah smiling and full

of energy all the time –

my greatest gift from the Almighty!

My greatest blessing!

Sons – utter happiness, contentment.

 

My sisters and my brother make me feel

really warm inside.  Children.

My beautiful children.  Kids.  Family –

people I am close to.  Spending time with my family

makes me feel happy because I feel loved.

 

Auntie Alison!  Mummy.  Memories about the bond

I shared with my Dad – love for my family.

Seeing my Mum and Dad happy makes me feel

very happy. My two parents make me feel calm

and loving.  My family.  Smartie the cat; she plays with me.

 

My two teddies are my only best buddies

and they make me feel less alone inside me.

Sweets, sleepovers and playing with friends.

Seeing my friends.  Having good friends.

Big network of lovely friends.

 

Facebook – you can keep in contact with people

you normally couldn’t.  Christmas, when we see everyone.

Church.  Reading in church makes me feel I utilise a gift,

a talent God has given me – makes me fruitful.

Having time with my church family.

 

Jesus – joy, peace, fulfilment.

Four hundred voices singing a song

they really love, in collective worship.

Singing – the joy of it.  Singing.

Singing: it puts nice pictures in my head.

 

Music.  Music cheers you up.

Finishing a fantastic book.

Walking the dog.  Knitting.  Walking –

I like to ‘breathe’ in the hills.

Riding my bike in the sunshine.

 

Driving – I’m in charge.  Painting – I’m good at it.

A day in my sewing room.

Baking cookies…and eating them.

Eating real food (especially love green smoothies!

With avocado, coriander, spinach and berries).

 

Chinese Buffet in Stockport – I always go for comfort food.

Cricket: it’s fun.  Alex Park.

Clouds of pink blossom on cherry trees in Edgeley Park.

Rainbows.  Rainbows make me happy:

I love the colours.

 

New York.  The Statue of Liberty.

Minecraft.  Chocolate.  Football.

Friends.  Friends.  Friends.

When all around me are settled and content.

Kindness to others.

 

Sharing.  Random acts of kindness.

Being positive.

Life.

Dogs.

Love.

 

 

Review: ‘The Tree of War’

9 Sep

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Music & Lyrics by Oliver Mills.  Book & Lyrics by Rachel Mann

On Saturday afternoon, I saw the second-ever performance of The Tree of War.  I mention this because – well, have you ever been in at the start of something big, and known it was the start of something big?  That’s where I was at on Saturday afternoon.

The Tree of War is a musical about life in the trenches in WWI.  Written, scored and directed by a poet priest and a twenty-year-old music student, it was a community theatre project at St Nicholas’ Church in Burnage, funded by Manchester City Council.  A précis: Grandpa Bert tells his granddaughter the story of his time in the trenches.  That’s it; that’s the whole story.  And what a marvellous, rousing, moving story it was.

I had better declare an interest here: my son, Alex Cosgriff, played Young Bert – ladies’ man; loyal son; good friend; cannon fodder.  He played him well: his singing was wonderful; he really can act; I burst with pride.  But he wasn’t the whole play – a strong community choir and a good amateur cast was headed by Mike Law as Grandpa Bert: he was warm and cosy, sad and regretful.  Sam Gilliatt as Bert’s friend Greville has a voice with the sweetest tone, and his duet with Alex was a thing of beauty.  Jamie Rahman played Dougie McBride as a dour Scot; with a gorgeous voice, his solo sent shivers down many a spine.

The exploration of life in the trenches was well conceived – boredom, fear, letters to and from home; and the drinking…ah! the drinking!  The best number among a raft of great numbers was The Lads’ Drinking Song: bawdy, irreverent, rousing and huge fun.

The staging was excellent.  The tree of the title was out in the foyer, and that’s where the action began.  The audience stood to watch until directed to move into the trench area, which was set almost completely in the round.  We were in the trenches with the lads and shared their laughter and tears; their hopes and fears.  We could see their sweat and almost smell their breath.

In any play about the Great War, of course, the lads inevitably go over the top.  They disappeared to the sounds of mortar shells, through smoke and noise; and when it was finished and Young Bert lay huddled, terrified, guilty, sobbing, he had the whole audience riveted.  Tears for all of those boys flowed like their blood, and didn’t stop until after the final, whole ensemble’s rendition, specially arranged by Oliver, of Jerusalem.  As I fruitlessly wiped my own tears I heard a woman behind me say to her friend, ‘I can’t stop crying!’

If I have a criticism of The Tree of War, it is that it needs another twenty minutes and at least one more song – possibly a ballad for Young Bert – because it will have trouble getting to the West End otherwise.  And believe me, this is a play that deserves a wide audience.  If Oliver and Rachel don’t take it to Edinburgh next year, they’re mad.  They could take it at this length and then extend it when it gets picked up.  Look out for Oliver Mills because he is a massive talent.  To write such music and direct with such flair at his age…words fail me. 

After the show, I went up to congratulate Oliver.  I think I frightened him a little because I wanted to throw my arms around him and hug him to death; I settled for grabbing both of his hands and refusing to let them go while I raved about what I’d just witnessed.  I understand the impulse of the woman who clutched Alex’s arm and said, ‘I don’t usually grab strangers but I want to be able to say I touched you before you were famous.’

I want to be able to say I reviewed Rachel Mann’s and Oliver Mills’ premiere production of The Tree of War before it was a massive worldwide hit. 

You read it here first.

 

 

 

 

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