Tag Archives: Theatre Royal

Is everybody happy?

Donald Hutera checks out The Happiness Project, a new touring work from choreographer Didy Veldman that comes to Theatre Royal, Winchester November 10

‘Are you happy?’

It’s a key question, asked of the four dancers in Didy Veldman’s new production The Happiness Project – an approximately 70-minute show that comes to Theatre Royal, Winchester on November 10.

The Dutch-born choreographer was formerly a member of Rambert Dance, among other companies. She then went on to carve out a successful career as an international dance-maker based on the Continent. Having relocated to the UK for the past two and half years, Veldman is this month launching her company Umanoove with a piece that takes as its theme Western society’s search for fleeting pleasures and deeper fulfilment.

Speaking briefly at the opening performance of the production’s current tour, which occurred last week at the Jerwood Dance House in Ipswich, Veldman said she spent about six weeks developing the piece with a top-notch cast: Dane Hurst (winner of two Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards), Hannah Kidd (a nominee for the same awards, the current roster of which has just been announced), Mathieu Geffre and Estela Merlos. Between them this quartet has worked for and/or with Richard Alston, Phoenix Dance Theatre, National Dance Company Wales, Shobana Jeyasingh, Mark Bruce, New Movement Collective, Rambert and many other choreographers and companies in the UK and abroad.

Aural alert: the show’s score, an alternately brooding and urgent mix of live and recorded music, is by the Romanian-born violinist Alexander Balansecu. The man himself slips about among the dancers as a constant presence, instrument in hand and ready to fuel moods and actions. Balanescu’s ‘sound’ is proper contemporary-classical, so don’t attend expecting to bop along to Pharrell Williams’ popular upbeat anthem…

Working with the designer Kimie Nakano, and lighting expert Ben Ormerod, the joint pursuit of Veldman’s creative team was ultimately to devise a dance-based work that, in her words, tries to shed some light on what happiness is and how it manifests itself in human beings. Or, as she put it, ‘How do we deal with it? How do we achieve it, or crave it, or sometimes buy it?’

As a long-time dance-watcher I appreciate Veldman’s ambitions with the work – a chamber-sized series of shape-shifting vignettes that can seem by turns amusing, wondrous or, occasionally, shallow.  Perhaps inevitably, given such broad and elusive subject matter, The Happiness Project may not reveal anything definitive about what happiness is or means or the lengths we go to acquire it. There are also passages that are maybe too busy and vague, or facile and trivial, while over-all it possibly lacks some of the keen and sometimes messy complexities I associate with being alive.

But there are nevertheless felicities dotted throughout. These range from the sounds that Balanescu produces (as well as his genuinely interesting stage persona as a somewhat lumpen-looking middle-aged man in a jaunty hat), to the treasure chest-like boxes used as a main prop (along with a pretty expressively free-floating, ambiguous plastic sheet), to the confident and fresh unit formed by four truly fine movers. Each dancer has his or her moment and, in some cases, more than one. I was especially taken with Hurst’s intense, honest and self-questioning delivery of text and motion when replying to the show’s key question. Merlos, meanwhile, made virtually everything she did matter to me, whether swooping through the air while being held aloft by the two men, slinking closely round Balanescu as he plays, enjoying a delicate duet with a symbolically half-empty (or is it half-full?) glass of water or simply, and temporarily, placing a plastic bag with a smiley face on it over her head. Her sensitive intelligence continually shone through – qualities that at times glimmer in the performance as a whole.

So, did The Happiness Project make me happy? In part, yes. It might do the same for you. Catch it while you can.



Being Human

Jasmin Vardimon’s Pinocchio comes to Winchester
by Donald Hutera

Pinocchio Jasmin VardimonWhat does it mean to be human?

That question is the thematic core of Jasmin Vardimon’s dance-theatre take on Pinocchio, which is about to visit Theatre Royal Winchester for three performances (Oct 13 at 7.30pm, Oct 14 at 1.30pm and 7pm) as part of a big UK tour.

Based on the iconic tale of a wooden puppet who dreams of being a real boy, this brand-new show promises to be a thoughtful, magical and ingenious staging of a familiar story. Featuring imaginative designs as well as impish and moving characterisations, the focus is likely to be on vividly expressive physicality supplemented at key points by spoken text and songs. It is also something of a departure for Vardimon, who has thus far never used a pre-existing narrative as a creative source nor fashioned a work for family audiences (recommended ages: 7 and up).

Born in Israel (where, tellingly, one of her jobs was to write psychological profiles of those who would serve in the army) but based in the UK, Vardimon established her eponymous company nearly 20 years ago. She has gradually become a real force in UK dance both for the many productions she and her collaborators have made and, more recently, because of the performance training programme she and her colleagues devised to develop the next generation of dance-based all-rounders. It might also be worth mentioning that for the past decade Vardimon has been an associate artist of Sadler’s Wells, London’s leading international dance house. It’s a top venue but, alas, still something of a ‘boy’s club’ in a country where the disparity between the opportunities being offered to female choreographers and their higher-profile male counterparts can’t be ignored. Note, however, that following its Winchester performances Pinocchio will be presented at the London venue later this month.

But leaving the politics of art aside, it’s plain that Vardimon and company’s energies are all aimed at the new show. Rather than replicating the charming but somewhat sanitized Disney cartoon classic, Vardimon’s version is more closely aligned to Carlo Collodi’s original Italian novel published in 1883 as The Adventures of Pinocchio.

‘It was written at a time when Italian society was engaged morally and philosophically in a very important question about education’, explained Vardimon during a recent interview of the BBC arts programme Front Row. ‘Can peasants be educated? Can their children go to school and become real boys, or are they destined to be merely work-force donkeys?’ As she aptly remarked, the underlying issue of equality in Collodi’s novel is relevant today.

It is perhaps revealing that Vardimon chose to cast a female dancer in the lead role of her production. This was, she says, ‘a very conscious decision’ especially as it relates to being human and the differences between people in terms of their race, gender and so on.

Now if all of this makes this Pinocchio sound like some earnest sociological exercise, as a long-time professional watcher of Vardimon’s work I can pretty much guarantee this will not be the case. Set to an evocative and eclectic soundtrack, the production is a piece of living marionette theatre with changeable settings and even the characters themselves sometimes suspended on ropes. Vardimon knows her stuff as a theatre-maker, meaning the show is bound to be layered with images, sounds and movement that stimulate the senses, activate the brain and help release the kinds of deep feelings that human beings of all ages can ponder and savour. Pinocchio should, in short, be a real treat.

Donald Hutera writes about dance, theatre and live performance for The Times and many other publications and websites in the UK and abroad.


Theatre Royal Winchester

Box office: 10am – 5pm (Mon – Sat)
T: 01962 840440
E: boxoffice@theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk

Performances: Thurs 13 – Fri 14 October
Thurs 7.30pm
Fri 1.30pm, 7pm

Win Guide to June

We’re not going to mention the weather for fear of scaring it off, but June is most certainly here and Winchester has a lot to offer this month:

AirplaneHijack Cinema will be taking over North Walls Recreation ground with an exciting programme of outdoor screenings, including Airplane on 10 June.  Cinephiles are advised to bring a blanket and some warm clothes as the film starts just before 10pm.  Visit the website to book an e-ticket and for more details. And if you can’t make this date, fear not for on the 11 June The Truman Show will be showing and on 12 June there will be a screening of 500 Days of Summer.

logo_alresford-music-festivalThe 7th Arlesford Music Festival is on Sat 11 June, offering 4 stages of live music. Highlights include a festival village, arts & craft activities, food and drink including a ‘Ringwood Fine Ale’ beer tent, cider corner, cocktails and a Pimms Bar. This year there is a dedicated ‘Family Arena’ with loads of free activities and family entertainment including a silent disco, street theatre, circus skills, bungee trampolining, colossal climbing wall and inflatable assault course. There are free shuttle busses to and from both Winchester and Alton Train stations running throughout the day from mid-morning until midnight. Dub Pistols will be the festival headline act and camping opens on Friday 10 June from 4pm. For more details, visit the festival website.

Drop into the Westgate Museum on 12 June, 1-3pm for some Tudor music in homage to Shakespeare’s anniversary year, performed by Courtlye Musick. This is a free event, but donations are welcome.

Winchester Writers' FestivalThe 36th Winchester Writer’s Festival is on this month at the University of Winchester, 17 – 19 June. Speakers include top literary agents, commissioning editors or authors, and attendees can book up to four one-to-one appointments for feedback on their work and a commercial appraisal. Meg Rosoff will be giving the keynote address this year. For more details or to book a place visit the website.

HiddenThe YMCA and the Children’s Society have opened a moving portrait exhibition Hidden at Winchester Cathedral to highlight the journey of young carers. Former young carer and award winning photographer Max Alexander captures the burden of responsibility and difficult choices that children face in a care role. Standard Cathedral admission fees apply, 1 June – 17 July.

comedy-gala-nick-270x270The Theatre Royal has a lot to offer this month.  Little people will be delighted to hear that Tiddler & Other Terrific Tales are in town, 7-8 June, presented by Scamp Theatre. The Winchester Comedy Festival will be presenting a gala night on Friday 10 June, featuring Nick Helm, Rob Deering, John Kearns and Lucy Porter. Blue Apple Theatre in association with The Occasion are bringing Around the World in 80 Days, a new adaptation of Jules Verne’s epic tale, 16-18 June.  Young Theatre Royal will be lost in Anthony Nielson’s Wonderful World of Dissocia 21 and 23rd June and Integr8 will be having a Dance Off, 24 -26 June with 400 children and young people take to the stage to show off their street dance moves.

Don’t forget your polling cards for the EU Referendum on 23 June. The deadline to register to vote is 7 June, so if you haven’t received your card, here’s a guide to ensuring you are registered to have your say.

Plenty to stimulate the senses this month.  Enjoy!



Win Guide to May

In Mays gone by Machiavelli was born, the Renaissance came to an end, England and Scotland formed a union and Winston Churchill became Prime Minister.  So, let’s see what Wintonians have to look forward to in May 2016…

Democracy will have its day on Thursday 5 May so don’t forget to visit your polling stations to cast your vote in the local elections and Police and Crime commission elections.  For more details visit the Winchester City Council website.

hamlet-sattfShakespeare at the Tobacco Factory are touring a repertory season of Hamlet and All’s Well That End’s Well to the Theatre Royal,  3-7 May.  If you feel like a particularly theatrical week, you can book to see both productions for £33.50 to commemorate 400 years since the Bard’s death.

rosencrantz-and-guildenstern-are-dead-v2In fact Shakespeare has some other incarnations at the Theatre Royal this month. Gallow’s Productions will be presenting an abridged version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, 9-10 May, Tom Stoppard’s beloved tragicomedy.  Or 18-21 May, Winchester Musical and Operatic Society will be presenting A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The fairy folk will be brought alive with original music from Peter Theobald.

Time for some loud laughter in the library, with the Barnstormers Comedy night on the 20 May, 8pm.  The night features three top acts from the London comedy circuit.  For more information or to book cheaper tickets in advance, visit the Barnstormers website here.

Aled-Jones1‘We’re Walking in the Air’ celebrated singer Aled Jones MBE will be touring to Winchester Cathedral on the 26 May, as part of his Cathedral tour.  Tickets are available to book online. Later in the month on the 31 May, Tim Daykin (BBC) will chair ‘Reimagining Europe’, a reflection on how Europe might look with or without the UK in the lead up to the referendum.  Free tickets are available to book via the Cathedral Box Office. Alternatively, you can join in the discussion on Twitter.

800px-Mercury_transit_2A reminder for the astronomically inclined, the transit of Mercury will be taking place on the 9 May. The Astrosoc at the University of Southampton are kindly extending an invitation to view the relatively rare phenomenon through their Solar telescopes from 1pm – 6pm.  For more information or to register your interest, visit the event page.

Win Guide to February

Get ready, Winchester, for there are 29 days in February 2016 which means we are in a leap year.  Ladies, traditionally this extra day is an opportunity to propose to your significant other if you feel so inclined, a custom dating back to 5th century Ireland and ‘St Bridget’s complaint’ to St Patrick about women having to wait. Partners, if for whatever reason you spurn the proposal, please be ready to pay a fine in the form of a pair of silk gloves. Do keep us posted on any leap year love matches. Here’s our guide to make this February a good one:

Winchester Cocktail Week
Winchester Cocktail Week

This month marks the inaugural Winchester cocktail week, 1 – 7 February. Yes, you heard it correctly, a whole week dedicated to supping cocktails in some of Winchester’s finest establishments. A collaboration between the Cabinet Rooms and Winchester Bid, you can purchase a wrist band for £15 to be entitled to £4 signature cocktails at venues across the city. There are also various masterclasses on offer for wristband holders, so you can learn more about cocktail artistry. Special events include the Luxardo masterclass with Chococo, 2 & 3 February. Expect cherries soaked in Luxardo, chocolate and cocktails – sounds decadent. Entry is free for wristband holders and £5 for others.  You can book tickets by popping into Chococo or by emailing Libby here. On 4 February, the Theatre Royal bar will be taken over by mixologist supremos from Hartnett, Holder and Co. Entry is free for wristband holders but do reserve your place in advance.  For full details on other events and participating venues, visit the website.


Award winning performance artist Peta Lily will be performing her confessional theatre piece ‘Imperfection’ at the Winchester Discovery Centre, 11 February at 7.45pm. Imperfection takes an unflinching look at the ordinary. An all-waving, all-drowning look at hidden corners of life where Dionysian worship rubs shoulders with Stevie Smith, Charles Bukowski and Japanese outsider art. The show is well worth a visit and tickets are available here.


We’ve got chills and they’re multiplying – Encore Youth Theatre will be singing their hearts out with Grease at the Theatre Royal, 17 – 20 February. It’s also the theatre troupe’s 35th birthday this year, so join them for a rock and roll celebration.

Winchester Rotary
Winchester Rotary

Winchester rotary will be holding a charity swimathon on 20 February in the Winchester College Pool. Teams of 8 are invited to participate in a 55 minute sponsored swimming relay. £25 of funds raised by each team will go to the Winchester rotary with the remainder going to other charities of their choice. To register, visit here.

Winchester 10k road race
Winchester 10k road race

The Winchester 10k Road Race starts outside the Guildhall on 21 February.  Participants must be over 16 to enter and will need parental consent if they are under 18.  The route includes a trip to Kingsworthy with a return leg through the village of Headbourne Worthy before the finish line at the Winchester City football club ground, where there will be custom medals, bottled water, bananas and Haribos on offer. Visit here to register.

Little Pickles Market
Little Pickles Market

Little Pickles Market will be taking over the Riverpark Leisure centre on 21 February with over 30 nearly new tables of baby kit: prams, high chairs, toys, books, maternity wear – the works.  The market is open from 2-3.30pm and entrance is £1, with kids allowed in for free.

Winchester Science Centre & Planetarium
Winchester Science Centre & Planetarium

Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium will be hosting an exciting programme of activities for the school holidays, 12 – 22 February.  Advanced booking is advised, particularly for the planetarium cinema shows. Opening hours are 9.30am – 5pm. Keep an eye out for Destination Space, a live family show running at 10.45am & 2.45pm focussing on Tim Peake’s mission to the International Space Programme.

Leap your way through February, Wintonians, for it is not long now until Spring.

Win Guide to December

It’s officially time to get festive.  December is here and Winchester is already embracing its identity as the “perfect” city for Christmas. Here’s the Win Guide to what’s on offer:

Woolly Hat Fair
Woolly Hat Fair

Fancy a little live art to keep you entertained until Christmas day?  This year, the Woolly Hat Fair team have launched a Live Advent Calendar, and between 1-24 December at 5pm a door will open somewhere in the city  behind which a “small moment of magic will take place”. And good news, there is an online version which gives you full details of where this impromptu artistry will be appearing each day, along with a hint on what it might entail, so you don’t have to run from door to door hunting for the hatters. All the events are free to attend but there is a maximum capacity at each venue so arrive early if you’ve set your heart on a particular date or door.

Santa Fun Run
Santa Fun Run

The Naomi House & Jacksplace 5k Santa fun run will take place in the city, 6 December.  It’s a fabulous event all in aid of supporting the great work of the hospices this christmas. Entry into the run has sold out this year, but you can join a waiting list or get in touch to join a team of volunteers helping out on the day.

Winchester Christmas Market
Winchester Christmas Market

The Christmas Market and Ice Rink has officially opened and will be celebrating its 10th birthday this year.  Perhaps one of the most picturesque ongoing events of the season, it’s a chance to get a taste of the fairytale Christmas that many travel to the continent to enjoy. With mulled wine, stollen and christmas gifts galore on offer, visit the germanic wooden cabins by the Cathedral when you are in the mood to slowly amble through a sensory yuletide experience.  Christmas shopping in a hurry this is not, but a seasonal staple it certainly is.

Cathedral Christmas Carols
Cathedral Christmas Carols

The Cathedral Christmas Carol Concert evening will take place on 11 December hosted by BBC South Today’s Sally Taylor. Starting at 7pm, tickets cost between £15 – £40 and will feature the Cathedral Choirs with guest appearances by popular trio BlakeAlternatively, there will be the public Carol Services at the Cathedral on Saturday 19, Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 December at 6.30pm.  The Saturday 19 event is ticketed, with a limited number available directly from the Cathedral Box Office (not online).  Doors will be open from 5.20pm and seats must be taken by 5.50pm. These are popular events so be prepared.

Holidays are Coming - Coca Cola truck
Holidays are Coming – Coca Cola truck

Apparently the ‘Holiday’s are coming, holiday’s are coming’ Coca Cola Christmas juggernaut truck is a ‘thing’ and you can embrace the commercial jazz-hands of a post-modern christmas by standing near it, taking a ‘selfie’ and well, drinking a bit of the iconic fizzy pop by it.  If this tickles your fancy, the “truck” will be makings its way to the city on the 17 December between 12-8pm.

Jack and the Beanstalk, Theatre Royal
Jack and the Beanstalk, Theatre Royal

Looking for some Fe, Fi, Fo Fun? Oh yes we are. Well, it is going to be a factory of festive fun at the Theatre Royal when they open Jack and the Beanstalk, running until Sunday 3 January.  Suitable from 3+ with original songs, evil Giant’s, magic beans, this year’s show will be packed full of participation, dames and good old panto hilarity.


We’ll be bringing you a few more festive tips later this month for you to mull over with some mulled wine and a mince pie.  Welcome to December one and all.