Monday, 27 March 2017

On the edge of the stage with David Robertson

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Teresa O'Driscoll, David Robertson, John Kilburn     Photo Richard Wilcocks
It was relaxed, sometimes endearingly random, intimate, informal and engagingly indulgent. In front of us, Dave Robertson, who is our grand old man of the theatre - at very least - together with the Retrolettes, a grand pair of melodic entertainers, all of them just the warm-blooded people we needed for the finale of this year's LitFest, especially as several of those in the audience had actually acted with him. Dave took us through his long career on stage, beginning with when he danced around as Jack at primary school, his Jill never reaching the well because her mother ordered her off stage before she showed her knickers to the assemblage. He moved on to when he became a student in Hugh Hunt's Manchester drama department, to a character in an absurdist play by Eugene Ionesco, to Guildenstern in a memorable Hamlet in which he repeatedly clunked his leg against some item of stage furniture, to King Lear, which is where all actors of note and of suitable grizzlement end up. Dave ended the first section of the evening in his parody of part of Lear, during which he was flung over a cliff by his daughter Cordelia, played by Teresa O'Driscoll, half of the Retrolettes, who briefly revealed a melodramatic acting style which could be put to good use in future entertainments. John Kilburn, the other Retrolette, also performed (without the ukelele) when, in T'Batley Faust he told the story of a Yorkshireman seduced by Mephistopheles to sell his soul in return for being made twenty-five again. It raised plenty of laughs, and was more accessible, less drawn-out than the over-embellished version peddled by that Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.

Dave took us to the time when he was seriously wondering whether he could survive in the professional theatre, which is what all aspiring actors wonder - repeatedly. He decided he would start his own company, after just missing out on a teaching job in the USA which was offered to him, then withdrawn. This took a little while to come to fruition, and in the meantime he based himself at the Swarthmore Institute. I was particularly struck by Dave's reprise of his role as the caretaker in Pinter's play: Dave is good at psychotic rants. He's better at comedy, though. I wish I had got to see his improvised version of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves - he provided the storyline while the characters were allowed to let rip. We could have done with more Chekhov - one of Dave's first loves - and I would have liked a little more of an airing of his great background knowledge of Elizabethan theatre: we got a few tiny insights - on how Shakespeare was inspired by Marlowe, for example, The Merchant of Venice spinning off from The Jew of Malta. The evening ended with 'You'll never walk alone' from Carousel. Dave was in this for Opera North as the speech-making doctor towards the end, and he admits to forgetting the words 'castor oil' on one occasion. He asked the cast, loudly, what it was he had dosed them with, to receive the desired reply. It's called thinking on your feet.

Audience Comments
A very enjoyable evening – David very engaging and 'human'.  Lovely vocals from Retrolettes

Friend of David and very much enjoy his work

Fascinating on his career

The Headingley Master!

The event was interesting both as the 'flow of memory' and the 'show of personality'.  Also the audience, largely, was part of the career being celebrated!  Thanks.

A relaxed celebration of theatrical ' goings on' in the world of David Robertson with great support from the Retrolettes!  A quirky, fun romp of an evening and a warm audience.  Good to share.

Great evening – great speeches from Dave and good music from John and Teresa.

Very relaxed evening with lovely theatre chat and delightful music.

Good fun – lots of memoirs of great theatre!

Real fun.  Well done.

An entertaining evening of theatrical memories and song.  Retrolettes great as usual.

Good night – human complexities in abundance and with (unreadable).  Salut.

Very enjoyable.

Very good music by Louis Armstrong as people were coming in and nice music during the evening as well.  Very good acting performances by David and by the Retrolettes as well (first time that I have seen them act).

A fitting finale to the LitFest.  Brilliant as ever.  Thanks David.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Amanda Owen - the Yorkshire Shepherdess #amandaowen

Amanda Owen          Photos Richard Wilcocks
Flock Star! by Sally Bavage:
Amanda Owen, also known as the Yorkshire Shepherdess, arrives in a whirl of activity fresh from a book-signing at a city centre bookshop and sets up her photomontage.  Hundreds – literally – of beautiful images of Ravenseat farm, her nine children (yes, you read that right), her two thousand sheep, her dogs, her horses, and the stunning landscape throughout all seasons.  And as if this wasn't entertaining enough, she answered first the interviewer's questions and then those of the audience with complete openness, honesty, down-to-earth humour and great charm.

Born and brought up in Huddersfield, she was inspired by the James Herriot books and decided she would become a contract shepherdess.  As you do.  Whilst on a visit to deliver a prime ram to a very isolated farm high up in Swaledale, near the Tan Hill pub (the highest in England), she met the incumbent, Clive Owen.  And her destiny -  they got married, farm Ravenseat together as a partnership and have managed to produce nine youngsters ranging in age from fifteen years to nine months. And with no live-in or part-time help of any kind – “I have no Spanish au pairs hidden away.”

Every time you ask her about what is a good day, or her ambitions for the future, she comes back to her children, wishing for them to become, or do, what they wish in life – though she suspects one son is a born engineer, another a farmer and a daughter will be a doctor.  She glows with pride as she mentions them.

Although realistic about farming – “livestock can sometimes be deadstock” - she is in fact a soft-hearted shepherdess, giving little lambs born too soon the warmth of the aga to try to bring them round, and hand-rearing a good number of lambs each year with the help of the children.  And all this before they set off for school just gone 7 am – there are horses and ponies to feed and muck out, sheep to feed and check, other chores to do all before they go off to school.  They all have a long and tiring day, but as she says “That is the reality of hill farming.”

She has continued to diversify the enterprises that make Ravenseat economically successful – for there is no fortune to be made from hill farming.  Cream tea for walkers on the Coast to Coast path (I have had one of these, scones fresh from the oven were simply delicious, and served with great aplomb by some of her children).  A shepherd's hut down by the river as a tiny B and B (Ade Edmondson stayed in this when interviewing her for ITV).  A locally-purchased farmhouse has just become a more conventional B&B.  A film is to be made of the lives they lead at Ravenseat.  She has written the foreword to a new print-run of the James Herriot books.  As she says, life's dream became a reality as they filmed some scenes for a commemoration of Alf Wight's (James Herriot) centenary birthday at Ravenseat itself.

Her books sell in their thousands, giving pleasure to many who enjoy reading about her life and her choices.  From the comfort of a fireside chair, I suspect, for it is indeed a gritty and determined lady who can sustain such a tough and uncompromising life. 

The Yorkshire Shepherdess, by Amanda Owen, paperback pub 2014, ISBN 978-0-283-07196-6

A Year in the Life of the Yorkshire Shepherdess, paperback pub 2017, ISBN 978-1-4472-95-26-6

Sally Bavage adds:
Thank you, too, to the army of LitFest home bakers (especially Mary Francis and Rachel Harkess) who provided such a delicious array of cakes for the refreshments: almond and orange; chocolate Guinness; coffee and walnut; lemon drizzle; marmalade; stem ginger; tea loaf; treacle, walnut and date; Victoria sandwich. 

Audience Comments:

A very interesting and informative discussion. Amanda is a remarkably resilient woman with a strong sense of purpose. Really enjoyable.
The best and most inspiring literary event I have ever been to. Thank you so much.
Delightful. Lovely to follow it with homemade cake. Impressive organisation and care for audience comfort and enjoyment.
Good to have photos. Some really great atmospheric shots. Would have been better if sound system had been sorted out beforehand. Would have been interesting to hear more about actual farming and how they cope.
Excellent photographs. Conversation mode between Amanda and other was successful. Interesting to get a glimpse into an unusual life. Refreshing.
Very interesting insight into Amanda's life, especially as myself and my partner have acquired The Old School Art Gallery in Muker, Swaledale - it is a stunning area
Thoroughly enjoyed seeing Amanda again - love the back drop of super photos with the livestock and of course children/family in general. Enjoyed the conversation angle too. Look forward to next book and 'film' !!
An excellent afternoon, heard Amanda before at Wetherby. Much preferred 'in conversation'. What a Lady. Both my grandparents were farmers so can understand her and her family's lives. Brilliant photos.
Amanda is an interesting and lively speaker - great to hear her talk of her unusual lifestyle. (Particularly interesting since she grew up in a v. different environment.) I felt the event was quite short - would have liked longer with more time for more questions.
This was an excellent afternoon event, one of the best so far. The combination of Amanda's talk with the slide show in the background was stunning! Many thanks to Amanda and the LitFest team.
Excellent, Amanda so natural - Sally very professional. Very interesting afternoon. Good venue!
Excellent event. Amanda spoke so well. Questions put to M.C. were good. A delight to see all: talk and pictures.
Amanda was amazing as was the slide show. Perhaps as a male too much emphasis on birthing as opposed to farming. The best of luck with all your endeavours, you deserve every success.
Wonderful, informative and entertaining talk. Beautifully evocative photos. Thanks for organising this.
Very interesting and enjoyable. What an amazing woman! She must have limitless energy and stamina. And what lovely pictures.
Very good format. Amanda is a very engaging speaker.
Very interesting, Amanda painted a colourful picture of life on a hill farm in Swaledale. Great photography also!
Excellent, very enlightening to their way of life. Good venue.
The photos were brilliant and it was interesting listening to Amanda.
Very interesting. Maybe drinks and cake could have been better organized.
A great view of someone else's life - ??
Excellent guest speaker.
Really enjoyed the talk - think she is amazing. Enjoyed the pictures too.
Really wonderful. Amanda is so natural and a wonderfully clear speaker. Extraordinarily interesting.
Very successful event with an appealing and amusing speaker.
What a fabulous event. A super ?? And informative! Great down to earth Yorkshire wit and delivery by Amanda!
A totally entertaining look into a particular kind of life. Amazing, a bright light in a naughty world. Thank you 
Good talk, good cakes, what more do you need?
Excellent presentation by Amanda. Room a little crowded and dated. Photos really well taken and presented.
V. good hearing what life is like living, working and bringing up a family in quiet remote area and how changes are made and necessary.
Wonderful. An inspiring talk. Really enjoyed listening to her anecdotes.
Very entertaining and informative with great pictures.
Interesting talk - with lovely photos in the background.
Excellent sound system and well organised seating.
Enjoyed it very much. Very interesting.
Wonderful afternoon, can't wait to read the book.
Very entertaining, very informative, wonderful photograph. A very well organised event. Thank you.
So well organised. Amanda - you were superb.
A very well organised event, a real Lit/Fest.
Loved the books Amanda. You're an inspiration.
An excellent event. A very professional speaker.
Absolutely fabulous. So interesting!
It was fabulous!
Very interesting. She is absolutely down to earth and very, very ???
Very interesting. A wonderful personality, honest and down to earth.
Very interesting. Liked the interview format but would have been good if it was longer. C1.5 hours for questions.
Very interesting. Amanda is amazing. Would like it to have lasted longer!
Brilliant. Extremely interesting.
Super in every way.
Very interesting
Very, very good.
The lady asking questions did not explain who she was and went on rather a long time. Why did she do the reading. Would have been much nicer to hear Amanda!! Enjoyed but rather spoilt by the intros. Q&A section was better than the start. Fab slides.
The facilitator didn’t say who she was & spoke too much at start - more than ten minutes before Amanda Owen began. AVAs poor especially sound/mics for first part. Amanda very good speaker - interesting and informative. The facilitator got onto stride and managed the audience questions well. A very good afternoon and event. Lovely slides. NB confusion as to venue when purchasing tickets @ HEART. Thankx
Excellent slides! Really interesting talk with a friendly 'interviewer' but … 1. microphone 2 didn't work.  2. Started late. 3. Slightly disjointed as interviewer switched between reading/asking questions and handling the microphone. Truly inspiring woman. Clean venue. Friendly team on the door. Lovely cakes!
Too much of the ‘interviewer' and not enough of Amanda! Who was the other lady, anyway? Format was too forced and artificial. Would have been better to let Amanda just talk and to tell us her story. Incredible beautiful photos! The other lady needs to practise using the microphone ... too much p & t! Sorry if that sounds a bit negative ... it was a brilliant event!!! Thank you :) PS Initial confusion re: location of venue. Bought tickets at HEART. Info in North Leeds Life was incorrect re: start times and venue.
Nice event. Intro was too long yet not clear from start that format was going to be that of an interview.
Very light hearted, down to earth, interesting. A good balance to the overall LitFest events. Sound system should have been sorted out and checked earlier. It had been advertised that Amanda was going to do some reading. That would have added character to it.
Amanda was very entertaining and interesting. The host spoke too much. Not a very good venue. But all in all, enjoyed it very much.
Wonderful afternoon. Slides too low for full picture (seated at back)

Please,  please sort out microphones. Very hard to hear at the back. And please raise the screen to its extent e.g. higher still. Otherwise an excellent afternoon.