Tonight I went to the Hexagon theatre in Reading to see Reading Operatic Society perform La Belle Hélène. This is a comedy based on the story of Helen of Troy and her lover Paris, set to the fabulous music of Offenbach, ably produced tonight by Musical Director John Lawes and his orchestra. There were several modern humorous references but not so many as to overshadow the plot.
Suzannah Brooksbank was magnificent as Helen and Simon Hutson was dashing as Prince Paris but special praise must go to Iain Whittaker who was hilarious as Calchas the Chief Augur. His speech impediment and impeccable comedic timing combined to make him the star of the show for me. The rest of the cast were excellent, producing a quality of singing and a volume that only Reading Operatic Society can do on such a regular basis.
The choreography was to the usual high standard under the expert tutelage of Jill Morgan fabulously aided by some striking costumes. Although I did think that the set was a little inadequate at times. That is the difficulty for amateur societies these days as the cost of hiring sets and costumes is almost prohibitive. This production cost over £20,000 to stage and that is very difficult to support from ticket sales alone. A huge amount of effort must go into fundraising for any good society to survive nowadays.
When I first moved to Reading in 1995 I was a member of Reading Operatic Society for several years, performing in a number of shows with them, so naturally I am biased, but this was a fantastic production.
The society’s next show will be “The Pyjama Game” at the Hexagon from 22-26th September 2009. Tickets are available from Jean Theobald on 0118 926 7135.
The following is a piece written by Sir Reg Empey, Leader of the Ulster Unionists, for the Belfast News Letter:
“No one should underestimate either the significance or potential long-term impact of the new electoral pact reached between the Ulster Unionist Party and the Conservative Party.
It has the potential to change the nature and practice of politics in Northern Ireland—and change it for the better.
I believe that electoral and policy cooperation with the Conservative Party is something that is in the interests of the Union. The Union is a two-way process and it can only be stronger when political parties in Northern Ireland and across Great Britain are seen to work together in a common cause. Also, it provides a counter-balance to the all-Ireland link-ups of Sinn Fein. Put bluntly, why shouldn’t the UUP have a solid, formal relationship with a pan-UK party?
I know that some take the view that the UUP risks losing working class voters. I think it needs to be borne in mind that the present Conservative Party is no longer a right-wing party in any real sense of that term. On a number of issues it is clearly to the left of Labour. The “Broken Society” policy espoused by David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith would be of more value to the working classes of East and North Belfast (and further afield) than anything planned by Labour alone, or by Sinn Fein and the DUP.
Again, critics of the relationship ask the question: how do we overcome the Conservative “legacy” on Northern Ireland? Let’s be quite frank, the DUP managed to overcome the SF/IRA “legacy.” We are both sharing power with Sinn Fein MLAs and Ministers—many of whom are known to have been active terrorists or supporters of terrorism. Peter Robinson is, today, co-equal First Minister with a man who is widely believed to have been a senior member of the IRA Army Council.
It is very likely that the Conservative Party will win the next general election. The cold hard fact is that David Cameron probably doesn’t need a single UUP vote or seat to get him into Number 10. He didn’t need to come to the UUP conference last December. He didn’t need to distance himself from the “no selfish, strategic or economic interest” doctrine of British government neutrality on the Union. He didn’t need to embroil himself in Northern Ireland politics and risk shattering the bi-partisan approach that has dominated Westminster for thirty years. That being the case, it is a reasonable assumption that he is personally serious about our place within the United Kingdom.
As a stand-alone party the UUP can have as much vision and socio-economic plans as it likes. But stuck in a toothless “opposition” role, we can deliver absolutely nothing other than talk and soundbite. A formal link with the Conservative Party offers the prospect of a Northern Ireland party being able to write policy and deliver it from within the next Conservative government
Already the DUP has gone into overdrive about the UUP-Conservative relationship jeopardising unionist unity and endangering unionist seats. This is opportunistic bluster. But this UUP-Conservative project is about attracting and maximising the entire pro-Union vote. Seats are being lost, not simply because the UUP and DUP are fighting each other—but because a very large section of the pro-Union vote isn’t coming out at all. The reality of the situation is that there are more seats to be won by attracting non-voters to the polls than by rolling out the failed and phoney alliances of the past.
Some fun has already been poked at the term “New Force.” So be it. That is the nature of politics. But let me say this: this is a new electoral and politcal force for the Union. This is a new force which spans the entire United Kingdom. This is a new force which can put Northern Ireland at the very heart of UK politics. This is a new force which offers new opportunities and prospects for the entire electorate. This is a new force which is able to promote a vision and version of the Union which isn’t dependent on head counts and scare tactics. This is a new force which is able to offer a credible, costed, intellectual alternative to the dreary old mantras. This is a new force which has the potential to reach those tens of thousands of pro-Union voters who have opted out because they believed that a vote for a seemingly parochial party was a waste of time.
Ultimately, though, it won’t be the self-serving criticism of our political opponents which will determine the future of the UUP-Conservative pact. While the DUP have chosen to concentrate on building their relationship with Sinn Fein, we have chosen to concentrate on building our relationship with a pro Union Conservative party. And when the electorate begins to realise that the Conservative Party is solidly and unambiguously committed to the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom: and that a manifesto from Conservatives and Unionists is offering deliverable policies rather than vague promises—then I believe that they will be prepared to cast their vote for something new and tremendously exciting in Northern Ireland and UK politics.”
Whilst I may not agree with every word he has written, it is heartening to see the new link-up between the two parties taking root. In politics we often have to swallow some minor differences in order to achieve the greater goal of a better future for this country. I believe that the link between the Conservative Party and Ulster Unionists is a welcome step on that road.