Herefordshire's Life in January

PUBLISHED: 15:38 26 November 2010 | UPDATED: 15:40 20 February 2013

Jack & the Beanstalk

Jack & the Beanstalk

Life in January, in Herefordshire.


The Courtyard's new production gives a modern twist to the familiar story, with plenty of gags about Hereford Council and the Edgar Street Grid. It is written, as is traditional now, by Lyndsay Maple, who this year instead of playing the baddie is Fairy Cake, the good fairy with the impossible heels and rusty wand that nobody believes in. She conjures up two unlikely romances, between Jack's overwhelming mother, Dame Cherry Sponge (played by Rob Swinton) and her tongue-tied dairyman Chunk (John Buckeridge), and between Jack himself, who doesn't believe in love, and the irresistible Princess Cupcake (Natalie Duvall). Robert Traynor plays the wicked Rachmanesque Baron Wasteland; and the supporting includes Buttercup the lovable Cow, a sad Giant, a slick team of dancers and two choruses of Herefordshire children, the Fee Fis and the Fo Fums.

The director for the first time is Estelle Van Warmelo, and with production manager Carl Hulme she has put together an impressive and hugely enjoyable show: great family entertainment.

The panto runs until January 10. Ticket prices start at 8.50. Box Office 0870 1122330

Courtyard babies

Courtyard Anniversary Club members and their families enjoying the launch party at The Courtyard.

Nearly 70 Herefordshire babies will benefit from free access to the county's top arts venue for 21 years as part of a unique 'birthday present' to mark The Courtyard's 10th anniversary.

The Courtyard Centre for the Arts teamed up with Herefordshire Primary Care Trust to invite every baby born in the county during September to become a member of a very special '21 Year Club'. Babies whose parents have signed up for the scheme will benefit from free attendance at most Courtyard shows, films and events for 21 years.

Courtyard Chief Executive, Martyn Green, said, "There is a lot of research which shows that children and young people benefit enormously from watching and taking part in arts and cultural activities. We really hope that this flagship scheme will be a fantastic way for these children to develop a lifelong love of the arts."


The Fabulous Old Spot Theatre Company

The King of Spain's Daughter

It starts so well - a loving couple, a thatched cottage in the country and a new-born baby. Bad news from abroad soon divides the family: Florence to London to cope with the sleepless nights and damp blankets of international diplomacy, and Jack left to deal with the back-stabbing, merciless cut and thrust of first-time parenthood. An invasion is imminent, spies are abroad, relatives get in the way and a marriage badly needs saving: what comes first, family or country ? A unique and stirring tale told with music, masks, high drama and bad jokes!

Saturday January 17, 7.30pm Kilpeck Village Hall Tickets: 01981 570352 6/4/18

Saturday January 24, 7.30pm Clifford Community Hall Tickets: 01497 831561 6/4/16

Ta Hodzic Trio

Songs and music from the Balkans and beyond

Ta Hodic's startling and evocative voice has enchanted audiences from the London's South Bank to Sarajevo. In her trio Ta explores the songs of her homeland, the former Yugoslavia, and its bordering countries. This music is pure emotion, and with dazzling musicians Oliver Wilson-Dickson (The Devil's Violin, The Beacons, Szapora) on violin and Luke Carver Goss (Szapora, The Ian McMillan Orchestra) on accordion, a few instrumental fireworks are inevitable!

Saturday January 24, 7.30pm Kimbolton Village Hall Tickets: 01568 610772 7.50/5

Sunday January 25, 7.30pm Burton Hotel, Kington Tickets: 01544 231732 6/4

Fighting for justice

Monmouthshire author Matthew Hall talks to Hilary Engel about his new novel, The Coroner

Well in advance of its publication this month, Matthew Hall's first novel, The Coroner, has rave quotes from fellow crime-writers Lynda La Plante and Sophie Hannah, American and translation rights have been sold, and he has already written the second in the series.

"I'd been thinking of writing about a coroner for about eight years," he says. "But I took a chance in making my heroine a woman, and in setting the story in the provinces, here in the Severn Vale." His publishers were slightly nervous about a male author with a female heroine, and so they changed his pen name to MR Hall. But they needn't have worried: Jenny Cooper is entirely believable.

She is an outsider - recently divorced and increasingly addicted to anti-depressants: but she is relentless in her pursuit of the truth. She is very pro-active, operating almost like a detective in going out and finding her witnesses, when she suspects a trail of buried evidence links the mysterious deaths of her predecessor and two wayward teenagers.

"What fascinated me about the coroner system," says Matthew, "is that it is only answerable to the interests of justice: the coroner reports only to the Lord Chancellor. The sole object of an inquest is to discover the truth. When you are a coroner, there is no more senior position to aim for: you have nothing to lose; whereas most judges are aiming for a higher office, and tend to be more amenable to persuasion."

Matthew knows his subject well, having practised as a criminal barrister in London when he first graduated. But he had always wanted to write, and in his late twenties he got the chance to do screenplays for the TV series Kavanagh QC. He went on to work on Judge John Deed, and Dalziel and Pascoe, becoming a full-time writer 12 years ago. "I was very lucky," he says. "But writing for television is a bit of a treadmill, and eventually I was desperate to write books."

Matthew had spent much of his childhood in Herefordshire, and went to Hereford Cathedral School. He comes from a creative family: both his mother and his stepfather are successful writers, and his father is a classical musician. He and his wife, Patricia Carswell, who is also a barrister, always had in mind that they would one day move back out to this area. They found a mill-owner's house at Whitebrook in Monmouthshire, and decided that this would be a perfect place to raise their two sons.

"It had 16 acres of woodland attached to it," says Matthew, "which I hadn't been looking for. But I have always loved woods, ever since I made camps in woods here as a child. So now I spend a lot of time trying to manage our wood: it's become a real passion."

Matthew's heroine, Jenny, has also found a refuge in the country, and the landscape plays a large part in defining moods in his story. His background as a screenwriter is evident in the dramatic detail that sets up his scenes. The Coroner is gripping, and sometimes shocking, but it is no pot-boiler.

"I want my books to have big, political themes," Matthew says. "I have always been obsessed with injustice. I found when I was a barrister that justice always has to be fought for. So The Coroner is a fictional way of making the argument that we should not be incarcerating under 18-year-olds. I did a lot of child protection work, and I never saw anything but damage being done by keeping youngsters in custody. There are extreme exceptions, of course; but it is a brutalising system, and we only put up with it because it is relatively cheap."

Matthew is hoping that The Coroner will appear on television in due course. In any case we are undoubtedly going to hear much more of Jenny Cooper, and of MR Hall.


MR Hall, Macmillan, 10

Publication date: January 16


Whitbourne artist Tom Mence is staging his first ever solo exhibition at a Mayfair gallery in January.

33 year-old Tom is a fine arts valuer with Brightwells, the Leominster auction house, and devotes his spare time to painting, inspired by the landscape of Worcestershire and Herefordshire.

"To have the opportunity of staging my first major exhibition in London is almost too good to be true," says Tom, who paints predominantly in oils, gradually building up the surface with impasto and glazes to capture the subdued white light of the English countryside.

The exhibition, entitled This England, will run at 54 The Gallery, Shepherds Market, Mayfair, from January 20 to 25. Tom is also planning an exhibition in Herefordshire in the autumn of 2009.

More examples of Tom's work can be seen on, or he can be contacted on 07890015578


New Year bargains

Old Doorknocker, our resident guide to the salerooms, predicts: "January sales this year will be of interest: your Santa pound should go a long way. The year kicks off with a mammoth sale on January 10 at Nigel Ward's in Pontrilas, 01981 240 140.

"There's another sale full of potential post-Chrimble bargains at Dreweatts, Donnington Priory, on January 14,, 01653 553 553. Leave a cowardly bid and see what happens.

"Then on January 28 Brightwells have a catalogue sale at their Leominster saleroom, or 01568 11122.

"Happy hunting!"

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