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Saturday
Apr012017

emma leads world premiere of Mike Batt's musical, The Men who march away

On March 18th 2017, Emma led the Docklands Sinfonia at St Anne's Church, Limehouse in a semi-staged performance of world-renowned producer Mike Batt's musical, The Men Who March Away.

Image result for the men who march away mike batt

A review of the show from The Reviews Hub is below, with particular mention of the orchestra near the end.

Books, Lyrics and Music: Mike Batt
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

While commemoration activity for the First World War focuses primarily on sacrifice and loss, it’s easy to forget that, for the civilians who lived through it and the men who came home, 1918 was never the end of their story. Not only had war had changed them, but veterans returned to a Britain they barely recognised where no one understood them, and, although they didn’t know it, further conflicts were coming. Mike Batt’s new musical The Men Who March Away gives voice to this unlucky generation who fought a hideous war and then watched their sons do the same.

In 1913 Katherine Grayling is happily engaged to George Denham and in defiance of her middle-class parents leaves home to become a Music Hall performer alongside her friend Billy Brown. But George goes to war the following summer leaving Katherine and Billy to grow closer. But Katherine finds herself in trouble and when news of George’s death reaches her she makes a rash decision, but is George really gone and when war is over and their child grows up what does the future have in store for all of them?

Mike Batt wrote The Men Who March Away nearly 25 years ago and this rather belated premiere was performed as a partially acted concert, allowing the audience to visualise how this would look if it was given a full staging. Batt is clearly fascinated by the connections between people and how time affects the rationality of their decision-making, and his songs are full of quivering emotion as people swear undying love in quite tender and convincing ways.

The story itself is a rather complex one, situated primarily in two time periods; Act One from 1913- 1918 and Act Two largely in the Spanish Civil War but briefly in 1939 as well. Throughout it cuts back and forth between the combat zone and the home front where Katherine is performing in vaudeville, showing the effects of war on all civilian and fighters, as well as occasionally looking at things from the enemy perspective. This is more successful in Act One where there is a tighter focus on the three central characters but on the whole, Batt just about gets away with it by staging some nice set pieces in Act Two without any of the principals.

And the music is a delight, from the pleading tones of the title song sung by Katherine (Alice Frankham) at the start to The Love That Never Went Away which has a sentimental but emotive quality reprised frequently in Act Two, Batt creates a deep connection between the characters in song that gives the show its heart. Equally excellent are the songs for the soldiers, particularly in Act One, which really capture the conflicting feelings many serviceman had about fighting. In Jolly Good Fun / Thank God the men are highly optimistic, seeing war as a game, but cleverly it morphs into a more ironic tune as they face bombardment and death with vivid sound effects designed by Chris Smith and projection by Oliver Savidge Maloney. Similarly, The Somme has an almost painful refrain about no more wars accompanied by heavy drum and cymbal which add both drama and poignancy.

The book is the weakest element of the show and is largely unable to replicate the same feeling as Batt achieves with the songs. Too often words sound hollow, clichéd and like recited fact rather than realistic dialogue, and it lacks subtly particularly in crass moments such as Katherine’s suggestion that Billy had a worse war than George who was mown down on the first morning of the Somme and lay in a shell hole for hours. Length is also a problem with the entire show including an indulgent 30-minute interval coming in at nearly three hours, there are areas that could be reduced or cut entirely to move things along quicker, especially with 19 scenes and songs taking 90 minutes in Act One.

The character of Billy also lacks any real purpose, except to act as a foil for the Katherine-George romance, and while this wasn’t a full performance, Oliver Bower’s Billy played up the comedy but failed to create any real chemistry with Frankham’s Katherine making their alliance inexplicable. Alex Southern’s George was a little over eager with the generic toff-officer accent but sang beautifully, while Frankham was superbly emotive throughout.

The Men Who Marched Away has a lot of potential and this first performance accompanied by the Docklands Sinfonia Players was extremely engaging, particularly in the charming surroundings of St Anne’s, Limehouse. With a bit of work on the book and a tad more narrative direction in the Second Act, it could become a very interesting full show. Batt may have kept this under wraps for more than two decades but The Men Who March Away makes you wonder what else he’s got tucked away.

Thursday
May052016

the kamkars at the barbican june 19th (in aid of children of war)

Emma will be leading the Docklands Sinfonia in an exciting concert at the Barbican on June 19th. The orchestra will be joining soloists from exhilarating Iranian ensemble The Kamkars to perform the orchestral works of their director, Hooshang Kamkar, followed by a performance from the Kamkars Ensemble of their traditional music.


A large musical family, The Kamkars have been creating music together since they first began practising together in their childhood homes. Their performances fully explore the music of their homeland, taking in everything from traditional Persian music to Kurdish song. This concert is a chance to see two sides of the ensemble’s work – from Hooshang Kamkar’s orchestral compositions, fully realised by the Docklands Sinfonia, to their entrancing traditional music.

Above all, The Kamkars are defined by their astonishing musicality – instrumental lines weave and interlock, and each piece is intricately arranged. This virtuosity heightens the emotional impact of their performances, from moving traditional melodies to jubilant folk song.

Book tickets here:

http://www.barbican.org.uk/music/event-detail.asp?id=19596&pg=9759

Tuesday
May032016

east end film festival and docklands sinfonia july 1st 2016 - the battle of the somme

On the 100th year anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme Docklands Sinfonia, with Emma leading, will be performing a special concert commemorating the centenary of both The Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Jutland. During the concert, the iconic 1916 film ’The Battle of the Somme’ will be screened as part of the Imperial War Museum’s Somme100 film project whilst the orchestra performs Laura Rossi’s acclaimed new score live.

The film is the jewel in the crown of the Imperial War Museum’s collection. It is a compelling documentary record of one of the key battles of the First World War and the first feature-length documentary film record of combat. In 1916, it was seen by over half the UK adult population. Only ‘Star Wars’ has beaten it in box office records since.

Docklands Sinfonia will also be performing a new work commemorating The Battle of Jutland - considered to be the only major naval battle of World War One. We are fortunate to be joined by our patron - Admiral Alan William John West, Baron West of Spithead GCB, DSC, PC, former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff – who will talk about the battle and introduce the work.

Venue: St Anne's, Limehouse, Three Colt Street, London E14 7HP

Tickets: £10 (Concessions) £12 (Advanced) £15 (On the door)

Conductor: Spencer Down

Leader: Emma Blanco

Get your tickets here:

https://www.docklandssinfonia.co.uk/box_office

Friday
Apr152016

Kew Music Academy

Emma was delighted to be invited to coach on the Kew Music Academy this Easter. She joined a team of coaches who took a group of 35 children aged 7 to 17 through a whistle-stop tour of all things Shakespeare! The course's schedule consists of rigorous daily warmups, full orchestra rehearsals, sectionals, and full choir to finish off each day. The children loved all the different genres of music and being in such a cosy environment with others who are passionate about music. The next course is July 25-29th 2016 and the theme is the Rio de Janeiro Olympics! Book places soon - the course will fill up fast!

 

https://www.kewmusicacademy.co.uk/home

Thursday
Mar102016

a night of motown for save the children march 3rd 2016

For a second year, Emma was invited to perform for a massive fundraiser for Save the Children at The Roundhouse, Camden. This year, it was A Night of Motown and violinists Ruth Elder (and arranger), Tina Jacobs-Lim, Jemima Clarke and Emma Blanco were ecstatic to be back, this time playing with legends such as Mary Wilson of The Supremes, Tito Jackson, Beverley Knight, Lemar and John Newman. All the musicians involved are phenomenal, and the girls are proud to be a part of the AllStars Collective. A spectacular night was had by all.

The girls with the one and only Mary Wilson!!!