JOAN

: On Saturday evening of this week, at Amdram Theatre, you have the chance to see the only Whanganui performance of

Femme Natale

, a witty, adult comedy straight from a packed-out season at Bats Theatre, Wellington and starring Wanganui's own April Phillips. You'd be daft to miss it!

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I have a vested interest in April's amazing career. Though born in Coventry, England, she was brought up in Whanganui. I taught French to April at Girls' College and saw, even then, her energy and vitality and desire to do well. We shared a love of theatre and the first time I saw her on stage was opposite Prince Edward in a Collegiate School production of Charley's Aunt. She was good and it was a pretty exciting start to a career that has gone on to blossom nationally and includes, these days, acting, singing, directing, playwrighting, film and play production as well as public speaking.

Our teacher-pupil relationship became a lasting friendship when we acted together at Four Seasons Theatre. She had/has the looks, the voice, the sense of fun and timing and she was only 16 years old when she played her first role up there! We performed in many plays and musicals together. I remember, especially, Stepping Out where her gorgeous legs were on full show and mine were well hidden! As the dressing rooms at the theatre were tiny, intimate and shared by male and female casts for quick changes, I can recall having to push male actors on to the stage when they were watching in awe the lovely April accomplishing speedy but, inevitably, indiscreet changes of costume! Alas, I never had that trouble!

In Wellington, April won her first theatre award, one of a list too long to mention here. She has won prestigious awards for her acting, directing, producing and especially, with her Master's Degree in Scriptwriting, for writing. Her awards reflect her success in New Zealand and abroad, including Sydney , Melbourne, Madrid and New York.

Her writing is exceptionally impressive. I am sure understanding the acting, directing and production side of theatre has made her work most attractive to actors and directors who present her plays. Many of you, now on your way to book Saturday seats at the i-Site, will remember Stiff, the comedy about a "lady of the night" who inherits a funeral parlour from her father and manages to keep both businesses going together. The play is slick and audiences have enjoyed it in many New Zealand and overseas theatres including here at the Gilligan Theatre, Collegiate School. This intimate venue also suited Bonking James Bond which we presented there, along with Death and Taxes.

Motel is one of her most clever plays and Amdram produced this more serious work, allowing me to both direct and act in it. Audiences there have also loved Blue Eyes, which showed off the talent of local musicians and singers. April has sometimes linked up with Andrew London, local musician and songwriter, and they had a recent great success in Wellington with Retro Pack, a group of jazz and swing musicians who had a sold-out season at Circa Theatre, Wellington. The show was produced by Godiva Productions, April's Production Company!

Whanganui's April Phillips stars in <i>Femme Natale</i> at Amdram Theatre on Saturday.
Whanganui's April Phillips stars in Femme Natale at Amdram Theatre on Saturday.

So, as you can read, April is at the top of her game! The play she brings to Amdram on Saturday, with a professional cast, offers you the chance "to come and share with fellow mums and one dad a night of skits, comedy and revelry, inspired by the hilarity and reality, the extraordinary and yet very ordinary experience of parenting." I need to add here that April, alongside all that she does, is a wonderful mother to her very lovely young daughter Celine. You only need to have been a child yourself to enjoy this special evening. Being a parent or grandparent is a bonus.

Footnote. April has included Mel Hawkins, tutor of Amdram Starlets and excellent actor and director herself, in the cast for this event. Saturday at 7.30pm at Amdram . . . a night to remember.

MIKE: Labour Day was a mouth-watering treat for aficionados of the Concert Programme, being the annual occasion for a 12-hour marathon of listeners' favourite pieces of classical music. Busy most of the morning, it was early afternoon before I was able to tune in, as No 50 was on air. For the rest of the afternoon I indulged myself periodically , waiting for the final two hours of the countdown to the most popular items. The music was quite magnificent. Allegri's Miserere, with its ethereal, piercing top notes from the boy soprano; the yearning Adagio from Barber's Violin Concerto; sonorous, triumphant movements from Beethoven's Eroica and Emperor; Elgar's haunting Cello Concerto; extracts from The Messiah and St Matthew's Passion; Mozart's mellifluous Clarinet Concerto; Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending, where you can virtually spot the little bird winging its way into the empyrean; and then, for me, the most soulful, emotion-wrenching piece of all, Elgar's Nimrod from the Enigma Variations. In less than two minutes of sheer bliss, it always feels as if it is tearing my heart out through my chest.

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In mid-afternoon, we heard from my sister-in-law in Northumberland that a very dear friend of hers — a friend of ours too, after our regular visits — had died peacefully after a long illness. Sitting quietly, listening to such sublime music, provided a genuine source of consolation. I don't wish to appear overly sentimental, or even mawkish, but the power of those compositions, revealing the triumph of the human spirit, was able to offer calm, peace and comfort.

Continuing the musical theme, on Saturday afternoon I was fortunate enough to enjoy a special occasion in the tunnel leading to the Durie Hill elevator. A group from Collegiate, "Appassionata", under the tutelage of Sharon Warburton, sang for 45 minutes just inside the tunnel entrance, to the bemusement and enjoyment of elevator visitors. The group comprises five female students, who stood side by side between the walls. Formed 13 years ago, Appassionata has, for the past decade, sung there after the school's prizegiving ceremony.
The acoustics made for a most unusual event. As the first notes were uttered, I could hear them a second or two later, echoing along towards the lift. I could almost see them rolling past, along the walls. A gentleman rode to the elevator on his bike. On his return, he stopped and told me that he could clearly hear every single word at the far end. The programme began with the dual language version of our National Anthem, and, with all due respect to the All Blacks, I felt the girls produced a more tuneful version! Most of the songs were unaccompanied — hymns, negro spirituals, Christmas songs, a couple of '60s pop songs — I knew them! — and a striking arrangement of You'll Never Walk Alone. It was a very special experience.
Many thanks, Sharon and Appassionata!

Comments and suggestions to mjstreet@xtra.co.nz