Thursday, 19 March 2009

In Review: Guys and Dolls

Guys and Dolls
Based on stories by Damon Runyan
Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School and Lancaster Royal Grammar School

The actors and production team from the two Lancaster grammar schools are again to be congratulated on another high quality musical production, one with its own particular musical and dramatic challenges. In particular, there is a lot of script between the songs, full of witty lines which require careful delivery in a New York accent.

Set in the 1940s, the story juxtaposes gamblers with the sisters and brothers of a Salvation Army-style Mission (with its own music) who are single-mindedly dedicated to bringing about the gangsters’ (aka ‘the sinners’) repentance. Interwoven are two threads of romance: ‘doll’ Miss Adelaide (Rosie Bates) and her long-term fiancĂ© ‘guy’ Nathan Detroit (Tim Heap), dedicated organiser of craps games; and ‘doll’ Sergeant Sarah Brown of the Mission (Lizzie Fawcett) and her (eventual) ‘guy’ Sky Masterson (Jordan Grimshaw) – a gambler who out of love ‘changes sides’.

The orchestra and cast are to be congratulated on the larger numbers, and I would single out ‘Sit down, you’re rocking the boat’, led by the wonderfully-named ‘Nicely-Nicely Johnson’ (Henry Page) and sung by the whole company. There are also some excellent individual singing voices. Both Rosie Bates and Lizzie Fawcett shine, and their duet in Act 2 (‘Marry the man tonight’) is a delight. Henry Page deserves an extra mention for his stage presence. All three are well cast, and very comfortable in their acting roles – in particular Rosie Bates. Two other memorable characters are the gamblers Harry the Horse (James Carey) and Big ‘Julie’ (Chris Scott).

The dancing is very good too, polished and fluid – especially that of the girls, although the boys come into their own in Act 2 with the ‘Crapshooters ballet’, which follows Arvide Abernathy’s (Conrad Jarman’s) rendering of the lovely ‘More I Cannot Wish You’.

The choreography is excellent throughout: a challenge with a large cast on a small stage. But look at any actor at any time, and they are still completely in role, usually interacting with another. Congratulations to Director Timothy Hall here for this very tight production.

Lastly, the imaginative and striking sets (especially the Hotbox Club and the Havana bar) serve as a reminder of the work and dedication which goes into these productions. The programme attributes the set construction to ‘Mike Ryan, Andrew Jarman and many others’ – and I will end this review with an extra tribute to those many, and anonymous, ‘others’ who were literally and otherwise behind the scenes of Guys and Dolls.

Jane Sunderland

Venue: Grand Theatre, St. Leonardgate, Lancaster LA1 1NL
Web Link:

Guys and Dolls runs every evening until Friday March 20 at 7.30pm
• More Info:

Adults £9, concessions £6. Tickets are available from Lancaster Royal Grammar School on 01524 580600, Lancaster Girls' Grammar School on 01524 32010 and the Grand Theatre on 01524 64695.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Conservatives Cry Foul on Council Tax

Local Conservatives have hit out at changes in the Council Tax which they say are unfair to the area's rural households.

Last December, Lancaster City Council decided to change the system of allocating City Council expenditure of Council Tax between Council Tax payers in different parts of the District. Conservative councillors led the opposition to this change, which means that Council Tax charged to most of the rural areas in the District for meeting City Council expenditure has gone up by 10.5% (ten and a half per cent).

This increase, as shown for example in the annual bills recently received by households in Kellet Ward, compares with only a one per cent increase in the City's demand for Council Tax from households in parts of the district in which there are no parish councils.

"The Council Tax demands now arriving through our letter boxes make clear the full extent of the extra burden the City Council is imposing on rural households," says Councillor Roger Mace, Leader of the Conservative Group. It's clearly inappropriate that Councillors should have voted in December to divide our community in this way.

"The injustice is crying out for a remedy but none is immediately available."

Conservatives are proposing that all parts of the district are treated fairly when the Council Tax burden is distributed, and that, as in the recent past, areas with Parish Councils should not be asked in future to pay the City Council for a share in services that are not delivered to them by the City Council.

A successful Conservative-sponsored amendment during the Budget Council on 4 March has provided for a Review of the Funding of Parish Councils to take place in 2009-10, but despite the unfairness that is now so evident, it was not possible to alter for 2009-10 the allocation of Council Tax that resulted from the Council's decision last December.

Council Tax, of course, is unpopular in many circles. The New Policy Institute argues it is, quite simply, unfair and urges its reform. "Whilst the richest fifth of non-retired households pay 2% of their gross income on council tax, the poorest fifth pay 5%," the NPI says. "This regressive nature is not because it is a property tax, nor is it inevitable. Rather, it arises from the way that the amounts levied from properties of different value are calculated. So, for example, a household in a £400,000 house currently pays about three times the council tax of a household in a £40,000 house even though the house is worth ten times as much.

"Because the government can choose the council tax bands and how the levels of tax vary by band, there is considerable scope for reform. By choosing different values, it is possible to reduce the council tax burden for those on low incomes whilst still leaving those in the middle unscathed. Such a change could be implemented without either significant administrative effort or primary legislation."

Campaign group IsItFair is also arguing for reform of the tax and endorses a previous announcement by the Conservative Party that council tax will be frozen should they form the next Government. The group points out that a growing number of District Councils are offloading some of their non-statutory duties onto Towns and Parishes in their area but keeping the money that they would have had to spend on these duties.

Mumps Outbreak at Lancaster University

Mumps VirusStudents at Lancaster University are being offered MMR vaccine after an outbreak of mumps. Eight clinical cases of mumps have been reported in the university’s student population within the last week.

Mumps is a contagious viral infection of the parotid salivary glands, located just below and in front of the ears. Transmitted through airborne droplets from the coughs and sneezes of infected people, it takes 14 and 21 days for the symptoms of mumps to develop, after coming into contact with someone who has the virus.

The University outbreak is not an isolated incident: the Health Protection Agency told virtual-lancaster mumps cases are currently being reported throughout the North West Region, mainly in university aged teenagers and young adults aged 17-25.

In a three week period up to the end of last week, 39 cases were reported in Lancashire, with 28 cases were in the Preston area and 11 in Lancaster, including the eight reported amongst the university students. There are also reports of increased cases in Cheshire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester.

Students with mumps at the Lancaster University are understood to be recovering well without serious complications.

“The University Health Centre, along with the support from NHS North Lancashire and the Health Protection Agency, has organised some additional clinics at the university to provide MMR vaccine to students and staff who have not had two doses of it before," said Dr Frank Atherton, Director of Public Health for NHS North Lancashire.

“This outbreak seems to be focused on Lancaster University," added Kate Brierley, Consultant Nurse with the Cumbria and Lancashire Health Protection Unit. "However, there has been a small increase in other mumps cases in North Lancashire."

Mumps is normally a mild illness, but in a minority of cases there can be severe complications, which is why children are vaccinated against it. Some of the complications can be serious including meningitis; ear infections that can lead to hearing impairment; inflammation of the pancreas; swelling and tenderness of the testicles in adult men and inflammation of the ovaries in women.

"People under 25 years of age who missed out two doses of MMR vaccine are particularly vulnerable to mumps. Anyone who suspects that he/she has got mumps should seek advice from either their doctor or by ringing NHS Direct on 0845 4647.”

Pets Dumped in Local Bottle Banks

Locals are being urged to check their nearby bottle and recycling banks before they dispose of their empties - because there could be more inside them than reusables.

This week's Morecambe Visitor reports that pet rabbits, kittens and a guinea pig have all been dumped in local bottle banks, which then ate their own fur and skin in a desperate bid to survive.

Morecambe animal campaigner Don Holroyd rescued the abandoned animals, found in bins in Heysham Village, Westgate, Scotforth, Over Kellet and Garstang. He believes these despicable crimes were committed by cash-strapped pet owners suffering the effects of the recession.

People recycling their bottles heard the animals crying for help and contacted Don, who managed to get them out with the help of a litter picking implement.

Sadly, all but one kitten found has died as a result of this wanton cruelty.

Animal Care and the RSPCA say they are shocked by the crimes and cruelty, and the RSPCA is investigating. Lancaster City Council says the situation is "very worrying".

The callous dumping of unwanted pets is not, it seems, confined to our area. Two puppies were dumped in a bottle bank in Carlisle in 2006, while in January, five cross-bred doberman puppies were found dumped in a bottle bank at a Shrewsbury retail park.

Last June, the Irish Herald reported how kittens dumped in a bottle bank in Ballyowen, Dublin had died.

"What kind of society do we live in that these little creatures were dumped deliberately in a place where they could not be rescued?" Ouria Augier, media officer for the Dublin Society for the protection of Cruelty to Animals commented at the time. "Who would do this, what mentality can so readily disregard life?

"We know that animal cruelty is an indicator crime for other forms of cruelty and abuse. Kittens today, a child tomorrow?"

In 2007, a bag of kittens was thrown into one of the glass bottle banks in Parteen, Ireland. There were calls for CCTV cameras to monitor the facility but no such measure was implemented. The bins have since been removed.

The RSPCA are appealing for anyone with information about the dumping of animals locally to call their cruelty line on 08705 555999.

• Read the full story in the print edition of the Morecambe Visitor - Support Your Local Paper!
Animal Care Web Site

• Pictured are the cat,
Ant - one of many cats Animal Care would love to re-home, along with Sue the rabbit. Guinea Pig photo courtesy of Dawn Turner

Students Sports Support for Local Youngsters

Students from the University of Cumbria have been putting on free sports coaching sessions for local youngsters on the Lancaster (St. Martins) campus.

Sam Williams, Tom Underwood, Andrew Findlay and Iain Griffiths, who are all second year Coaching and Sport Development students, decided to organise a youth inclusion project to target youngsters aged 8 to 11 who often gather on campus and by the astroturf in the evening.

The six week project has been modelled on the national StreetGames UK initiative, which organises sporting activities for youngsters currently on the margins of more formalised sport experiences. After a guest lecture from John Downes of StreetGames UK, the students created a free coaching programme for older primary school aged youngsters to provide them with a range of structured sports activities over six weeks in February and March.

The project has been supported by staff from Morecambe FC's Football In The Community scheme and funding has been provided by Stuart Glover from Lancaster City Council.

"What we wanted to do was set up a project to get young kids involved in sport, as well as introduce them to different sports like rugby league and lacrosse," Sam explains. "They've been really enjoying it and their parents have also been very supportive."

"There often aren't opportunities for kids in the area to play different kinds of sports," Tom feels, "so that's part of what we've been doing. There are about 10 to 15 kids involved at the moment but we're hoping to get more."

"In the final week, we hope to get local clubs involved to help signpost the youngsters towards appropriate club exit routes from the programme," says Mark Christie, Module Leader for the 2nd year Delivering Organised Sport module, "to provide the children with a means of continuing their interest and developing their skills.

"There may also be additional funding from Lancaster City Council and some students may be involved as part of their 2nd year placement module with continuing the scheme if it proves successful - the early signs are very encouraging indeed. Typically youth inclusion projects experience very small numbers in their early stages, but the students have done well to attract over a dozen straight away, and, importantly, they are asking the youngsters what they want to experience in the sessions, thereby facilitating an immediate sense of shared ownership of the project."

"This project has developed from the Universitiy's involvement in recent diversionary activities programmes that are delivered by a range of partners," commented Stuart Glover, Leisure Development Manager for Lancaster City Council. "The project helps the students to develop their skills in community coaching setting rather than a formal structured club setting. The project also provides much needed activities for young people in the surrounding area. Students have also been assisting Lancaster City Council staff in their coaching programme as well as supporting Morecambe football club in delivering football sessions across the district."

Half Term Holidays: No Time to Be Bored!

Lancaster City Council is offering a variety of activities during the April and May school holidays (Monday, April 6 – Friday April 17, excluding the bank holiday weekend) and (Tuesday May 26 – Friday May 29) for children aged between 4 and 16 years old.

But you’ll have to be quick - places fill up very quickly for these popular activities.

Exciting brand new workshops include BMX biking at Preston Pirates Club Track, snowboarding/ tubing at Rossendale Ski Club, nature trail at Happy Mount Park or gymnastics at Salt Ayre Sports Centre.

Other favourites on offer are karate, archery, fencing, cycle skills, multi-skills and trampolining. The more adventurous might like to try the indoor climbing/abseiling, skiing, horseriding and orienteering workshops.

Full and half day sessions are in a fun and safe environment and supervised by experienced coaches.

Equipment is provided for all workshops and transport is on offer for some of the sessions. Different age groups apply to certain activity workshops. Places on all the activities offered are strictly limited to ensure a high quality coaching session.

Places can be booked and paid for at Salt Ayre Sports Centre, Monday to Friday from 10.00am to 4.00pm or by contacting the booking information line on (01524) 842493, between the same times. There is also another chance to pay in person at Salt Ayre Sports Centre from 10am to 7pm on Wednesdays.

• A copy of the activities programme and booking form is available on Lancaster City Council's website – or from Salt Ayre Sports Centre, Lancaster and Morecambe Town Halls, Lancaster and Morecambe Tourist Information Centres and the council's community pools at Hornby, Carnforth and Heysham.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Centros does the chicken run

Local Greens say they are "unsurprised" by the announcement from developer Centros that it will not appear in an independent public inquiry to address the soundness of its proposals for Lancaster's canal corridor (see news story).

“We have known for over two years that the Centros proposals were fundamentally flawed," said Coun John Whitelegg, "and would not survive a close examination of the evidence by an independent inspector and under cross-examination of its witnesses.

"Centros has done the chicken run and confirmed that it has no confidence at all in its own case for this development.

"We are now calling for the City Council to cancel its futile £50,000 defence of something that the developer itself will not defend.”

The City Council has allocated £50,000 to fight the public inquiry on the side of the developer. Speaking to the Lancaster Guardian last week, Andrew Dobson, head of planning at Lancaster City Council, said: the city council was more than comfortable in defending its position at the inquiry.

"A robust proposal was considered by the city council's planning committee and the council will ensure that this is taken forward into the inquiry," he told the paper.

An alternative scheme for the area, advocating a mix of new housing and small work units, has been prosed by charity SAVE. It might cost a bit less than the projected £5.2 million cost the Council may have to find to clean up Luneside, which is currently being considered.