Category Archives: Arts and Culture


Pleasure Dome Theatre is back this summer after the success of their critically acclaimed production of Macbeth in The Valley of Rocks. This year, with support from the Exmoor National Park Partnership Fund, they are turning their attention to the story that runs through the heart of Exmoor: Lorna Doone.

Helena Payne from Pleasure Dome Theatre says: “To help bring R.D. Blackmore’s vision to life we are recruiting local talent to swell the ranks of our professional cast – what could be more compelling than experiencing this timeless tale of love and loss immersed in the environment that inspired it?

“All ages, abilities and levels of experience are encouraged to attend our open auditions on 15th and 16th of April at Lynton Town Hall. There will be four sessions, two on each day at 10am-1pm and 3pm -6pm. Please only apply if you have good availability for the run August 29th to September 2nd and the preceding three weeks for rehearsal.”

The audition will comprise: an introduction to the team and the project, some drama games to get everyone working as an ensemble, some text work and scenes that will be work-shopped with the director Scott Le Crass.

Helena continued: “We’re really looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible so if you would like to attend an audition, please let us know your preferred session by emailing Anyone interested should arrive in good time to register before the sessions begin.”

PHOTO: By Julia Amies-Green


Last night, Monday 20 February, we got a sneak preview of the forthcoming show, Oliver! the musical, which opens tomorrow night  (22 Feb) at The Regal Theatre, Minehead.

Fagin ‘Reviewing the Situation’, photo by Andrew Hobbs Photography

Following the success of ‘The Magic of The Musicals’, Fusion Young Performers will be appearing in this new production between 22 and 25 February   with Lionel Bart’s much-loved classic musical, which is packed full of well-known songs such as ‘I’d Do Anything’, ‘Where is Love?’, ‘Consider Yourself’, ‘Reviewing the Situation’, ‘Oom Pah Pah’ and lots more… all accompanied by a live 12 piece orchestra.

Lionel Bart’s Oliver! brings Charles Dickens’ classic tale to life, following  young, orphaned Oliver Twist (brilliantly played by local youngster Joel Savage) as he navigates London’s underworld of theft and violence searching for a home, a family, and – most of all – for love.

Bill Sykes is pretty scary in this! Photo by Andrew Hobbs Photography

With an energetic cast of over 50 young people aged 24 and under  – many of whom starred in the 2014 MATA summer production of Les Misérables and with direction by Sarah-Jane Cross, choreography by Lorraine Ahern and musical direction by David Pitts, this promises to be a show full of dazzling dance routines, amazing singing and fantastic performances from some of the best young talent in the area.

Music, lyrics and book by Lionel Bart. By arrangement with Musicscope and Stage Musicals Limited of New York. This is an amateur production.

The singing in this production will knock your socks off! Photo by Andrew Hobbs Photography

Tickets were sold out two weeks ago and so the next time you hear about a forthcoming performance by Fusion Young Performers you’ll need to snap your ticket up fast!

Top photo: by Andrew Hobbs Photography.


Edward Capern courtesy of The Burton at Bideford Art Gallery Museum.

He was a humble postman whose poems, written whilst walking the rural lanes of North Devon on his daily round in the mid-nineteenth century, won plaudits from the Prime Minister and the support of the biggest literary names of the day. He was to become known nationally as the ‘Postman Poet’ and was referred to as ‘the Devonian Burns’.

Yet today, two years short of the 200th anniversary of Edward Capern’s birth, many of his fellow Devonians are unlikely to have heard of his remarkable story, let alone people from further afield.

But that could be about to change. Recognition might again come knocking for Capern (1819-1894), thanks to a collaboration between Bideford author Liz Shakespeare and folk musicians and songwriters Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll, also from Bideford – the town where Tiverton-born Capern resided for most of his life.

Liz has written The Postman Poet, a novel based on the life of Capern, and at the same time is publishing 34 of his 600 poems in The Poems of Edward Capern. During her research, Liz found that some of his poems were intended to be sung and Nick and Becki have spent the past 12 months choosing which ones to set to music for their CD, the Songs of Edward Capern.

The book and CD launch takes place with an evening of reading and songs at the Royal Hotel in Bideford on 25 March, two days before they officially go on sale.

Capern was from a poor family and as a boy only went to school for four months. He was entirely self-taught but he had a local benefactor, William Frederick Rock from Barnstaple, who saw his early poems in a local newspaper and was behind the publication of Capern’s first volume of poems. Its subscribers included Lord Tennyson, Charles Dickens and the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston. He was also admired by the Poet Laureate, Alfred Austen.

“It was a remarkable achievement for a working class man to become nationally known and I think he deserves a larger audience today,” said Liz. While writing the novel, she drew on historical research and details in the poems to tell the extraordinary story through Edward’s eyes as he struggles to support his family, a story that captures the opportunities and inequalities of Victorian North Devon.

Capern would jot down poems while he was walking on his round and he often wrote on the envelopes he was about to deliver: “He had to ask the recipients if he could keep the envelopes because he’d written on them,” said Liz, whose own cottage in Littleham just outside Bideford was on Capern’s round.

It was during his daily two-hour break on the Bideford to Buckland Brewer route that most of his poems were written. It seems that one day he was invited into a cottage to sit in the warmth of the kitchen while the ladies of the house went about their daily chores. It was an invitation he was to accept every day after that.

Quite by coincidence, while carrying out her research, Liz discovered that the cottage in Buckland Brewer is now owned by a good friend, local historian and genealogist Janet Few: “When you’re in the kitchen you can imagine Edward sitting there writing up a poem about the nature he’d seen and the people he’d met that morning,” said Liz.

When it came to Nick and Becki setting Capern’s work to music, they found that the poems had a particular rhythm to them: “You could tell he’d written them while walking,” said Nick, “because there is a walking feel to the rhythm of the lines.”

This “walking feel” was used when they composed the music, as Becki explained: “The feel informed the rhythm and we then created the melody to ‘fit’ what the words were saying. And the melody informed the choice of instruments.

“The songs are certainly folk-influenced because that’s our background and it’s probably the music Capern would sing. But it’s not traditional folk music. It’s a much more contemporary sound.”

Nick and Becki initially sifted through Capern’s collection of poems that he’d written for music in his volume, The Devonshire Melodist, only to discover his words had been disastrously misinterpreted by composer T Murby. His piano arrangements were clearly intended for the well-to-do and a review in the Illustrated London News decried Murby’s melodies as “artificial, laboured, hard to sing”.

As a result Nick and Becki have recorded just two of the songs as they were written – ‘Christmas Bells’ and ‘Come List, My Love’, and have set a third from the collection, ‘The Robin Is Weeping’, to their own music. Nine further Capern poems are set to their folk-influenced interpretation

“It’s pretty obvious that folk was his genre,” said Nick. ”We think he’d be happy with what we’ve done.”

Although he was careful not to upset the aristocracy who bought his work, Capern was keen to use his pen to champion the cause of the poor. One poem Nick and Becki have set to music is ‘The Dinner Bell’, a tale of the haves and have-nots where Capern laments the plight of families who could hear the sound of distant dinner bells but themselves had no food.

In recognition of Capern’s commitment to social justice, £1 from each copy of the poetry collection sold is being donated to the North Devon Food Bank.

Capern died in 1894, aged 75, and is buried in the churchyard at Heanton near Braunton, with his trusty postman’s handbell fixed in a niche in the headstone.

So how will twenty-first-century readers view Capern’s poems? Liz admits some are rather sentimental for today’s tastes but added: “The best of it is as fresh and honest now as it was then. The poems I’ve selected are those which are most reflective of his life and the locality. He loved his job, despite the weather and the long hours and it’s this love that really comes across in his work. His poems are written from the heart.”

Tickets for the 7.30pm launch event on 25 March are £6, available from the websites. Signed copies of the books and CD can also be pre-ordered now from the websites,

The Postman Poet by Liz Shakespeare, RRP £9.99 (ISBN: 9780951687949); The Poems of Edward Capern, selected by Liz Shakespeare, RRP £7.99 (ISBN: 9780951687956); The Songs of Edward Capern by Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll, RRP £10.  

The Rural Postman by Edward Capern (extract):
O, the postman’s is as happy a life
As any one’s, I trow;
Wand’ring away where dragon-flies play,
And brooks sing soft and slow;
And watching the lark as he soars on high,
To carol in yonder cloud,
“He sings in his labour, and why not I?”
The postman sings aloud.
And many a brace of humble rhymes
His pleasant soul hath made,
Of birds, and flowers, and happy times,
In sunshine and in shade.

PHOTO AT TOP: Becki, Liz and Nick in the kitchen at Buckland Brewer.


The Drama Department at Wellington School is celebrating after receiving the best set of LAMDA results the school has ever seen.

There was greater uptake for these exams than ever, with everyone achieving either Merit or Distinction grades. More excitingly, for the first time at Wellington, the pupils achieved more overall Distinction grades.

Every LAMDA student must learn, direct and perform up to three pieces from different time periods and answer questions on their pieces and drama practitioners used. The students performed an eclectic mix of contemporary and older pieces including the works of Ibsen, Tom Morris and Shakespeare.

Of the twenty-five candidates who sat the examinations, twenty-one received the highest grade boundary.

The following pupils achieved a Distinction: Pip Williams, Matty Fuller, Tommy Piper, Oliver Yu, Jonathan Jenkins, Toby Shaw, Felicity Rickard, Hayley Summers, Rebecca Frearson , Sammy Caygill, Reyhan Taraq, Stephen Tucker, Abigail Govey, Arielle Sheridan, Poppy Price and Rebecca Wynn.

The following pupils gained Distinctions in their group piece: Felicity Rickard, Poppy Price, Rebecca Wynn, Lucile Milton, Willow Robinson

The following pupils passed with Merit: Lucy Stonecliffe, Thomas Chilcott, Ellie Hendy and Thomas Pepperell.

Photo: Successful LAMDA pupils celebrate their superb results.



810_1261.croppedTwo pupils from King’s College have gained places at two prestigious music conservatoires and one has been invited to attend a National Youth Orchestra day. There are only seven conservatoires in the UK and the competition for places in all of them is fierce.

Cellist Megan Hollingshead (left) has gained a place at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.


015320Jonathan Wong (right) has been offered a place at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff to study trumpet.


They both attended many gruelling auditions and spent most of last term practising furiously. Their hard work has certainly paid off and we look forward to hearing great things from them in the future.

Fifth Form pupil Ranulf Mason (pictured top) has been invited to attend the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) Inspire String Ensemble days in Liverpool at half term. Aimed at players aged 11-18, playing at high Grade 6 level right up to Grade 8 Distinction, NYO Inspire Ensembles are three-day residencies in orchestral family groups: Strings, Winds, Brass and Percussion. The philosophy behind NYO Inspire is simple: to give breakthrough experiences of orchestral music to teenagers of all backgrounds, both as musicians and as audience members.

Ranulf plays the viola and the organ and will be taking his Grade 8 exams this term. He also sings in the Chapel choir. In this NYO orchestra he will be playing his viola.


The Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon is holding its 15th annual Open Art Show until 18 February, showcasing the best new work from ten local artists.

The show, which promotes the work of amateur and professional artists working in North Devon, was officially opened by Peter Heaton-Jones MP.

Judges from White Moose Gallery, PETROC and Quay Drawing helped to choose the selected artists, who are either local residents, or their work has been inspired by northern Devon, Exmoor and Lundy Island.

Pete Newell, one of the judges involved, says: “It has been a challenge and pleasure to help assemble this exhibition. There was a wide range of artists, artworks, style and subject matter to select from and I hope that the chosen works reflect the quality and diversity of art practice currently underway in North Devon.”

Visitors to the show can enjoy work by:

• Gerrard Lindley
• Roger Cockram
• Louise Thompson
• Luna North
• Lesley Anne Cornish
• Debbie Lee
• Gill Jones
• Tony Williams
• Penny Armitage
• Roger Humphries

Executive Member responsible for leisure and culture, Councillor Dick Jones, says: “The standard of entry for this year’s Open Art Show was extremely high as always. The artists who live and work in, or are inspired by, northern Devon are extremely talented. Why not come along to the museum and see for yourself? Especially as entry is free.”

The Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon is open from 10am to 4pm on Monday to Saturday, admission is free. Check out the museum’s Facebook page to keep up to date with all the latest news and events.


Photos by Andrew Hobbs

Question: What has 36 legs, 9 tails and 8 owners? Answer: The pack of hopefuls (all of them wonderful) who have just auditioned for the role of Bill Sikes’ dog, Bullseye, in Minehead’s forthcoming production of Lionel Bart’s classic musical Oliver!

The nine hopefuls for the role of Bullseye in Oliver! the musical. Clockwise from top left: Arnie, Toby, Rowlf, Jenson, Bruce, Boris, Bandit and Rudi. In the centre is Lenny.
The nine hopefuls for the role of Bullseye in Oliver! the musical. Clockwise from top left: Arnie, Toby, Rowlf, Jenson, Bruce, Boris, Bandit and Rudi. In the centre is Lenny. There is a small chance that we have Rowlf and Rudi the wrong way around! (Both are five-year-old Cavajacks!)


Each dog went for a little walk with Bill Sikes
Each dog went for a little walk with Bill Sikes

On 18 January Exmoor Magazine went along to the casting at Alcombe Methodist Church Hall (something of a first for all concerned, whether two-legged or four). They say you should never work with children or animals but this can’t be true; it was our most charming photoshoot yet! First: individual portrait photos and a chance to get to know Bill (Matt Legg).

There was plenty of singing - to check if the dogs would be able to resist joining in!
There was plenty of singing – to check if the dogs would be able to resist joining in!

Next: the barking test – would the prospective stars keen stum  – whilst looking the part? We only had one barker. Not bad! And finally: the howl test. Cue ‘Consider Yourself’… with the cast dancing away behind the fluffy little monsters.

Bullseye (or Bull’s Eye in Dickens’ Oliver Twist) is not an easy character to cast, especially for director Sarah-Jane Cross. We asked her what she was looking for. “Well, the dog can’t look too excited. It needs to look a bit downtrodden, which is a lot to ask for. Maybe a dog that is a bit hesitant but comfortable being on stage after some practice. Barking is not going to work and howling along to the songs is going to be a real no-no. And some dogs are just too cute! It’s really hard!”

Jenson, Lenny and Bandit made the final three!
Jenson, Lenny and Bandit made the final three!

In the end three dogs were shortlisted (Jenson, Lenny and Bandit, who are pictured with their owners above, left to right) and Lenny and Bandit made the cut.

“This isn’t what we expected at the outset,” explained Sarah-Jane. “We were going to give one the part and the runner-up was going to be the understudy. However, we had a very strong field to choose from and I think this will work better. It gives us the flexibility we need leading up to the performance. We don’t know how Lenny and Bandit are going to feel about the stage until we start rehearsals in the theatre. And there are other challenges too, including plenty of noise. By the time we reach opening night, if both are enjoying the spotlight, they will share the performances between them, but this way we still have scope to allow for stage fright before curtain up!”

Look out for Lenny and/or Bandit in February!

About The Show

Oliver! is being performed by recently established  youth theatre group, Fusion Young Performers, at the Regal Theatre in Minehead.  Following on from their success of The Magic of The Musicals last year, Fusion Young Performers bring this classic musical to life. Based on Charles Dickens’  Oliver Twist, the show takes audiences on an adventure through Victorian England. Join young, orphaned
Oliver Twist (played by local youngster Joel Savage) as he navigates London’s underworld of theft and violence searching for a home, a family, and – most of all – for love.

Left to right: Matthew Legg (playing Bill Sikes), Felix Harkness-Jones (playing Nancy) and Tom Strachan (playing Fagin).
Left to right: Matthew Legg (playing Bill Sikes), Felix Harkness-Jones (playing Nancy) and Tom Strachan (playing Fagin).


The show will be performed by a cast of more than 50 young people aged between 9 and 24, many of whom starred in the 2014 MATA summer production of Les Miserables.  It’s full of well-known songs such as ‘I’d Do anything’, ‘Where is Love’, ‘Consider Yourself’, ‘Reviewing the Situation’ and ‘Oom pah pah’.

Photo : Andrew Hobbs

With direction by Sarah-Jane Cross, choreography by Lorraine Ahern and musical direction by David Pitts, this promises to be a lively and entertaining show full of dazzling dance routines, amazing singing and some fantastic performances from some of the best young talent in the area.

Fusion young Performers was set up last year by Lorraine Ahern and Sarah-Jane Cross to promote drama, dance and music for young people across the region.

The show’s production team are incredibly grateful to owners and dogs for being willing to give up their time and energy to be involved in this production as they realise that it is a huge time commitment – but hopefully it will all be worth it for a plentiful supply of treats, applause and love and affection from the cast!

Performances take place Wednesday 22 to Saturday 25 February. Evening performances are at 7.30pm, with a matinée on Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets: Adults £9.50, Friends £9, ES40s/Students £5, Family ticket (2 adults & 2 children) £25. Opening night special offer – ALL TICKETS £5. Available from The Regal Box Office  T: 01643 706430  W:

PHOTO at top: Eight of the nine hopefuls (one was a bit too shy for the group shot).


Prepare for a musical adventure at Halsway Manor, when Simon Mayor and Hilary James pay a visit on Saturday 21 January at 8pm. They will be joined in this special concert by Hilary’s singing sister Janet Girando.

They’ve lost count of the number of air and road miles they’ve clocked up over the last few years, but with the twin passports of Hilary James’ “wonderfully, honey-dripping voice” and Simon Mayor’s standing as one of the world’s most renowned mandolinists – in any genre – they’ve taken on an impressive and diverse array of international engagements from Vancouver Folk Festival and The Stephen Leacock Humour Festival (Canada) to Rudoldstat World Music Festival (Germany) and guesting at the Classical Mandolin Society of America.

It’s probably the diversity that surprises most people who haven’t seen them before; the voice and mandolin playing isn’t even the half of it. Both are highly talented guitarists, Hilary is also an occasional step-dancer and arguably one of Berkshire’s greatest mandobass players, Simon a dazzling fiddler. As if that’s not enough, Hilary’s sister Janet will be joining them to add her own lilting soprano to the exquisite harmonies.

With a repertoire easily crossing from traditional ballads to blues, Berlioz, classical mandolin show-stoppers and some of their own notorious comic songs, it’s all wrapped up in a hugely entertaining stage show and some of the driest humour this side of Humph. Serious stuff – but don’t take it seriously!

Halsway Manor in Somerset provides a permanent home for the enjoyment, study and development of folk music, dance and culture in England and draws on traditions from across Europe and beyond. Unique in the UK it hosts over 340 days of residential and outreach activity every year covering all facets of the folk arts from instrumental music, song and dance to traditional storytelling, crafts and instrument making.

Tickets are priced £10 / £4 for full-time students. Phone 01984 618274 or buy online:


Thank you to Chris Jelley of Storywalks for sending in the latest news about Poetry Pin…

A new year and the launch of Exeter City Poetry Pin – the first virtual poetry city has happened and with such a great reception too. As of writing, the poetry pool has been open just seven days and already has over 60 poems pinned across the city.

So what is Exeter Poetry Pin, and how does it link with Storywalks?

Well firstly, these are parallel projects which do a very similar thing, i.e. geo tag content to place. In respect of Storywalks, these are trails which pupils can edit and then re-write, and are specifically designed for use in the classroom – so very focused and appropriate content. As for Poetry Pin the systems tags words to the authors physical location by using the GPS in their smart phone. The Poetry Pin is open to the public without restriction, so anyone with a smart phone can visit the trails (there are now three) and post poems inside.

So how did Exeter become the first Poetry City?

After the terrible fire at the Royal Clarence Hotel, Exeter city councillors saw the Exmoor Poetry Boxes on national TV and wondered whether a similar approach could capture the sentiment of the disaster. It was decided that boxes were perhaps less appropriate in the city. The Exeter Poetry Pin went live on the 9th January 2017.

Who can use it?

Anyone with a smart phone, just travel to the city, visit the web page Go seek out poems pinned across the city, then pin your own.

Is it appropriate for school children?

The Exeter Poetry Pin is public, and open to all so it is quite possible that someone may add some content which is not appropriate for younger eyes. But that said, at the bottom of each poem is a button to ‘flag’ inappropriate content. With a whole city let loose publishing poems we needed a way to allow the audience to monitor and flag poems which were inappropriate, and so far this has been really successful. When a poem is flagged it is immediately removed from the field, plus there are profanity filters which block poems with specific words inside, keeping the system as clean as can be (hopefully!)

How long is the project going to last?

The Exeter Poetry Pin is open for at least a year and we are hoping to do some school workshops in the spring time with Daisi – Devon arts inspired learning. Please get in touch to note your interest.

More about Storywalks here, and of course [if you work in a school] I would love to come and visit you, get your pupils writing out in the wild, with poems and tales.

Kind regards

Christopher Jelley


Braunton-based songwriter Steph Lott (32) will feature on ‘Survive’, a new EP from Charlotte Elizabeth, which will be released by CEI Music in February in aid of cancer support charity The Douglas Macmillan Hospice.

Charlotte (31), a cancer survivor, was inspired to write songs after being diagnosed with Hodgkinson’s Lymphoma as a teenager. Charlotte said, “I wanted to share my story with other cancer patients and let them know life doesn’t stop after cancer and you can achieve if you want to; I was told it would be impossible to get a publishing deal but I have proven them wrong, despite being unable to sing or play an instrument.”

Charlotte, who works as a country music promoter, set out to produce a collection of co-written songs, with each track performed by a different artist.

Steph takes up the story: “Charlotte had heard my song ‘It Wasn’t Meant to Be’, which I released in aid of Cancer Research UK, and approached me to ask if I would co-write a song with her. It’s the first time I’ve ever collaborated with someone I’ve never actually met; I’m looking forward to finally meeting her at the launch event on the 3rd of February.”

Steph and Charlotte’s song ‘Stronger’ is produced by Matt Bishop from Honey Ryder and performed on the EP by up and coming country folk artist Kim Tink, alongside tracks by Ash Cooper (of The Ash Cooper Band), Stanford Road, Emma Moore, Angels with Dirty Faces and Thorne Hill.

The first single from Survive, called ‘Shatter Like Glass’ is performed by Angels With Dirty Faces, co-written by Charlotte and lead singer Stuart Landon, and reached number four in the iTunes country chart in October 2016.  

The EP will be available for Pre-sale on iTunes from Monday 16 January prior to its release on 3 February, with all pr- orders receiving a CD version as well as the digital download.

Steph and Charlotte enjoyed working together so much they are already collaborating on further writing; with three songs now penned and more in progress they are planning to release a full album of their own work later in the year.