Fringe Review

Died Blondes: A Review from Cat James

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Joan Ellis’ Platinum Performance

The joy and pain of any fringe, whether it’s Ventnor or Edinburgh, starts with a game of chance. No matter how expertly the festival is curated, regardless of how well the poster is designed or how many five star reviews are quoted on the flyer, buying a ticket to a show has a certain element of fringe roulette. Nonetheless, the disappointed faces outside Trinity Hall anxious for ticket returns, suggested that Died Blondes by the Island’s own Joan Ellis was the hottest show in town.

Joan’ self-penned monologues suggest the feelings and motivations behind the last nights of murderer Ruth Ellis and actress Marilyn Monroe. Joan introduced us to the stars of her show, explaining how she drew connections between the lives of these two women, particularly their complicated relationships with men. Although both portrayed as victims since their deaths, Joan gives them more nuance; fleshing out their characters and showing us – through her spellbinding performance – their strength as she sees it. As the final moments of Ruth and Marilyn’s tangled lives were unravelled by Joan, we witnessed not only the expected vulnerability but also determination and guile.

Portraying each of these blonde bombshells; with their easy sexy charm, Joan occupied them magnificently. Yet, voice breaking and with the subtlest of posture changes, she also represented their broken, chaotic lives. A sparse set meant that all eyes were transfixed on the performer; even when in silhouette during Joan’s outstanding turn as Marilyn.

Cleverly, Joan uses everyday props to communicate the imagined final thoughts of the women. Ruth’s steadfastness as she reads a letter to her lover David Blakely, while Marilyn confides to ex-husband Joe DiMaggio down the phone. When the story came to its natural end, the audience was mesmerized.

As Joan emerged from behind Marilyn’s screen to take her bow in front of the small but enthusiastic crowd, we could see that she had seamlessly squeezed in a costume change between monologues. This self-contained show written and performed by the outstandingly talented Joan Ellis is one you won’t want to miss. Joan showed us joy and pain in this triumph of 2018’s Ventnor Fringe. – Cat James

Laughter Lines: A Review from The Front Room

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Anyone of a prudish and nervous disposition should not have been at The Ventnor Arts Club (part of  the Ventnor Fringe Festival) as Donna Jones MBE and Joan Ellis proceeded on a full frontal attack on middle age sensibilities with their engaging show Laughter Lines. Welcome to the mind set of 2 women, who are 45 plus and show no signs of slowing down ever!

In the case of Donna Jones, the MBE is perhaps another way of throwing unsuspecting audiences off the scent, her performance of  storytelling and poetry had the audience both squirming and in tears of laughter as she proceeded to tackle subjects such as menopause and the virtues of Barnsley, leaving no stone unturned. Hung drawn and quartered would perhaps be a better description.
The audience needed some respite after this, with the show cleverly interspersing  between the 2 performers, as next up Joan Ellis, with a more subtle style of storytelling engaging the audience with poignant and a more relaxed humour, on tales of child-hood and her middle class aspirations.

The audience at the delightfully restored art deco styled Ventnor Arts Club (previously a bank) were of mixed gender and ages and judging by the laughter the show appeals to audiences of all ages and sexes.  One word to finish with, awesome!


– Johnny Sackett, Creative Producer, The Front Room


Doris Dodo’s Elegy Emporium and Olbituary Office

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“Where trees grow is where we are hidden,

Ends are seen and endings are written”.

Will you find this year’s Secret Venue?

Proprietor of the Elegy Emporium and affiliated Olbituary Office, Doris Dodo stocks outstanding obituaries for her ill-fated birds. Run by the illusive Ms. Dodo and staffed by her collection of curious characters, visiting the office is always a memorable experience. Jilted at the altar, Doris Dodo has channeled her unrequited love into a collection of deceased birds WHO WILL NEVER LEAVE HER. Your very own personal obituaries are written and performed live by Ms Dodo and her Elegy Emporium creatures, who are always very sorry (and eager) to deliver the sad news of your final conclusion.

But who are these creatures? Let me introduce you…

Doris’s nefarious niece, Lyssa, has secretly stowed away with the Olbituary Office with the help of her nervous and slightly unstable brother, Bundy. She has infiltrated the office, but can she remain hidden or will the curse of her past resurface and give her away? What has Lyssa done to evoke the wrath of Miss. Dodo? And will her disguise fool Doris?

Psychoneurotic nephew and panicky apprentice of Doris, Bundy Applewhite was the page boy at her ill-fated wedding. He lives in eternal fear of Doris being disappointed in him, so please be kind to dear Bundy. With his loyalty torn between sibling and Mistress, will Bundy manage to keep Lyssa’s presence a secret? Will he ever please Doris? Probably not, but we will enjoy seeing him try.

Marjory Stewart-Peahen was rescued from a life of servitude and mockery when Doris found her performing at a tacky, low rate travelling sideshow. Now a valued member of Ms Dodo’s far more classy travelling show, Marjory expresses herself through the medium of dance, however, be warned. Ms Peahen captures souls for Doris and places them in her many deceased birds. So keep your soul cards close to your chest!

Guitar welding, cuban heeled, Mister Toots Wurlitzer, is one cool cat and if you manage to catch him at the Office, gee whiz, you are in for a treat.

The Ventnor Darlings will be making an appearance at the Office with a piano, musical adequacy and a healthy amount of gin. They aren’t quite sure how they managed to be booked for the Elegy Emporium, but hey, a gigs a gig.  

Warning – due to high levels of deceased egg-laying vertebrates, characterised by feathers and forelimbs modified as wings and the general preoccupation with all things morbid, the Olbituary Office is not suitable for younger members of our community.

The Emporium is open and ready to gift the details of your ultimate demise in the form of a handwritten poem on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday between 12.00  – 13.00 and 16.00 – 17.00. Sunday will be the final morbid hurrah at 12.00 – 13.00.

By Laura Clare Reid


5 minutes with Heady Conduct

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Heady Conduct, hello! What a great name for a theatre company, it means Exhilarating Behaviour right? Hopefully you’ll be exhilarated by everything at the fringe this week! What three words would you use to describe your work and the show, Tiresius?

Epic, evocative and (from Simon’s point of view playing 8 characters) sweaty.

The show is inspired by the Greek Myth of Tiresius who was granted the gift of foresight by Zeus. Where did the interest in Greek mythology and this story come from? 

Great question. It started with a module of Greek plays and storytelling at drama school; Tiresius appears in a number of Greek myths and stories, though never as a major player. We were intrigued by the amount of times he appears, and started to piece together his life; a blind prophet who walked with royalty and rejects, living both as a man and as a woman in his 600 years of life. He is called upon by some of the heavyweights in the ancient world; Hera, Zeus and Oedipus are a few. We were curious to explore what it is to be both blind and seeing, woman and man, prophet and beggar.

Multidisciplinary shows are amazingly popular at the moment, can you tell us a bit more about your use of live music and storytelling in the show?

For the larger part of Tiresius’ life, he is blind, and we wanted to create a world that was textually and audibly vivid, to create an experience which the audience can be enveloped by. Music has always been integral to Heady Conduct shows, and we have the privilege of working with the wonderfully imaginative and incredibly talented Rebekah Harvey on Tiresius. Rebekah has written a score which has become the backdrop to the ancient world Tiresius lives in and a second character in the piece. We like to make potent theatre that our audiences feel a part of, characters lives they can relate to or recognise and we embrace the ancient Greek tradition of storytelling. Simon plays a number of characters from Tiresius 600 year old life, and epic storytelling allows us to look at glimpses of his extraordinary story.

Tiresius can see into the future, and someone has said you are “on the path to a glorious future”. What does the future hold for you as a company? Where do you see yourselves in 5 years?

We’d like to see our show Tiresius tour, and long-term, we’d love Heady Conduct to travel and develop more relationships with wonderful festivals like Ventnor, as well as theatres in the UK and internationally. In the next 5 years we’d like to expand Heady Conduct and create career opportunities for others. Tiresius says in our production, “I could see my future laid out before me, all the adventures I would take…” and hopefully those will be the adventures we will embark on as a company!

Looking not so far into the future, but just ahead into Fringe week, is there anything you hoping to see during the festival?

People watching our show! And aside from that, some of the brilliant artists, companies and acts at the Ventnor Fringe this week. It’s Heady Conduct’s debut at Ventnor Fringe and we are excited to get involved and soak up the atmosphere. Some, but by no means all, of the pieces we have our eye on in the festival are Phlegm’s street art, StoneCrabs’ “Some Kind Of Love Story”, Flugelman’s “Boxman” and “Holy Matrimony”.

SEE ALSO: Tiresius show times


A Quick Chat With 5 Tales of Love and Madness

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Here at Ventnor Fringe we are all about making all types of art and performance accessible to lots of different audiences, and we think you are doing just that with 5 Tales of Love and Madness. You’ve described the show as a “reimagining of the recital for a modern audience” Can you tell us a little more about the show and how it came to be?

In 5 Tales of Love and Madness we weave together real news stories, poetry, text and classical music to tell five, very human stories all in a one-hour show.

We wanted to breathe new life into the traditional recital, welcome new audiences and show people that classical music is for everyone and that it is still relevant and fresh.

Alice, you’re a classically trained singer, is there something in particular that inspires you about Handel? What other inspirations are there within the show?

Handel and Purcell wrote some of the most beautiful and engaging music there is. I can’t wait to share some of it in 5 Tales. The music we’ve chosen is very dramatic and theatrical and it feels natural to use it to tell stories that everyone can relate to. It’s all in English, too, which makes it immediately accessible.
Handel and Purcell both wrote amazing ‘mad songs’ which we’ve included. I was interested in exploring how these relate to modern ideas about madness.
We strongly believe in telling great stories in a straightforward and meaningful way and are inspired by theatre that does this.

What would you say to audiences who’ve never engaged with classical music before and are considering dipping their toes into the genre?
Come, come, come! We want to make you laugh and make you cry, we want to make you feel, we want to entertain you. Come along and bring your friends; you won’t regret it!
Can you describe the show in three words?
Moving. Fun. Original.
It’s your first time here at Ventnor Fringe, what are you looking forward to?
We can’t wait to see as many shows as we can and expect to stumble across a few rare gems! It’s great to be part of the creativity, fun and excitement of the whole week.

5 Great Things to do at the Fringe for Free!

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Free Fringe Producer Jack Barnes takes a look at what’s on offer
The book bus is a beautiful 1930’s parisian bus that has been converted into the perfect bookshop. Each day there will be a wide range of fun activities for the whole family, from storytellers and musicians to theatre productions. The book bus is an amazing creative hub and the perfect place to escape to. Open from 10am – 6pm daily (plus a mystery late night event perhaps!)
Ever seen a band perform a packed out gig in a laundrette? Well now’s your chance. Most evenings at the Fringe there will be new, up close and personal gig in ventnors local laundrette, and of course, it’s free!
Join the colourful madness of the Ventnor Carnival on their 129th year parading through our streets on Wednesday and Saturday evening and witness the crazy characters that Ventnor has to offer!
Ventnors very own art_house_life is one of many homes that will be transformed and opened up to the public to present brand new artwork from artists all around the world, such as the San Francisco based Jeremy P. Morgan, Jo Kori and Albedo Marz. There will also be artist talks each day and even intimate performances from artists like Cat Skellington in the front room!

Step into a mysterious world through a secret entrance hidden somewhere in Parkside and join Doris Dodo in a creepy immersive experience in which Doris and her team of ghostly characters allow you to experience your own funeral alongside other creepy activities. Will you be brave enough?
This is just a snapshot of what’s on offer, with 100’s of free acts alongside over 70 different ticketed shows. Take a walk around Ventnor during the Ventnor Fringe week and see what you discover!

Interview: Jim Willis

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What is your creative passion, Jim?

I am an amateur film maker I suppose you could say, well I’ve written scripts and had films made, and I help out Jack and Mhairi with the Ventnor Fringe.

How did you get into film?

I went to university and did a degree in creative writing which is where I learnt the process of script writing. I wrote a script for a workshop run by my university lecturer John Goodwin, here on the Island. All of our scripts were put into a kind-of contest and whoever had the best script would have it made into a film. John came up to me one day and said- Jim, your script is the best by far, we’re gonna make it into a film – so I was just happy to have that opportunity. We then filmed it nearby in Bonchurch.

How did you get involved with Fringe?

Well I’ve been connected from way back, before it first started 8 years ago. When Jack, Mhairi and Joe were just teenagers. Jack created a board of creatives to help him with theatre and script production. There were a few of us back then, but that was a long time ago now.

So Jack was determined from a young age; how did you meet him?

I used to help out with the local youth club, at the time it was the only thing to keep kids from hanging around the streets. Luckily now there are more opportunities for young people but there’s still some way to go (see the Fringe Forum article for more).

What did you help Jack with in the beginning for Fringe?

We all just helped to facilitate his vision I suppose, he said he wanted to bring art and culture to Ventnor and talking about a fringe festival and we just helped him do that, any way we could.

You’ve stuck with it all these years; how do you think the Fringe has effected Ventnor?

I think it’s been amazing for Ventnor, the amount Ventnor has changed since the beginning of the Fringe is amazing. It’s what Ventnor needed for so long.

Do you think of Ventnor is transforming into a place that people can start building businesses and be successful?

I think it’s come a long way. I think all the Ventnor Exchange guys have done an amazing job as well as the other young people that have been starting up business in Ventnor, like The Events Co. But I think it still has a way to go; I think there are varying reasons for this. One that I have been talking about today, is the number of holiday-makers with second homes. As much as we need tourism, I don’t think it’s productive having people who own homes that only live in them for four weeks of the year. It would be much better to have people living in these homes all year round. There is a ridiculous amount of these homes on the Island, and a considerable amount of them in Ventnor.

Yes, this has been brought up in conversation a lot over the last few years. Do you see this changing?

I hope so, I think that we have people that have been coming down, seeing the work everyone in Ventnor is doing and are decided to spend more time here. It’ll take time but I hope that this will happen with more people.

A big thank you to Jim and everybody that come in to have an interview with us this week. You can find the round-up of these interviews here.

If you’d like to listen to any of the interviews with artist and performers at the Fringe this week please visit our Mix Cloud here.

Are We There Yet?

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As mentioned in the first issue of this year’s Fringe Review; we’ve been talking to some of the creative people Ventnor has produced, maintained or incubated over the years. To recap we’re heard from…

Sophie Honeybourne: a home-grown thriving Ventnor business owner and artist.
Steven Sales: Ventnor-born artist, now living in Bristol.
Kate Powell: Wiltshire-born, nomadic puppeteer and travelling theatre owner.
Hannah George: Ventnor comedian and script writer, now moved to London.
Luke Joynes: Island born, eighteen-year-old music promoter.
Jim Willis: Life-long Ventnor resident, builder, amateur film maker and historian.

(You can read the original interviews by clicking the names above.)


So we’ve had quite a collection to talk to this week. From those actually making things happen here on the island, to those that felt the need to take their careers elsewhere. Not forgetting the people that keep returning to create and facilitate art here in Ventnor.

Hannah (scriptwriter) and Steven (artist) felt it necessary to move away in order to build their careers further. Unfortunately, this is the case for many here on the island, but is this going to change?

While there is a clear demand for cultural music and arts events such as the Fringe, there are still obstacles to overcome when considering career paths for young people. As Luke Joynes pointed out yesterday, the costs of getting artists over to the Isle of Wight are far greater than putting on a performance in somewhere like Southampton or Portsmouth. This is also hindered by the lack of a student population. For those that have never put an event on, it is far easier to sell tickets to student populated areas as there is always an initial demand.

It seems that this problem is dependent on which career path you choose. On our first day we spoke to Sophie Honeybourne, who has been incredibly successful with her jewellery business. Though the price of sending parcels is far cheaper than importing people and the business is blossoming, it is still quite a small one. Sophie has one apprentice at present and would find it difficult to take on any more due to the size of their work stations and volume of client work. In businesses like these you can generate enough money to sustain a family or two but beyond that is another ball game.

Jim made interesting points to do with the property on the island, how large numbers of houses are bought by DFL’ers (Down from Londoners) that stay vacant from 48 weeks of the year. He posed the question that while, yes, when these holiday-home owners are present they spend money here but if these homes were filled with people living on the
Island for 52 weeks of the year, surely these people would contribute so much more to the community.

Is this lack of financial support to the community why our business can’t succeed? And indeed, is this why housing prices are becoming so increasingly difficult for people to match? Yes, the houses on the Isle of Wight may
be considerably cheaper than those of London but the work opportunities or salaries available to people, particularly young people are far lower too.

On the other-hand you have people like Kate Powell, that have only made a connection with Ventnor through the Fringe and have returned multiple times throughout the year to nurture art on the Island. In the Fringe Forum on Thursday, Jack Whitewood stressed the importance of nurturing artists that come to the Island.

As Kate is essentially one of these artists; she originally came to the Fringe as a volunteer. Her talents were revealed when she was working as a volunteer here and she has stayed in connection with the Fringe and Ventnor Exchange productions ever since she started out back in 2013.

We need more of these people here in Ventnor, we have more people than ever trying to build their careers on the Island which is fantastic, but we’ve still got some work to do before everyone can get on this band-wagon. Let’s keep investing in our Island’s creative industries.


Dead Blondes

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The first half of Died Blondes is a monologue in the form of a letter to David Blakey, Ruth’s victim and late-boyfriend.

Local author, Joan Ellis’ portrayal of convicted murderer and last woman to hang in Britain, Ruth Ellis, is harrowing. Joan is able to convey the raw conflicting emotions that Ruth would have undeniably gone through while waiting for her final walk down to the gallows.

This has clearly been a very well-researched and well- practiced performance. Conspiring to kill someone is no little thing, so of course why wouldn’t you recall every little detail and emotion that lead up to the event.

“I must have been standing there for so long- so long that my shoes began to pinch.”

Ruth passed her psychiatric evaluation, but Joan turns this idea on its head in under half an hour. Once her emotions take hold and old memories of an abusive relationship with David ensue, Ruth becomes almost hysterical.

The second half of this show is Marilyn’s final phone call to ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio. Joan performs this from behind a screen in order to draw focus to Marilyn’s final words.

She erupts down the phone to Joe with her many suspicions, all centred quite firmly around her relationship with the Kennedy brothers. At the time of her death, Marilyn had been suffering heavily with depression, and has various prescriptions to help her manage the condition. This becomes clear as she spirals in and out of consciousness. The conversation develops and details are revealed, questions are raised as to whether this was Marilyn’s paranoia or an assassination from the Kennedys.

A thought provoking and engaging performance. Joan will be performing Died Blondes at Edinburgh Fringe this coming Tuesday (15th August).


By Catriona Macaulay

History Repeating

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It was a strange day today. Walking round town, taking in the sights of the Ventnor International Festival; I was taken back in time. There is a definite feel of the 1990s about the place today and quite frankly I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

I was reminded of a conversation I had last year in the press office, when a colleague of mine here at the Fringe Review asked the question – “What was it like in the 90’s?”

I was taken aback a little when it dawned on me that I was talking to someone who wasn’t alive when Jurassic Park was released, and has no memory of BSE or that whole Charles and Diana thing. Nonetheless, there was a genuine curiosity and reverence in her tone that showed that the 90’s are back in, and since that conversation I have been noticing a nostalgia for the late 90’s more and more.

There is a theory that fashion and music and culture repeats on itself roughly every 20 years and I would argue that this theory has got legs. The 80’s obsession that came in the 00’s, helped by Calvin Harris and the New Ravers like Klaxons., ran it’s course and left behind a pile of day-glo and leopard print. And before that the 90’s themselves revelled in the 70’s, with it’s flared trousers and celebration through films like 54, Boogie Nights, and Dazed and Confused.

So according to the theory we should be revisiting 1997 as I type. For me, ‘97 was a good year. It was a time when the gig culture was strong, and the island had a ferry service that enabled me to go across to the mainland to see bands play every other week. It was the year that saw the Radiohead give the world OK Computer, The Prodigy release The Fat of the Land, Bjork started to really start going weird on Homogenic.

Socially too the country was on high. Cool Britannia had swept in along with a New Labour government, the Gallagher’s were partying at No.10 while Geri Halliwell was flashing the world with her Union Flag knickers.

Then in late August, Diana went for a drive and the world changed. The death of Princess Di affected the world in a way that I still can’t quite comprehend. One and a half billion people around the world watch her funeral and ‘Candle in the Wind’ became the biggest selling single in British history. Then came Mr Williams, cleverly timing the release of ‘Angels’, catching people off guard in a period of national mourning and pop music was never the same again. The party of Cool Britannia was over and culture changes again and, as always, we moved on.

So 20 years on and are we going back round again? Well, Corbyn has recently been on stage at Glastonbury and there’s a growing sense amongst the young that another political shake up is needed after years of Conservative leadership. Fashion is certainly looking back over it’s shoulder with the rise in popularity of norm-core and acid wash denim.

Musically too, there are sounds being produced that I haven’t heard for a very long time. With bands like Girl Ray and The Parrots playing with old ideas and making them fresh, I for one am perfectly happy to be living in a 90’s world once more.