Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for February

Our Classical Music columnist Liz Leatherdale, founder and owner of Colchester Classics, brings you her pick of February’s Classical Music events in, and around, Colchester.


Rachmaninov Piano Concertos

This month St Botolph’s Music Society begins its 50th anniversary anniversary celebrations in a Gala Concert with two international pianists Noriko Ogawa and Philip Smith performing two Rachmaninov Piano Concertos. The society was founded by Colin Nicholson, former Head of Music at Colchester Royal Grammar School, who continues to be active within the society and at the church.

Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, often described as the greatest ever written, will be performed this month by international pianist Noriko Ogawa accompanied by the St Botolph’s Music Society Orchestra. This music is virtuosic and lyrical for both soloist and orchestra.  The main theme from the sublime second movement has been used elsewhere including the modern ballad ‘All by Myself’.

Philip Smith will be the soloist in Rachmaninov’s most technically challenging third Piano Concerto. This work is  often over-shadowed by No.2 but  received greater recognition when featured in the film, Shine.  The Oscar-winning success of the film ensured a new audience  became aware of this Romantic work. The movie told the true story of the Australian concert pianist David Helfgott, who suffered a mental breakdown and abandoned his career for many years.   Saturday 6 February 2016 at 7.30pm, St Botolph’s Church, Colchester.

Tickets: £15 (01206 823662)


Colchester Bach Choir and Orchestra

The same venue will also host the 24th annual concert performed by the Colchester Bach Choir and Orchestra in aid of the Mayor of Colchester’s Charities. Over the years these concerts have raised many thousands of pounds for good causes. As well as Bach’s Magnificat, the concert includes Vivaldi’s most famous choral work, his Gloria in D.  This popular piece is characteristic of Vivaldi’s style with distinctive rhythms, joyful choral writing and bright orchestral accompaniment. Saturday 20 February 2016 at 7.30pm.

Tickets: £12 (01206 282206)


Teddy Bears Musical Picnic

This year Colchester Arts Centre hosts the annual Teddy Bears Musical Picnic concert with the Colne Valley Youth Orchestra  offering children with teddies a chance to try conducting the orchestra and to play percussion instruments and sing!  The orchestra will perform a variety of suitable orchestral music including arrangements of the concert’s namesake “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” and the popular poem “We’re going on a Bear Hunt” set to music. Sunday 7 February 2016 at 2.30pm, Colchester Arts Centre. See for further details.

Tickets from £3 


The Kingfisher Ensemble returns to Colchester on Sunday 7 February performing Dvorak Sonatina in G and his Piano Quintet No.2 in A and Schumann  Piano Trio No.1 in D minor. This concert is in the Lion Walk Church in Colchester and start at 2.45pm. Admission is by programme at the door.

£12 for adults; £10 for concessions (senior citizens); and £2 for those in full-time education. You may also reserve tickets for collection just before the concert by contacting .


Puffin Ensemble

Later in the month the Puffin Ensemble performs  a programme including Haydn’s Symphony No.83, Mozart’s popular Sinfonia Concertante and Schubert’s Symphony No.5 in St Botolph’s Church, Colchester. Tickets available on the door or call 01206 271128. Adults £14 – Concessions £11 – Full-time education £3


If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

Start your love affair with Classical Music at and take a minute to watch their company video:

Liz Leatherdale







Liz Leatherdale


Sylvester Stallone’s Italian Stallion is back for the seventh film in the Rocky series, but the first neither written nor directed by Stallone. Colchester 101’s Andy Oliver reviews the Colchester Odeon’s latest January offering on the big screen.


If you have loved the Rocky movies, as bad as some of them became, then you, like myself, may find yourself wiping a grateful tear from your eye at some of the wonderfully respectful moments that appear in Creed. The sight of Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) pulling his folding chair out of a tree in a cemetery; the crudely painted ‘Eagles’ graffiti daubed on a bridge; a pair of sneakers hanging from an overhead telephone cable; Cuff and Link, Rocky’s turtles, the only friends he has left now that even the incorrigible Paulie has died. Creed shares many of the same beats as the original Rocky, but it’s sly and canny about them, never letting the previous six movies hold sway over it. Creed is its own movie and, quite honestly, it is absolutely terrific.

So, what if you’ve never seen a Rocky movie before or maybe you’ve only seen a couple, do you need to do a marathon catch-up session to bring you up to speed with Creed? Absolutely not, Creed easily stands alone for the newcomer and everything you need to know is skilfully worked into its exhilarating script. Just sit down and enjoy. If you love it, there’s a six whole movies (of varying quality, it must be said) for you to dip into at a later date.

Adonis Johnson has never known his father and his mother has died whilst in his formative years, the movie begins with a young Adonis in juvenile detention, segregated from the general prison population for fighting. When Mary Anne Creed arrives at the detention centre, young Adonis discovers that he is the illegitimate child of former boxing world champion, Apollo Creed, who died in the ring before he was born.


Having been adopted by Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), ‘Donnie’ (Michael B. Jordan) grows up in privileged comfort, but the fighter inside him still rules the quieter side of him that has carved out a successful career working in finance, he fights in semi-professional bouts in Mexico by night and the office by day. He has ambitions to be a fighter, like his father, but when he finds that his Los Angeles gym have no interest in training him he moves to Philadelphia to find Apollo’s former-adversary and greatest friend, Rocky Balboa, and convince him to become his trainer.

Although initially reluctant, Rocky decides to help his friend’s son achieve his dream and, when an opportunity to fight for a world title reveals itself, finds that the young man’s life is mirroring his own and rediscovers the fighter within himself.

One of the great appeals of Rocky (the original movie) was not in the fighting but that it’s a really sweet love story about lonely people taking a chance, it’s about taking a leap of faith and trusting that strong arms are there to catch them. Creed also has a great love story that’s not tacked on but is integral to the plot. ‘Donnie’ meets and falls in love with Bianca (Tessa Thompson), an aspiring musician with degenerative hearing loss. The fact that both are pursuing careers that they both love and both understand will ultimately destroy them is what gives this love a remarkable power and an underlying tragedy. Neither ever questions the other’s love of their respective paths and there are no interminably angsty moments where either pleads the insanity of the other’s choice, it’s just an incredibly sweet and supportive love, beautifully imagined and played.


Jordan is magnetically great as the driven and internally confused ‘Donnie’ Johnson/Creed; he has an explosive temper and an expansive smile and quietly brings the character through a host of emotions; he has a confident swagger, but never comes across as cocky; he has his father’s sense of showmanship and Rocky’s humility. It’s difficult not to love his character.

Tessa Thompson, as ‘Donnie’s’ girlfriend, is sharp and funny and is full of righteous, take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-s**t attitude. She’s as driven as her boyfriend and this is a major part of his attraction to her. She’s no shut-in like Adrian, the love of Rocky’s life, Bianca is her own person, she doesn’t need ‘Donnie’ but her life and her music is enhanced and made greater with him in it.

Rounding out the trio is Sylvester Stallone, reprising the role that first brought him fame nearly forty years ago, and you have to ask, “Where has this Stallone been?” He is superb as the bumbling, shy, lost former world-champion. He has lost everyone he loved and is ready to just fade away until this young man enters his life, in health and in sickness Stallone manages to bring tears to your eyes. It’s a great performance, subtle, funny, heartbreaking and makes you wish you could have seen more of this Stallone rather than the violent, muscle-bound hero roles that seem to have padded out his career to date.


Fans of the Marvel super-hero Universe will, no doubt, be overjoyed that director, Ryan Coogler, has signed on to make that studio’s Black Panther movie after watching Creed. Coogler keeps the camera moving and, during the fight scenes, gets up close and personal with the boxers, weaving around and between them so that the viewer truly understands the brutality of each hit and the physical intimacy of the combatants. There’s even a single shot during one of the fights that lasts so long that when you finally notice it it leaves you reeling at its pure audacity. These aren’t camera set-ups for the sheer flashy, “Look-how-smart-I-am” bravura of them, Coogler uses his shots to serve the story not to make the viewer appreciate his style, it’s refreshingly honest and effective.

While that camera floats like a butterfly, it is in the emotional honesty that Creed stings like a bee. Whether or not you’re a fan of the Rocky movies, there is almost too much to enjoy in Creed and you may find yourself involuntarily shedding a tear and punching the air by turns.

Andy Oliver





Andy Oliver

The Hateful Eight

Whilst Star Wars: The Force Awakens continues to break box office records, Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie, and his second western, The Hateful Eight, has begun its run at the Odeon. Colchester 101’s Andy Oliverwas one of the first to see it and has written this review.

Hateful Eight 1

Without beating around any bushes I’m stating this right at the start of the review: The Hateful Eight is a difficult, brilliant and, sometimes, frustrating movie. It’s a movie that is a hard watch, there’s almost too much going on beneath the brutally harsh surface; it’s a scathing indictment of America not just then, but now; the language shoots bullets at the characters and the audience; the violence is shocking and extraordinarily bloody; and, yes, it’s way too long, some scenes drag out for ages and add nothing to your understanding. The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino at his best and, occasionally, at his most indulgent worst.

Oh, and it’s really, really funny (in a twisted kind of way).

Set during the Reconstruction period following the American Civil War, The Hateful Eight begins with bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) flagging down a ride from a passing stagecoach in the snowbound landscape of Wyoming. The passengers in the stagecoach just happen to be fellow bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his ‘bounty’, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). As the party look to stay ahead of an advancing storm they pick up a second hitcher by way of Sherriff-to-be Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) but find they’ll have to take shelter at a frontier trading post, Minnie’s Haberdashery. It’s here that the majority of the movie’s action plays out in a kind of Agatha Christie one-set stage play, except this is not a Whodunnit as it is a who’s gonna do it?

Hateful Eight 2

Also sheltering in Minnie’s are yet more weird and disparate characters, effete Brit, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cowboy, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), aged Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) and a Mexican called Bob (Damian Bichir), who may, or may not, have been left in charge of the trading post by its proprietors. As suspicions grow between all those sheltering from the blizzard, it becomes obvious that one, or more, may be there to try to rescue Domergue from imminent demise at the end of the hangman’s noose.

The Hateful Eight is probably Tarantino’s talkiest script since Reservoir Dogs, and the dialogue crackles back and forth as these despicable characters start to engineer the deaths of each other as secret grudges and new recriminations boil to the surface. There will be blood. Lots of it.

The casting of the movie is absolutely en pointe, there’s not a poor performance amongst the ensemble and Jennifer Jason Leigh is standout incredible as the maniacal, terrifying Daisy Domergue. At the start of the film you’ll be shocked and possibly upset by the violence meted out on her character, but there’s a reason she’s in chains: the screen probably hasn’t seen such a dangerous, unhinged and manipulative character since Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. She’s terrific.

Hateful Eight 3

The Hateful Eight feels like a response to Tarantino’s last two movies, Inglorious B*****ds and Django Unchained, both revisionist revenge movies in which the Jews finally get to take a proper revenge on Hitler and a freed slave delivers an explosive two fingered salute to the wrongs exacted upon black plantation workers during the Reconstruction. Where white audiences could feel good about siding with the black man in Django, there is a huge finger pointing us down in The Hateful Eight. A viciously racist Confederate terrorist is raised to the position of lawman, you only have to watch the news or pick up the papers to understand where this is coming from and we, the white audience, are the ones watching from a distance and doing little but tutting. Tarantino has been accused of constantly and flippantly using the “n” word in his movie, here he uses it to devastating effect, it’s as deadly as the bullets that copiously fly in the final act. There’s also a conceit involving a letter that I won’t go into, I’ll let you discover it yourselves, anything I were to say about it would be a major spoiler.

Hateful Eight 4

The more cine-literate of you won’t help but notice Tarantino’s homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing, there’s an unused part of Ennio Morricone’s score to begin with. All these characters are trapped in a snowy waste and one, or more, may be hiding a secret, an infection of hate that continues to plague western society to this day. It’s an incredible use of homage to put across a thematic message that few film-makers working today would even consider, let alone have the skill to pull off.

And, yes, it’s too long. Probably half an hour and this is bound to give ammunition to nay-sayers of Tarantino and, even as a fan, I would agree that he can sometimes be too verbose in his scripts and linger too long on a shot he deems perfect. Brevity, thy name is not Quentin.

The Hateful Eight is not a film that will be universally loved, but it’s not asking to be. It is asking questions of the audience that the audience will not always enjoy finding the answers to. And that is its power.

Andy Oliver




Andy Oliver

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for the Remainder of January

Our classical music columnist Liz Leatherdale, founder and owner of Colchester Classics, brings you her second lot of picks of January’s classical music events in and around Colchester


The Magic of the Musical

The WEA (Workers’ Educational Association), founded over one hundred years ago, provides education for adults on many topics including Music. Professor Bill Tamblyn is the tutor for “On the Shoulders of Giants”: composers who influenced music history with their large-scale symphonies, such as Havergal Brian, Shostakovich and Vaughan Williams. WEA West Bergholt Branch from January 12 (01206 240512).

Chris Green is the tutor for “The Magic of the Musical”, looking into music theatre from Greek antiquity to current hit musicals: their musical, social and economic place.

This 10-week course is presented by the WEA Colchester Branch from January 14 (01206 502698)


On the Bright Side

Saturday 9 January – Chris Green conducts the Trianon Choir and Symphony Orchestra in a concert entitled On the Bright Side with toe-tapping music from Gilbert & Sullivan, Eric Idle, Eric Coates, Rodgers & Hammerstein and John Williams. Some choir and orchestra members will be busking outside the concert venue from 6.40pm in aid of charity. This concert starts at 7.30pm and is in the Ipswich Corn Exchange, IP1 1DH.

Tickets: from £9.50 (01394 283170)



The Kingfisher Ensemble performs its first concert for 2016 in Lion Walk Church, Colchester at 2.45pm. Founder and leader Beth Spendlove will be joined by Greg Eaton, Wendy Poulston, Susie Davis & Chris Slatter performing Puccini’s  Crisantemi in C#minor, Beethoven’s  String Quartet in Bb No.6 op.18 No.6 and Schubert’s  String Quintet in C op.Posth with two ’cellos


Essex Chamber Orchestra

Many musicians based in Colchester and the surrounding area perform with the Essex Chamber Orchestra. This orchestra comes together three times a year for intensive weekend rehearsals followed by a series of concerts.  Its first intensive weekend course for 2016, culminating in a concert on Sunday 10 January 2016 at 7pm. This concert includes popular music including Waldteufel’s Skater’s Waltz, Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube and Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite. Ingatestone & Fryerning Community Centre, 7 High Street, Ingatestone


Ian Ray and Geoff Harniess

Following last Tuesday’s lunchtiEssex Chamber Orchestrame concert in Colchester’s iconic Moot Hall, this Wednesday Ian Ray will be accompanying trumpeter Geoff Harniess in their debut lunchtime recital at the Cramphorn Studio in Chelmsford. January 13 at 1pm (01245 606505).

If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

Start your love affair with Classical Music at and take a minute to watch their company video:


Liz Leatherdale





Liz Leatherdale

The Revenant

The Revenant goes on general release next Friday, but Colchester 101’s movie reviewer Andy Oliver has seen a preview of Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárittu’s adventure about survival and the extraordinary power of the human spirit starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Here’s what he has to say about it.

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárittu’s sprawling tale of wilderness survival is visually immaculate, occasionally harrowing but, overall, empty, soulless experience. It’s a “York Notes” of a movie: It is representative of a story for people who don’t want to think too much about it; it’s a cheat sheet that lacks any of the nuance, subtlety or character of a real film; you get the story but none of the stuff that makes that story live. It’s all surface with absolutely nothing going on underneath. That wouldn’t be so bad if it were just an all-out action movie, but The Revenant is desperately trying to be something else: It’s trying to be “Important”.

The Revenant 1

The Revenant is (very) loosely based on the story of an ill-fated fur trapping expedition to the upper reaches of the Missouri river which came under attack by native Arikara warriors. About a dozen men managed to escape, amongst them were such frontier badasses and mountain men as Hugh Glass, Thomas Fitzgerald, Jedediah Smith and a young Jim Bridger. Fearing further attacks, the company decided to make an overland escape to Fort Kiowa, some two hundred miles to the south. It is during this escape that Glass was attacked and badly mauled by a bear and left for dead by his company. Glass was close to death and two volunteers, Fitzgerald and Bridger, were recruited to stay with him until he either recovered or died. Claiming they were surprised by a party of Arikaras and that their ward had died, Fitzgerald and Bridger abandoned Glass and later caught up with the rest of their party. Glass, however, survived and managed to crawl as far as the Cheyenne river where he managed to fashion a crude raft which he used to float down the river to the safety of the fort.

The Revenant 2

It’s a story you might feel you have seen before and, if you’ve ever seen Man In The Wilderness starring Richard Harris, then you have. Special effects have moved on since then but strangely the bear attack in that movie is so much more terrifying and carries so much more weight than the extended cgi attack in The Revenant. (Please be aware that animals come off second best in this film, especially two rather shocking horse deaths)

There’s a lot of the movie which is fairly true to the story, but a lot of liberties are taken to “Hollywood” it up. There’s a whole bunch of flashback nonsense about a floaty, dead wife and a half-breed son is introduced presumably to “up” the racial injustice angle. There’s also exasperating dream sequences where (beaver trapper) Glass stands before a mountain of buffalo skulls (because beaver skulls are less interesting visually?), playing up the movie’s eco credentials. None of this stuff adds anything except more interminable minutes to an already over-long test of endurance.

The Revenant 3

People are already mooting Leonardo Di Caprio’s performance as Glass as possibly Oscar winning. Apart from one scene toward the end where he manages to capture the white-hot madness of Glass’s thirst for revenge, Di Caprio mainly grunts, growls, vomits and crawls around with a mouth full of dirt and a beard full of frozen snot. On those terms, it’s not a bad performance, but it is little more than adequate. Tom Hardy and Will Poulter, as Fitzgerald and Bridger respectively, are a lot more interesting to be around and there is a palpable feeling of relief every time their story takes centre stage. Hardy’s internalisation and mumbling as the cruel and manipulative Fitzgerald works perfectly and Poulter is great as a young man haunted by the cruelty he has witnessed both perpetrated by and upon the natives who pursue them.

Unfortunately, The Revenant is not their story and so we return to Glass and his epic trek through the stunningly shot wilderness. The cinematography is the real star of the film, all shot in natural light by Oscar winning director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki, it’s just a shame that the film is so empty, it reduces every shot to the equivalent of staring at a slideshow of desktop wallpapers.

The Revenant 4

Iñárittu is a frustrating film maker, he knows how to tell a story, he has an incredible eye for detail and yet he is, seemingly, always trying to make “Important” movies rather than focussing on emotional truth and honesty. For all the tales of hardship that have come from the shoot, there is little feeling of jeopardy, pain or bravery from the film. Ultimately, The Revenant fails to grab either emotionally or intellectually, which is a shame because it’s such a great story… Unless you’re a bear… Or a horse.

Andy Oliver


Andy Oliver

A Night of Flamenco

On Saturday 7th May 2016 Colchester’s Mercury Theatre plays host to the passionate and seductive art form of Flamenco when the Jairo Barrull Flamenco Company present:

El Llanto Se Mueve (The Cry Moves)

Flamenco dancers Jairo Barrull and Irene ‘La Sentio’ are joined by a full cast of award winning gypsy musicians from Andalucia to evoke the pure essence of flamenco’s soul: el llanto (the cry).

Jairo said: El Llanto is the root, the beginning of everything flamenco.  El Llanto is purity, beauty, sadness and suffering.  It is the mixture of cultures, identities and it is history.  It is the voice of our ancestors, The Untouchables caste that came from India centuries ago.  The singer’s cry that interacts with the cry of the guitar strings is what inspires me and makes me move.  It makes me lose myself in my dancing and brings about that magical moment on stage.  What some might call ‘El Duende’.

Jairo Barrull El Llanto Se Mueve 2

Jairo Barrull has been performing professionally since he was seven years old.  He comes from one of the most charismatic gypsy flamenco families in Andalucía ‘Los Negros de Ronda’ also known as The Del Gastor family.  Jairo has performed all over the world including a performance at the Vatican for the Pope John Paul II when he was just 13 years old and in sell out shows at the Alte Oper of Frankfurt with German juggler Francis Brunn in ‘Incognito’ and at the Berliner Philharmonie where the German press repeatedly declared him ‘The Hope of Dance’.  In 2009 he formed his own flamenco company which has presented flamenco shows ‘Barrull’ and ‘Dos Ramas’ in some of the most prestigious flamenco festivals in the world.

Flamenco dancer Irene ‘La Sentio’ has performed extensively throughout Spain and in 2008 she became a finalist in the ‘Concurso Nacional del Cante de las Minas’.  In 2010 Irene joined Farruquito’s company and participated in two of his shows including ‘El Baile Flamenco’ where she toured South America and received great reviews.   Irene currently resides in Madrid where she performs regularly at the ‘tablaos’ Casa Patas, Villa-Rosa and El Tablao de Carmen.

Jairo Barrull press review:

“An artist so remarkably accomplished and even elegant at every moment”

 Los Angeles Times

Irene ‘La Sentio’ press review:

Irene’s feet, neat and blunt, a real hurricane of force”   

Manuel Sualis, Jerez Jondo

Jairo Barrull El Llanto Se Mueve

For more information please visit

Date: Saturday 7th May 2016

Venue: Mercury Theatre, Balkerne Gate, Colchester, Essex CO1 1PT

Time: 7.30pm

Tickets: £20 & Discounts

Call: 01206 573948 or visit


Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

After months of endless speculation since its release date was announced, Colchester 101’s Andy Oliver was one of the very first to see the Christmas blockbuster. Here’s his review.

Star Wars

The Force Awakens is a sprawling, expansive, space-opera epic that will have Star Wars fans leaving the cinema with huge grins, empty pockets and a sense that their franchise has been rescued from the mire of the unsuccessful prequels. There’s huge star-ships, alien worlds, straight-arrow good guys, dark as night villains, laser guns, light sabres, a sense of humour, exciting battles… and a sense of familiarity that is both its strength and its weakness.

There’s a new Death Star in this movie. Starkiller* Base is not a space station this time but an entire planet, seventeen times larger than those seen in earlier movies. When I tell you this, I don’t mean it as a spoiler but a clue to where The Force Awakens sits, it’s as much a complete reboot of Episode IV: A New Hope as it is a sequel, played on a vastly expanded scale. There’s lots of familiar plot beats, but with a twist on them: There’s not a princess hiding a secret in a droid, but an X-Wing pilot; the central hero lives on a desert planet but she’s not happy about leaving it; there’s a Stormtrooper dressed as a rebel; there’s a villain dressed all in black who’s… well, that would be telling.

Star Wars

There’s also moments you’ll recognise from Episodes V an VI (Empire and Return of the Jedi): A small group of rebels have to knock out a shield generator so the main force can attack the Super Death Star; there’s a cantina scene; a forest planet; an ice planet; stuff too spoilery to go into. Some of the scenes feel more like forced attempts to crowbar in familiar concepts and conceits than an attempt at organic story telling. The sense of magic, of discovery that the original movies shared is missing here. Whilst some may welcome this forced familiarity, those looking for new, weird worlds to explore will probably be mildly disappointed.

Star Wars

But, while the plot feels rather under-nourished and a bit “been there, seen that”, the characters deliver on a massive scale, especially the new ones and they are the best reason for revisiting this series again. Like Luke, Han and Leia in the original trilogy, Rey, Finn and Poe are the reason you’ll want to come back. For every too-on-the-nose callback to the originals there’s a great character moment from one of these guys that make you smile from ear-to-ear at how magical and alive these characters feel.

Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac from Inside Llewyn Davis and Ex Machina) is the first of the new heroes we meet. Dameron is a straight-arrow good guy, an X-Wing pilot version of a Nicholas Sparks leading man: he’s good to his friends and robot and probably sands down boats with his shirt off. A lesser actor might seem a little Dudley Do-Wright in the role, but Isaac plays him with just the right balance of a square jawed man of action and vulnerability; a good old-fashioned, two-fisted pulp hero.

Star Wars

Attack The Block’s John Boyega plays Finn, a character cursed to give a damn. Finn is originally FN 2187, a Stormtrooper who refuses to do the wrong thing and finds himself turning from The First Order (as the successors to the Empire are now called, I don’t know why, hey, I thought the rebels won at the end of Jedi) and fighting for the Rebel Alliance. He’s equal parts heroic, terrified and full of bluster and steals the majority of the film’s funny moments.

If the original trilogy made stars of relative unknowns Hammill, Ford and Fisher, then Daisy Ridley (as Rey) emerges as the new star of The Force Awakens. Rey is very much the emotional centre of the movie, abandoned on the backwater desert planet, Jakku, as a child by her family and terrified to leave in case she misses her chance at reunion. It is her compassion and the compassion she receives from others that sets her free. She’s the movie’s single-most capable and self-sufficient character and, although her story arc feels a little rushed, you feel the whole saga will pivot upon her. Ridley is great and her on-screen chemistry with John Boyega is worth the ticket price alone.

Star Wars

Of the returning characters Harrison Ford has the lion’s share of the screen time and looks like he’s finally having fun again. Han and Chewie are back in the smuggling game but the Empire and The Force are not done with him yet. Carrie Fisher’s General Leia is basically reduced to standing at the central command console at the rebel base, which is a shame and a waste. The first line of the usual screen-crawl states, “Luke Skywalker is missing”, so don’t expect too much of Hammill and what there is is eye-rollingly predictable.

But it’s Adam Driver (another Llewyn Davis alumni and Frances Ha) as the central bad guy, Kylo Ren, who really steals the show. Where Rey, Finn and Poe feel like Star Wars characters, written with bold strokes, Ren is psychologically underpinned in complex and thrilling ways. He’s a man drawn to the dark side of The Force, praying to Darth Vader to resolve the conflict within him; he wants to be consumed by darkness but the light won’t let him go. He’s petulant; his confidence is illusory, a mask behind which his lack of self-esteem festers. He’s a furious ball of emotions, scary and sympathetic and, when the mask is off, he’s a cauldron of conflict. Where George Lucas failed with Anakin in the prequels, Driver triumphs.

Star Wars

Director JJ Abrams keeps The Force Awakens moving along at a cracking pace, but ultimately it is the dearth of new ideas that holds it back from being a great movie. Too often it riffs on the original trilogy’s action and emotional beats and refuses to be its own beast.

Ultimately, how you feel about The Force Awakens will depend on how invested you are in Star Wars lore, die-hard fans will probably love it, but there’s a little too much fan service for the casual viewer.

*George Lucas’ original name for Luke Skywalker was Starkiller, apparently


Andy Oliver

Andy Oliver

Colchester Classics – Classical music picks for January

Our classical music columnist Liz Leatherdale, founder and owner of Colchester Classics, brings you her pick of January’s classical music events in and around Colchester


Haydn’s Cello Concerto

In January 2016, Laura van der Heijden, BBC Young Musician of the Year 2012, performs Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D with the Colchester Symphony Orchestra conducted by Chris Phelps. Laura gave her debut performance with this orchestra in 2013 in a breath-taking reading of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. The following year she returned to perform the achingly beautiful and emotionally demanding Cello Concerto by Elgar. Having heard her at both of these concerts I can imagine that there will be high demand for tickets. Saturday 16 January at 7.30pm in St Botolph’s Church, Colchester.

Laura van den Heijden began playing the recorder at the age of 4, achieving Grade 8 Distinction in both Cello and Piano by the age of 10!  Since becoming the BBC Young Musician of the Year, Laura has performed regularly as a soloist with a range of prestigious orchestras, including the Royal Philharmonic, the English Chamber Orchestra, and the London Mozart Players.

Tickets: £3 – £14. 01206 271128 or email


Mozart’s Requiem

On Saturday 30 January, the University of Essex Choir accompanied by the London Handel Orchestra perform Mozart’s Requiem. Composed during the last year of Mozart’s life it is one of his most popular works, although the question of how much of the music Mozart managed to complete before his death and how much was later composed by Sussmayr or others is still debated. Ivor Crewe Lecture Hall, University of Essex. Saturday 30 January 2016 at 7pm.

Tickets: £5 – £20. 01206 393293


If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

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Liz Leatherdale

Liz Leatherdale


Get your skates on!

After months of waiting it was finally happening, the Gala Opening Night of Colchester’s first ever Winter Wonderland and Ice Rink was about to get under way, and the man behind it all, Ben Payne, had kindly invited Colchester 101 along for the evening. And what an evening it was to be!

Winter Wonderland

After entering Castle Park, an area I know so well, we made our way round to the side of town’s Norman castle where our first site of the upper park’s transformation awaited us. Right there, in the shadow of the castle, as promised, was an ice skating rink, looking more magical than we could have imagined, and certainly over delivering on our expectations.



After spending a while taking in the sight we made our way into the bar and skate hire area where a glass of Prosecco awaited us, before we set off to the rear of the castle to explore the rest of Winter Wonderland with its market stalls offering everything from hog roast, pizza, crepe/coffee and burgers to speciality fudges, Aspalls cider, custom printed Santa sacks, and The Bear Garden where young and not so young alike can build their own teddy bears. There is even a Colchester United Club Shop.


After a ride on the carousel and a quick go down the helter skelter it was time to make our way back to the rink for the official opening, with speeches from Ben Payne and Colchester’s deputy mayor Julie Young, followed by breath taking skating displays from television’s Dancing on Ice stars Vicky Ogden, Frankie Poultney and Mark Hanretty, followed by skilful performances from local skaters.

Then it was our turn!

Now, my family moved to Canada when I was an infant and I was ice skating almost as soon as I could walk, so this should have been easy, right? Wrong. I haven’t been on skates for many years and, unlike riding a bicycle, I had forgotten how to do it. But I got out there and gave it my best shot and was pleasantly surprised that I could at least make it round the rink, albeit with a little bit of wall hugging, and with each circuit it got easier and my confidence grew. Even a hard fall, which resulted in a sore knee for a couple of days, didn’t put me off, and before long I was feeling pretty pleased with how I was doing. On my travels I spied Will Quince, Colchester’s MP, and Councillor Darius Laws making their way onto the ice, and both looking suitably nervous. Soon they were off, with Will showing what a good sport he is skating lap after lap with the rest of us, but it was Darius who was the revelation, quickly finding his confidence and putting in laps that reminded me of James Caan in Rollerball.


A little later, after a near fall brought about by overconfidence – although I was very proud that this time I managed to save myself as I began to stumble – it was time to leave the ice and return to the bar for a couple of pints of German lager before heading home after a fantastic fun filled night. Ben and his team have worked wonders, not only with the transformation of the park and the building of the ice rink and other attractions over the past few weeks, but also the months of hard work that have gone into planning and getting the necessary permissions to put on this event that runs right through December and Christmas until January 2016.


There’s a real buzz about Colchester in recent times, with events like the annual August Free Festival in Castle Park being extended to Sunday as well as Saturday, the change in fortunes at Firstsite under the leadership of Anthony Roberts, the Halloween festivities on the High Street which included a stunning 3D image-mapping show beamed onto the Town Hall, Colchester United putting on superstars like Elton John and Lionel Richie at the Community Stadium, all bringing people into our town for pleasure, as well as to work and to shop. And now we have the Winter Wonderland and Ice Rink to add to the list of why Colchester is such a great place to live.

One thing is for sure, I will be back for another go on the ice before too long, and I hope that this will become an annual event for the town and will grow as the years go by.

Winter Wonderland & Ice Rink is open from 10am to 10pm until 3rd January 2016. Tickets can be bought on their website.






Simon Crow


Colchestersoup is a simple idea based on a concept that has its origins in Detroit, USA. Karen Taylor tells us all about it

Colchester Soup Logo

3 pitchers, 2 soups, 1 winner

When we were asked to produce around 500 words it seemed a lot. So we decided to put 500 into a bit of perspective.

500 = half as many followers as we have on Twitter

500 = twice as many likes as we have on Facebook

500 = an eighth of the amount of money raised by Colchestersoup

500 = as many people as we hope to ultimately reach on soup nights

500 = the amount of money we’d like to ultimately raise on an average soup night

We started out with an idea, shamelessly copied from Detroit Soup. We watched it in action at Southend Soup.

On a soup night the local community comes together to donate a suggested £5 at the door. For this they receive soup, a roll and most importantly a vote.

Colchester Soup Bowls

In addition there are an amazing number of people who just want to hear or help something positive.

3 local people/groups talk about their idea that may help the community. They get 5 minutes to talk. There are no electronic aids to their talks, and then they get 5 minutes to answer questions.

That’s all the time they have to convince the audience that their idea deserves to win however much money has been taken as door donations.

As they collect and eat very good soup the votes are cast. Much discussion of the various groups goes on around the tables before people make their final decision. Each soup night provides three very different pitchers.

Following soup both the winners and their winnings are announced. As Colchestersoup has built up winnings have gone from a not insignificant £195.20 to £367 in July and £2000 from one councillor towards his own version of soup.

Colchester Soup Cycle

Pitchers and winners so far have been (winners in bold)

Papworth Trust – needed some money for PR to let people know they’re in the Colchester area

Friends of St Botolphs – needed money for a planter, but more importantly wanted volunteers to come forward

Go4 Enterprises – wanted money for a survey of a boat that they’re hoping to put on the Colne to provide training and pop-up cafes/entertainment


Essex Feminist Collective – needed money for ongoing activities including education in schools, more importantly wanted to raise awareness of what they do

Castlegate Day Care Centre- needed money to replace a ‘decrepit’ kiln

Essex Raynet – needed money towards a new aerial to be installed on Colchester Stadium


Colchester 3D Creative – needed money towards a London show for the students from the institute

Colchester Wildcats – needed a small amount for PR (they were prepared to share winnings) but more importantly wanted to let people know what Korfball is

Grief Recovery Method – needed money for workbooks before starting courses in September


AutismRolo – needed money towards refurb of a Ford Transit van to be used as educational facility

Erin Summers Norman – needed money towards editing and publishing of a social commentary book

Out4Good – needed money to help support and house troubled teenagers


Caroline Rhys-Lewis – pottery equipment – camera

Kidsbacks4thefuture – educational material

Colchester Soup

And then a local councillor said he wanted to run a soup to use his £2000 community grant so another 5 groups shared that money. Spent as directed by the community.

Want to pitch? Want to come along? Next event 20th November 2015 6.30 pm Samaritans Walsingham Road, CO2 7BN

Twitter @colchestersoup


Or call 07532 253540

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