WITH next month’s return of a local youth theatre, a summer of ever-popular music festivals and demand for theatre provision at the new Five Acres leisure and community centre, there’s no doubt that a real thirst for live arts remains strong in the Forest and Wye Valley.

Even with the lack of dedicated indoor theatre space in the district since the closure of the old Five Acres site, small venues throughout the area - including the picturesque Scarr Bandstand during the summer - have stepped up to the plate to ensure there are still places to go to enjoy a range of live entertainment locally.

It gives Forest residents the chance to enjoy imaginative performances by a host of creative talent, both from the local area and further afield, on their doorstep in a way that is affordable to them.

Forester columnist Dave Kent attended one such performance over the weekend from Alison Neil, a “distinguished” local playwright and performer, who presented her one-act one-woman play ‘Larks and Magic’ at Newnham Club, and provided us with this review of the production.

Dave writes: “Alison is based in the Forest, and was involved in the restoration of the Sling Bandstand as a musical and theatrical venue in this area. She is a prolific writer of one-act plays about influential women, and takes and performs them around the country.

“Her other plays in this genre include Mrs Beeton, the Sixth Wife (Katherine Parr), Truly Yours - CB (Charlotte Bronte) and the Just-William Lady (Richmal Crompton) who wrote the wonderful ‘Just William’ series of children’s novels that I still remember with great affection. Many of these plays are now in print, and are available for performance.

“‘Larks and Magic’, is a dramatic biography of E. Nesbit, the writer of mainly children’s books of stories and verse. Alison has woven her story into a virtuoso performance which brings to life this remarkable woman in the context of the political, social and literary life of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

"The ‘fin de siecle’ amorality and decadence associated with the end of the century in literary London was woven into the descriptions of the lives of the unseen characters who are brought to life so gloriously in the play.

"There are fluid extended families, affairs, unconventional life styles, and a stream of literary people not subject to conventional rules of accepted social conduct of the time, including HG Wells, EM Forster, Marie Lloyd and Oscar Wilde. These don’t exactly coincide with modern views about Victorian morality.

“It all appears to come to an inevitable sad conclusion, of course, but after the complicated lives and some individual tragedies involved in her earlier life E Nesbit recovers some happiness in a quiet and peaceful low-key old age.

“Alison Weir has written and performed a powerful story of love, literary life, loss, extravagance and perhaps redemption.

“The play was written and performed by Alison, and directed by her husband David Collison.

“Some of the issues which arose from this production were discussed in the interesting Question and Answer session which Alison opened up to the audience after the show.”