THIS year sees local dance, drama and singing school, Julie Sianne Theatre Arts, celebrate 35 years of performance.

The story of JSTA began with 17-year-old Julie Evans, an avid dancer from Byfleet who dreamt of a future on stage. But with awards under her belt and prospects ahead, she was devastated to discover she had curvature of the spine and would not be able to sustain the physical efforts required as a professional dancer.

WICKED PERFORMANCE: The school’s bewitching show in 2007

Although heavyhearted, young Julie was not deterred. Instead she opted to put her passion for dance into teaching with her own dance school. Using her middle name, she launched the Julie Sianne School of Dance in June 1983.

Julie wanted to inspire dancers, helping them realise potential and prepare for the next stage of life:

“We make everyone believe they can perform, we’re for everyone being the best they can be.”

By the end of 1983, Julie’s students were already entering competitions and winning gold, and starting preparations for exams. In 1984, they took to the stage with the school’s first Dance Variation concert, held in Byfleet Village Hall, allowing students to experience all the elements involved in producing a full stage production.  

The school was renamed Julie Sianne Theatre Arts when they began developing acting classes. Julie’s husband Ray Franklin, known fondly as “Mr Ray”, joined the team as head of drama in 2005, bringing vast theatrical experience and administrative skills.

FOUNDER- Julie Evans

From 1983 until today, students have competed in competitions, put on countless shows, been cast in many pantomimes at the New Victoria Theatre, been in touring theatre productions and this February were seen in the Woking Festival of Dance. They once even performed at Downing Street.

Julie’s work over the years is not only shown by the awards won but by the number of students who return as teachers, guest choreographers and parents of new students.

“We are proud that so many of our students who go on to teach chose to return to JSTA either as permanent or guest teachers and help pass on their experience to the next generation,” said Julie. “It’s a nice family atmosphere to perform and it’s why people bring their children.

For the full story and picture spread, get the 21 February edition of the News & Mail

CHARITIES, clubs and community groups can claim a share of a £50,000 pot being offered to fundraisers by a water company.

Affinity Water launched its latest community engagement fund this week, inviting bids to win financial help for good causes.

An Affinity Water executive visiting a wetlands project which won a grant from the company

The company is keen to see applications for projects that promote sustainable water use, have a positive environmental impact or help disadvantaged people.

Its fund is open for applications until Friday 24 May 2019. Bids will be reviewed by a team of people from across the company and selected applicants, to be announced on Monday 3 June, will go through to the next round.

The review panel is chaired by Affinity Water’s corporate responsibility manager, Beverley Taylor, who said: “We think supporting local good causes in our supply area is a natural extension of our work to keep customers’ taps flowing with safe, high quality water.

For the full story get the 21 February edition of the News & Mail

The iconic character of Beverley Moss in Abigail’s Party is a classic. The party host, she is a monster who inflicts her ‘sophisticated’ tastes onto all the guests while trying to score points against her equally grim estate agent husband.

Created on stage and on TV by Alison Steadman, she’s the main reason Mike Leigh’s satire on the 1970s middle classes is still remembered both fondly and with horror – and she’s impossible to change.

Jodie Prenger – winner of the Beeb’s I’d Do Anything – is the latest actress to get her teeth into the role and says she’ll be staying very much in the character Steadman made so famous.

LET’S PARTY – Jodie Prenger, as Beverly, with Rose Keegan (Susan), Dan Casey (Lawrence), Vicky Binns (Angela) and Calum Callaghan (Tony)
Picture by Manuel Harlan

“That role is just so iconic in the way it was performed and created,” she explains. “So much came out of improvisation. It’s hard to deliver it in a totally different way. It wouldn’t make sense to change it –you’d look like a wally.”

Director Sarah Esdaile agrees, saying: “The fundamental challenge for me is, in a way, escaping from the voice of Alison Steadman, who everyone has in their heads as Beverly.

“I met Alison and she told me ‘I was part of the process of creating that character, so I’m intrinsically in it. There’s no point trying to escape me.’ That was so liberating, to realise you don’t have to run away from that.”

The play is intrinsically of its time – it premiered in 1977 – with the music of Demis Roussos and Tom Jones, ice and lemon and Beaujolais all cropping up at regular intervals.

It’s based on a party when three sets of neighbours come together for a pleasant evening which turns into the complete opposite because they’ve all got so much going on individually that they’re not dealing with privately.

“It’s uncomfortable and deliciously dark,” says Jodie. “It’s full of that thing where you don’t really want to watch, but you can’t look away.

“It’s about all the primary things that we’re worried about and will always be worried about until the end of time – aspiration and hunger and thirst and confinement and hope. It’s full of these wonderful sayings and it’s very accessible.

“It’s quite extraordinary that it’s got this power that has just been going for decades, isn’t it?”

Sarah says it’s still relevant because the themes are universal, explaining: “It takes place, socially and politically, at a really interesting turning point in the history of this country. It’s just before Margaret Thatcher came into power and there was rise in people’s obsession with consumerism, belongings and position. It deals with aspiration and disappointment.”

Leigh’s original was created using lots of improvisation by the actors and, although there’s now a set script, Sarah was keen to maintain the tradition.

“It’s about using improvisation in the right circumstances,” she says. “We set up scenarios that will really enrich the work that the actors bring to the stage.

“Often improvisation can be slightly naval gazing and ultimately there’s no evidence of the work. In this case, the subtle dynamics, the differences and the shifts that that work achieves, you’ll be able to smell it on stage.”

Being on stage is important, according to Jodie, even though most people remember Abigail’s Party as a TV classic.

“There is something magical about going to the theatre,” she says. “You’re sat amongst hundreds of people and you never know what’s going to happen. Switching on the TV, you know what you’re going to get. With theatre anything can happen.” Abigail’s Party will be at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, from Monday (25 Feb) until Saturday 2 March.

ARMED police were deployed in Woking on Wednesday, following reports a man was threatened with a knife.

The victim said he was in his car on Balfour Avenue around 4.15pm on 20 February, when three men approached him, one armed with a large knife, and attempted to stab him through the car window.

Following a search of the surrounding area, three men were arrested in Knaphill under suspicion of affray, possession of an offensive weapon and causing criminal damage.

Investigating officer PC Jasmine Smith said: “This was a serious incident.

“I’m thankful for the support from our firearms officers as, when it comes to suspects reportedly in possession of a knife, we will take no chances.

“Our message to those who carry a knife or those thinking of carrying a knife is that it does not protect you and in fact it makes you more vulnerable and places you in danger of serious harm.

“Our enquiries are ongoing and if you do have any information about this incident, please let us know.”

Anyone with information can call 101 or tell online via http://surrey.police.uk/TellUsMore quoting reference PR/45190018780.

You can also give information, 100% anonymously, to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111; or through their anonymous online form: https://crimestoppers-uk.org/

See next week’s News & Mail, the February 28 edition, for more details

A RUNNER from Woking is to take part in his first half marathon, inspired by a charity helping children with a rare genetic condition.

Roberto Villalobos will be raising money for Harrison’s Fund, which funds research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).

CHARITY BOOST: Roberto Villalobos with his Harrison’s Fund running vest

He is stepping up his act to run the 13 miles of the Surrey Half Marathon next month.

Roberto, 26, said: “I started reading about Harrison’s Fund and thought it could be great to support this cause. No children should have to face such a big health challenge.”

The Esher-based fund was set up in 2012 by Alex and Donna Smith, after their eldest son, Harrison, was diagnosed with DMD.

A life-limiting condition, it affects all the muscles in the body, causing them to waste away. Harrison now has to use a wheelchair to get around and his parents are hoping the charity can find an effective treatment or even a cure. Roberto, who is originally from Spain, added:

“It’s my first time trying to complete a half marathon, and my first time raising funds for a charity. I hope I do them proud.”

Harrison’s Fund is currently funding 16 research projects in the US and the UK. Its events fundraiser, Laura Morgan, said: “It’s wonderful to hear from people like Roberto how much our cause resonates with them.

She added: “We want children with Duchenne to have hope for the future.”

The Surrey Half Marathon is on Sunday 10 March, following a route from Woking Park to Jacobs Well and back. To sponsor Roberto, search for his name at www.everydayhero.com/uk

For the full story get the 21 February edition of the News & Mail

VOLUNTEERS from St John Ambulance are offering Woking residents the chance to learn skills to save a life at a number of free first aid sessions starting this month.

LIFE SAVERS: St John Ambulance Volunteers

The charity is offering the sessions at St John House, Board School Road, from 7.30pm to 9.30pm with a recap each week of the techniques learned the week before. The opportunity to learn first aid could be the difference between a life lost and a life saved situation.

Volunteer Jamie O’Brien is helping to organise the sessions and said: “Why not start 2019 off by learning skills that could save someone’s life? Learning first aid is simple and only takes a few hours, but it can have an incredible impact on someone’s life.

“We’re also keen to encourage local people to consider volunteering with the new unit we plan to open in Woking; no previous experience is needed as full training, including first aid, is provided. These demonstrations could offer someone a taster session, so we’d ask anyone interested to come along, meet the team, and find out more about the voluntary work we do.”

The demonstrations will be held on:

–              27 February – information on St John Ambulance and bleeding

–              6 March – how to treat choking

–              13 March – how to treat someone who is unresponsive but breathing (primary survey and recovery position)

–              20 March – how to recognise and treat a heart attack

–              27 March – – how to treat someone who is unresponsive and isn’t breathing (CPR for all ages, and how to use a defibrillator)

–              3 April – a run through of practical scenarios

For more information about the free first aid demonstrations  contact Jamie.obrien1@sja.org.uk or call 07717 715090. For information about volunteering opportunities in Woking and Surrey visit www.sja.org.uk/volunteersurrey

HIGH Street in Woking is closed to through traffic from today, Monday 18 February, for two weeks as part of the ongoing works to transform the town centre.

During the works, Farrans Construction will be installing underground electrical ducting across High Street.

This will involve closing High Street from the junction of Chapel Street to Victoria Way to through traffic. Access for businesses, deliveries and residents will be maintained at all times and limited to authorised vehicles only.

During the works, vehicles will be required to exit High Street via Broadway/Chertsey Road. Traffic marshals will be available to assist drivers and vehicles at all times.

Bus stops along High Street will be suspended and relocated to Broadway.

Woking Borough Council said it thanked residents, workers and all those visiting the town for their patience during the works.

NEW members of Woking’s Street Angels have been welcomed into the team.

Providing a friendly late-night presence on town centre streets, the volunteers help make sure a big night out doesn’t end badly for weekend revellers.

WELCOME SUPPORT: Street Angel members with Mayor and Mayoress of Woking

“Our angels also go above and beyond to ensure vulnerable people are kept safe whether they’re vulnerable because of their age, because they’re sleeping on streets or because they have partied a little too hard,” said Street Angel co-ordinator Lucy Chester.

“This can include anything from providing a hot cup of coffee, a listening ear, sitting with someone until they are sober enough to take a taxi home, helping to locate lost items, waiting with someone for an ambulance to arrive and generally being eyes and ears on the streets to watch over those in need.”

The newest recruits to complete their training joined other members of the team for a special commissioning service at Emmanuel Church in Mayford, attended by the Mayor and Mayoress of Woking.

For information about becoming a Woking Street Angel, contact Lucy at wokingstreetangels@gmail.com or visit the website www.wokingstreetangels.org.uk

For the full story get the 14 February edition of the News & Mail

WITCHETTY grubs and grasshoppers were served up to Explorer Scouts when they faced a bushtucker challenge at a weekend camp.

TESTS: The contents of their sandwiches might not be what these Explorer Scouts are used to

It was a case of “I’m an Explorer Scout…Get Me Out of Here!” on a cold and muddy Birchmere campsite at Wisley Common.

Explorer Scouts from across Woking came together to brave a series of trials in the style of the well-known TV series.

The weekend was organised by a committee of Explorer Scouts to enable members of the five units around the borough to meet and get to know each other.

For the full story get the 14 February edition of the News & Mail

WOKING won for the first time in four Vanarama National League South matches as they saw off East Thurrock United 3-0 at The Laithwaite Community Stadium on Saturday.

CELEBRATION: Collier, left, and Little, right, congratulate Tarpey

The Cards’ victory was their first in the league since they overcame Welling United at Kingfield on 9 January – exactly a month earlier.

So it was no exaggeration to say that the clash with The Rocks was one of Woking’s most important matches of the campaign.

Failure by Alan Dowson’s men to pick up three points would have given table-toppers Torquay United – whose home game with Chelmsford City was rained off – a crucial four-point advantage over the Surrey outfit, with both championship-chasers having played 27 times. As it was, The Cards closed the gap to one point.

New signing David Tarpey opened his account for Woking, before Greg Luer and Jake Hyde struck to kill off the Essex-based visitors.

For the full match report, see the 14 February edition of the News & Mail