Sunday, June 26, 2016


Eastern Angles at the Hush House

A welcome revival for this skilful, affectionate adaptation, by Nick Wood, of the Arthur Ransome novel of 1937, the seventh of the Swallows and Amazons franchise.
The staging is wonderfully inventive, endlessly evocative of the little Goblin on which the children accidentally sail to Holland. A circular stage, audience two sides, a small sail, a stern with a tiller, bigger sails either end of the traverse area, sea-chart designs on the decks, and everything stowed neatly away below: tin mugs, maps, flags, ropes, jumpers and lamps.
A combination of soundscape – the wind and the waves mixed with snatches of Shostakovich, master of film music – and atmospheric lighting conjured up the voyage in all its moods; we could almost feel the spray and the sea water.
And four young actors re-created that innocent world before the war when children could go off on adventures unaccompanied - “ all alone in our own little world with only the sound of the waves rushing by ...”
Rosalind Steele is Susan, sea-sick, but scarily efficient, longing to take the helm and prove as good as a boy. Joel Sams is John, acting skipper, reefing the mainsail, fighting fatigue and the elements to bring the cutter safely to harbour. Christopher Buckley gives an outstanding performance as Able Seaman Roger, the youngest on board, outspoken and always hungry. And Matilda Howe is Titty [not Kitty or Tatty, thank goodness], who writes up the whole adventure in her exercise book.
They all stay just leeward of Blyton-esque caricature, and everyone gets the chance to play another character. So Howe is also the Dutch pilot, Buckley the owner of the boat who unwisely goes ashore for a can of petrol, Sams is a superbly imperious Mother and Steele the naval Father – John, like Hamlet, sees a spectral parent in the dark watches of the night.
We also meet Sinbad the kitten and Billy the donkey …
It's a marvellous tale, tautly directed by Ivan Cutting. Not only a spiffing adventure, but also richly written, with tempers fraying as the sea-mist closes in.

And, of course, a natural choice for Eastern Angles, set in the local geography of the Orwell Estuary, just a few miles as the gull flies from where the Hush House sits under those wide Suffolk skies.

photograph: Mike Kwasniak



From the Baroque to McCabe, in a very varied programme.

Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Trumpets features players from the ranks, as does Mozart's Sublime Sinfonia Concertante.

John McCabe who died last year after a long illness, was one of Britain’s most accomplished composers whose music was performed and loved by audiences here, in the USA and in Europe.  His Six-Minute Symphony will be given as a prelude to Schumann's much-loved, summery Second Symphony.

Saturday 2nd July 2016 at 7.30 pm.
Christ Church, New London Road, Chelmsford

There will be a free pre-concert talk given by conductor Tom Hammond, at 6.30 p.m.


at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This is Emma Rice's Kneehigh swansong. And, from the Bristol Old Vic, she's brought it to her new home, Shakespeare's Globe.
Sophia Clist's bold, bulky wooden structure sits slightly uneasily in the Jacobean playhouse, but the enhanced candlelight suits this atmospheric, nostalgic tale perfectly, while the intimacy of the space brings a powerful emotional heft to Daniel Jamieson's lively, wistful two-hander.
Marc Antolin and Audrey Brisson play painter Marc Chagall, child-like, Chaplinesque, and his muse, and first wife, Bella Rosenfeld.
We can pack all the things we love in Vitebsk into our minds and take them with us,” she tells him, and so they do – the green cows, the rabbis, and of course their airborne alter egos travel to Petersburg, Paris, New York … The devoted Bella sees Marc brush off war, revolution, anti-semitism, fatherhood, as he focuses passionately on his work.
Past blends with present in a playful, poignant piece which resonates long after the music has faded. Ian Ross, the MD, with James Gow, provide an evocative accompaniment, as well as supernumerary support. The old Inkspots number which opens the show is reprised as an encore, suiting the narrative and the mood to perfection.
Back in the 90s, Rice played Bella, we're told. This revival, exquisitely directed, full of imaginative touches and flowing, flying movement, blends theatre and fine art in a moving memoir of the painter as a young man.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016



at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich


Stars and portents align to celebrate the Wolsey's 15th birthday year. Opening on Midsummer Night, 400 years after Shakespeare's death, this Dream brings Trevor Nunn back to his home town, where he saw his first ever Shakespeare [the Dream, of course] at the age of 12. And it means he's now directed, in his long and illustrious career, every one of the 37 plays.
We're in 1930s India, the height of the Raj, with the Duke as the Viceroy. It's a concept that fits beautifully, intellectually as well as artistically.
It makes sense of Hermia's forced marriage, for one thing. There's a wonderfully telling moment as Pyramus & Thisbe ends, and Bottom explains that the wall is down that parted their fathers.
It seems the norm now to airbrush Athens out of the text, but otherwise Shakespeare's words survive intact, if trimmed a little, and the verse is universally well spoken.
Matt Rawle and Fiona Hampton are the upper-crust couple – he sports a pith helmet for the hunt - and also of course Oberon and Titania. Sam Dastor is excellent as Egeus, the old-fashioned father of the bride, and Michelle Bishop manages a unique double as First Fairy and Phyllis [ … straight …], aide to Theseus, and the only character to change name or gender.
The colourful Fairy Band, moving expressively in the background, are children – casting which would not look out of place in Irving's Lyceum. By contrast the Indian Boy, bone of contention between the Fairy King and Queen, wears a plain white costume.
The quartet of lovers are superbly done – Neerja Naik is poor Hermia, Assad Zaman her Demetrius. Harry Lister Smith, in his wonderful cream Brideshead suit, is a very posh Lysander, and Imogen Daines is a hilarious “maypole” Helena, drinking and smoking as she's rejected. Act III scene 2 – another part of the wood, and the opening of Part Two in this production – is brilliantly choreographed, from the moment when Esh Alladi's lithe Puck and Oberon glide into hiding to Hermia's bemused exit.
The Rude Mechanicals are itinerant tradesman, each bringing the tools of his trade. The absent Weaver, for example, is represented by a bobbin of scarlet thread on a mat, possibly of his own making. Kulvinder Ghir makes a wonderful Bottom: his “dream” monologue is exemplary, his warm-up before the rehearsal a delight. Muzz Khan is a gormless Starveling, his Moon waning as Ghir's operatic Pyramus milks his big scene. And Deven Modha's Flute brings real feeling to his Thisbe, quietly out-performing the blustering Bottom.
Libby Watson's design is glorious – the gorgeous palace, the deep dark wood, the pastoral patchwork of fields suggesting Puck's flight – and splendidly lit by Mark Jonathan – Titania's bower backlit by moonlight.
We're spoilt for Dreams this year – on the BBC, at the RSC, in the Globe. This provincial wonder is probably the most important, and certainly one of the most deliciously enjoyable.

production photo by Mike Kwasniak


National Theatre at the Dorfman

Thalia, the muse of comedy, is the name playwright Theo [Sam Crane] chooses for the Greek home he acquires on the island of Skiathos, almost by accident, at the start of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s new play.
Theo's work is described as “quietly political”, Campbell's is rather more overtly so – the Aegean idyll is disturbed by an American couple, encountered by chance at the airport; the military coup of 1967 is imminent. CIA agent Harvey – a great performance from Ben Miles – is uncomfortably assertive, meddling with the lives of the two na├»ve Brits, his manipulative machinations masquerading as kindness and generosity. The subtext, surely, is the tendency of the US to wade in to impose its will on weaker nations, defining democracy to suits its own ends.
The four meet up again nine years later. Theo and the restless Charlotte [Pippa Nixon] have two children; Harvey has been scarred by the part he played in the overthrow of Allende. He cruelly reveals to his hosts the fate of the family whose house they bought for a song on the eve of the Generals' coup.
The action sometimes seems a little contrived. The sun sets slowly at the end of each act. But all the performances are polished and perceptive; Elizabeth McGovern, tall and slender in blue, is wonderful as June, Harvey's hard-drinking wife.
Simon Godwin's production brings out the best in Campbell's play, against Hildegard Bechtler’s hyper-realistic Skiathos setting.