Monday, September 29, 2014

THINGS TO COME - LEND ME A TENOR

Lend Me a Tenor
Ken Ludwig’s multi-award-winning farce

The Queen’s Theatre’s resident company cut to the chase… presents Ken Ludwig’s multi-award-winning slam-door comedy Lend Me a Tenor from 3 – 25 October.

This furiously-paced frivolous frenzy will entertain everyone for as long as they can keep up!

We’re in a hotel in Ohio in 1934 and Il Stupendo has come to save the day! It’s the biggest night in the history of the Grand Opera Company as they anxiously await the arrival of the world’s greatest tenor Signor Tito Merelli – or Il Stupendo – and his performance of Otello that will save the struggling company.

But then… doors start slamming when womanising Tito is incapacitated and his wife’s goodbye letter is mistaken for a suicide note! Max, the Opera Director’s meek assistant, is given the daunting task of finding a last-minute replacement. Chaos ensues – featuring a scheming soprano, a jealous wife and the Cleveland Police!

Lend Me a Tenor was Ludwig’s first commercially-produced play, which went on to enjoy enormous success in the West End and on Broadway. It has received numerous Tony and Drama Desk awards, been nominated for Laurence Olivier and Outer Critics Circle awards and been translated into 16 languages and produced in 25 countries!

The cast includes cut to the chase… company members Fred Broom, Georgina Field, Christine Holman, Greg Last, Sarah Mahony, Sean Needham, Sarah Scowen and Steve Simmonds.

This production is directed by the Queen’s Associate Director Matt Devitt, with set and costume design by Mark Walters and lighting by Daniel Crews.

Lend Me a Tenor runs from 3 – 25 October at the Queen’s Theatre, Billet Lane, Hornchurch. Tickets are from £12.50 - £26.50. For more details and to book, call the Box Office on
01708 443333 or book online at queens-theatre.co.uk

Sunday, September 28, 2014

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
CAODS at the Civic Theatre
27.09.2014

Lloyd Webber's rock oratorio, a passion play for the heavy metal generation, gets a powerful, largely traditional staging at the Civic.
The opening prologue sets the tone – Jesus's early life is played out like a fast-forward Biblical epic, with costumes and tableaux worthy of De Mille.
The show itself, originally a concept album, focuses on the last days of Christ, and on the role of Judas, the troubled outsider, given a compelling performance here by Simon Bristoe. The chorus is inventively used, spilling out over the vast steps which, with a perspex pyramid, make up the set. The energy is palpable – in the Temple, in the Garden of Gethsemane, in What's the Buzz. Subtlety is not notably part of director Ray Jeffery's toolbox, and heartstrings are shamelessly tugged, while the title number, with its assorted Angels, is high camp kitsch, as is the decadence of Herod's entourage. The red capes and plumes make a strong visual statement before the uncompromising Crucifixion. Only in the reflective John 19:41 is the movement something of a distraction.
Excellent performances, vocally and dramatically, from Stuart Woolner as a handsome, charismatic Messiah, and Karen Kelleher as a dignified Magdalene.
This is a demanding show musically, literally an opera, with big arias and complex ensembles. Under CAODS new MD Rob Wicks it is given a great performance; only occasionally are the words lost under instrumental enthusiasm or tortured screeching.

A virtually sell-out run, with standing ovations for the principals, adds up to a huge success for Chelmsford's premier company.

production photograph by Christopher Yorke-Edwards

Saturday, September 27, 2014

WHERE THERE'S A WILL

WHERE THERE'S A WILL
Blackmore Players in the Village Hall
26.09.14

Much more comedy than thrills in this amusing pot-boiler by panto veteran Norman Robbins. Tinned peaches to the fresh fruit of real plays, never aspiring to professional productions, these ready-to-wear pieces are unaccountably popular with amateur groups.
The Friday-night crowd were in a receptive mood, and laughed long and loud at the shenanigans on stage. As the title suggests, a fortune is at stake, the millions left by Edie Puddephat [check comedy monniker]. Long-lost family gather to claim their due, but a freak accident is the cue for some dark deeds, as the beneficiaries are bumped off one by one – road accidents, poisoning, ailurophobia and the neatest cardiac arrest ever. Mr Brian Harris has taken a helpful ad in the programme, offering help with wills and estates, and we could have used his assistance with the convoluted and improbable plot. Not a “Kind Hearts” tontine, this, so it is not clear how the deaths will enrich the survivors. The characters manfully recap from time to time - “As we all know, ...” but on the second night it got to the cast in the end – cue general corpsing, with the prompt [Vera Hitchin] put through her paces and collateral damage in the priceless “carrot page” Spoonerism. Or is that in the script ?
Heading the gallery of stereotypes is Barbara Harrold as Velma, an excellent Northern battle-axe - “If I want your opinion I'll give it to you” - with her meek son Fordyce [nicely characterized by James Hughes with sharp suit and side parting]. She alone has the accent to a tee – some of the more distant relations bring estuary tones to the wake. But plenty of entertainment to be had from Martin Herford's Peasegood [check comedy vicar], Charley Magee's gloriously tasteless Miriam [check comedy lush], and Glenys Young's Bella, with anklets the size of ASBO tags. Youngsters Adam Hughes [tattooed male stripper] and Rebecca Smith [his pierced girlfriend] look great, but need to be chavvier and chippier.
Co-director [with son Andrew] Linda Raymond successfully steps up to take the part of the enigmatic Genista Royal, housekeeper to the dear departed.
The solid set successfully evokes the house of the late Edie – much fun with the cats' pee – but there are dark patches in the downstage corners.

Not a period piece, but harks back to another age, when we talked about nancy boys and unmarried mothers, every suburban villa had its domestic help, and every village had lively, thriving amateur theatricals like the Blackmore Players.

PITCAIRN

PITCAIRN
Shakespeare's Globe
23.09.2014

The groundlings were well placed to appreciate the exotic body art on view in this otherwise slightly disappointing look at the story [half fact, half fiction] of what happened to Fletcher Christian and the other Bounty mutineers.
The play, which opened in Chichester, transfers well to the outdoor arena, though polystyrene rocks that look realistic under lights risk looking more artificial in the cruel light of day.
The space is well used, with actors rushing in through the yard, and much banter between the crowd and the innocent, ingenuous Tahitan women who're brought along to found a utopian colony, turning over a revolutionary "virgin leaf". Shades here of Lord of the Flies, and Our Country's Good, but strangely lacking in drama and credible characterization, despite the efforts of director Max Stafford-Clark – plenty of violent incident in the second half especially – and a strong young cast. The women have the toughest time – speaking like debs when talking their own language, lapsing into pidgin to converse with their husband/captors. Despite their guileless talk of orgies and sexual entertainment, there is little to frighten the horses here.
Tom Moreley is the troubled Christian, with excellent support from Ash Hunter as the hypocritical quadroon Ned Young, and Naveed Khan as the native slave who does most of the dirty work.
The counter-factual ending [hinted at in the opening] is interesting, though the revenge of the dusky maidens is not convincing historically or dramatically. Richard Bean's play is clearly the result of much historical and anthroplogical research. But though there is rarely a dull moment, with music, movement and conflict of all kinds keeping things moving, we never feel a part of history in the way that we do with, say, Anne Boleyn or In Extremis.

Monday, September 22, 2014

LONG STORY SHORT

LONG STORY SHORT
Squint at Charing Cross Theatre
18.09.2014

How do we choose to consume the news ? This timely piece suggests some answers, raises many questions and keeps its audience intrigued for a tense 90 minutes.

We theatricalise the state of our mediatised lives ...” There are moments near the beginning, when News Editor Neil is getting a Twitter roasting, when it looks as though the tone might be as clunky and didactic as that unfairly decontextualised soundbite from author/director Andrew Whyment. #literally. But dramatic instincts kick in, and the intriguing structure of the story carries the “debate-sparker” effortlessly to its gripping conclusion.

It's a play for the now generation, most likely to set its news agenda by what is trending. Whyment, and his company Squint, working with young playwrights and a young cast in “topical, contemporary ensemble-driven theatre”.

The visual style is familiar. Is Curious Incident a sub-genre now, like French Farce ? In the narrow perspective of the Charing Cross, a harshly-lit rectangular acting area is surrounded on three sides by seats for the actors, with a rack of costumes just visible. Roadie cases stand in for much of the furniture. Physical set-pieces include planes, trains and the tube; there's a newsroom ballet, another with suitcases, even pretty much a production number with umbrellas [“Bad Moon Rising”].

Difficult to discuss the plot development without giving away too many twists. #spoilers. It involves three soldiers, missing in Helmand, an unnamed “Royal Prince”, a clearly named Australian media mogul arriving in the UK to bid for the News of the World, a scoop born on Twitter, a fictional tv newsroom and an audacious show-and-tell revenge. Central to all this is Jamie, the squaddie's na├»ve but canny younger brother, brilliantly played by Cole Edwards. Far from being condemned to the regulation fifteen minutes of Facebook fame, he turns out to be the future, too …

There is clever cutting between the two plot-lines: a nice five minutes of confusion on the airport concourse where Sam Jenkins-Shaw, playing two characters decades apart, is hassled by Jamie and unwittingly takes Rupert's luggage. And the young story-teller heading on BOAC to Fleet Street tells a nervous Mary about a plane-crash as the transparent fish-tank NSC studio goes into meltdown. Our credulity is tested from time to time – the sister of another soldier has no access to news for three days [no broadband] – but the frozen moment of live television is a triumph of meaningful theatricality.

Palpable energy from the ensemble of eight as the plot unravels, priorities are changed, damage is controlled. Tom Gordon is Neil, most hated man in Britain, and Kevin Phelan compelling as “Red”, arriving in 60s Britain with a mission to change the way the news is delivered.

Long Story Short makes no judgements about the changes the years between have brought. Should we be grateful or fearful that the news is consumer-driven, that the fast always beats the slow, that the preferred medium of the future is the blogosphere, seemingly unaware of the difference between reality tv and real events ? A democracy of dunces ? #public interest

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews