Wednesday, July 19, 2017

FAME The Musical

The Musical
Tomorrow's Talent
at the Civic Theatre

This is the 1988 musical of the 1980 movie. Those early Performing Arts alumni will be proud, or pushy, parents now. And this class of 2017 don't always seem quite at home in this Eighties world, where diversity and dyslexia are novel ideas. As these youngsters will be well aware, this institution resembles real arts education in the same way Lerner's Camelot does Britain in the sixth century.
But it's an enjoyable bit of summer escapism, and it gives Tomorrow's Talent a chance to show off what it does best – gifted youngsters, professional standards, and loads of crisp, energetic choreography.
The capacity crowd on opening night saw the spartan staging – the iconic logo centre stage – gradually populated by the kids, and the staff too – with director Gavin Wilkinson donning a natty cardigan to play drama teacher Myers. The show's MD is Mark Sellar, his fictional equivalent Sheinkopf played by Joshua Butcher, who's also the Assistant Choreographer.
Ruthless auditions, fervent prayers, and then the new intake must knuckle down to Hard Work. These fictional young hopefuls certainly score straight As for “attitude”, though their mentality might sometimes seem more at home in junior high.
There are many standout performances: Samuel Wolstenholme's Nick – Peanut Butter kid and Stanislavski disciple – setting the bar high with I Want to Make Magic, imaginatively backed, like several other numbers, by dancers. His shy Serena was touchingly done by Hannah Gurling on the first night. Christopher Tierney made the most of extrovert, X-rated Joe Vegas, and Daisy Greenwood gave a strong performance as outgoing, ultimately tragic Carmen Diaz. The enigmatic dancer Iris was engagingly portrayed by Katherine Maahs, and Becky Hunt gave a fine, funny character study as Mabel, the dancer who's too fond of food.
Street dancer and mouthy rebel Tyrone was given a compelling performance by Paul French, his dance moves and his stage presence both outstanding.
The role of spinster English teacher Esther Sherman is a tough call for a young actor, but Lauren Bullock came into her own with the moving These Are My Children, a hymn to the teaching profession.
But this is as much about the ensemble as the principals, and the big numbers were all stylishly done, from the opening auditions, through the title number, featuring the next generation on the upper level, to the beautifully conceived curtain calls, with Carmen resurrected atop the yellow cab.

production photograph by Louise Freeland

Wednesday, July 05, 2017



The Stondon Singers
at Stondon Parish Church

The Stondon Singers were formed back in the 60s, initially to bring the choral works of William Byrd home to Stondon Massey.
This was their 50th Anniversary Concert – Byrd died on July 4 1623 – and it took as its theme the influence of Italy, specifically Venice, on music in Tudor England.
So, in his 450th anniversary year, we had a four-part Mass by Monteverdi, meticulously phrased, especially in the Gloria, with a sublimely subtle ending in Dona Nobis Pacem.
A couple of his small-scale Madrigals, too, and, more obvious imports, some spirited Ferrabosco from Musica Transalpina, a collection of Italian works translated for the English market. And, as David Schacht's informative introduction reminded us, there were more tangible imports, too: flat-packed instruments for London luthiers to assemble.
A lively Gabrieli motet for eight voices, the text tossed around from part to part, and beautifully sung Willaert – a Flemish import to San Marco.
Byrd himself was represented by Tribue Domine, from Cantiones Sacrae – showcasing English music for the European market – and after Gibbons' exquisite Silver Swan, Although the Heathen, Byrd's short but showy part-song from a collection published in 1588.
The Stondon Singers were directed, with exemplary attention to detail, by Christopher Tinker.

Sunday, July 02, 2017



The Chelmsford Singers
at Chelmsford Cathedral

A glorious celebration for the Singers' ninetieth, with a programme of three dramatic show-stoppers.
Borodin provided the bold opener, with the Polovtsian Dances – a first for the Singers, we think. No actual dancing, but a welcome opportunity to enjoy the choral writing, often omitted in concert performance. The men have the macho posturing, leaving the lovely tune to the women's voices.
Britten's St Nicolas was the centre-piece, the popular cantata giving all the vocal forces a chance to shine, under the hortatory baton of Musical Director James Davy. Only the audience, perhaps, failed to rise to the challenge of the congregational hymns. A splendid Nicolas from tenor Paul Smy – a spine-tingling moment when the boy [sung by chorister Nicholas Harding-Smith] becomes the man, and a touching final movement in which the choir's Nunc Dimittis is blended with the saint's acceptance of death. The Cathedral boys were present at the ordination, and the girls made excellent contributions in the storm and in the episode of the Pickled Boys. The accompaniment, with lovely string sounds in the Nicolas from Prison movement, was by the Chelmsford Sinfonietta, led by Robert Atchison.
This memorable evening ended with Orff's cod-medieval Carmina Burana, in the 1956 version for percussion and two pianos [Robert Elms and Helen Crayford, both brilliant] which lets the choir take centre stage. Despite the composer's intentions, and all the show-off effects, there is less drama here than in the Britten, but this was a hugely enjoyable performance – the Singers gave us sublime simplicity in the Springtime, and rustic energy On the Green.
Three superb soloists: Smy again as the unfortunate roasting swan, a sublime In Trutina and a spectacularly abandoned Dulcissime from Elizabeth Roberts, singing from memory, and baritone Colin Baldy, bearing the brunt of the solos. In the Tavern Рa men-only zone Рhe gave us a crisply articulated confession, and a bibulous abbot. Later, in the Court of Love, after a marvellously risqu̩ number from the men of the Cathedral Choir, he led the Cathedral Boys from east to west Рthe abbot and his acolytes, maybe Рin Totus Floreo.
And through the open North Door, unbidden birdsong from the churchyard paid tribute to the music, and to the Singers as they enter their tenth decade.

pictures from the post-concert gathering in the Chapter House

Friday, June 30, 2017


Romford Summer Theatre at the Rockery, Raphael's Park

This year is Romford Summer Theatre's 55th season; it's no criticism to say that this production could have graced the Rockery at any point in that impressive history.
Chrissie O'Connor gives us a traditional take on the dream – Greco-Roman frocks, Mendelssohn's music – with a strong cast and a clear, positively-paced narrative. Not to mention an infectious sense of fun. No gimmicks, but the show does boast a child – Lucas Outram playing the all-important Indian Boy – and two canine characters: an elegant hound for the hunt, and a dog for Starveling's Moonshine.
It's the Shakespearean comedy best suited to this unique theatre space, perhaps, and excellent use is made of the “brakes” in the shrubbery, dotted with little lanterns as night falls, and the trees magically lit as the fairies lurk within the wood to watch the mischief play out.
Much of it concerning the hapless quartet of lovers; good work here from the young actors – the four-way tiff, the foggy fight with Puck, the lively dialogue between the girls – Eleanor Burgess and Amy Hollingsworth – Andrew Spong's eager Lysander and Jake Portsmouth's hilarious awakening.
The Court – the Duke and his Hippolyta well spoken by Colin Richardson and Emily Catlin – is graced by two experienced character players: Vernon Keeble-Watson's grumpy Egeus and Elliott Porte's pompous Philostrate, vainly trying to spare the wedding guests the ordeal of watching a bunch of amateur actors …
Those rude mechanicals – organised, if that's the word, by Paul Hollingsworth's Quince – stars Paul Sparrowham's Bottom. His ass-head is furry; his triumph in the role of Pyramus marred by paralysing stage-fright, alleviated by a handy flagon. His increasingly inebriated performance is pure genius, slurring his lines and relieving himself against Pete Farenden's Wall. Lots of clever detail here – the beards in the props basket, Mark Griffith's Snug conning the Lion's part, though it be nothing but roaring ...
The immortals are led by excellent fairy monarchs – Lindsay Hollingsworth's stunning Titania in her star-spangled gown, and Matt Jones's regal Oberon, with a touch of Herne the Hunter, his verse-speaking exemplary in I Know A Bank, for example. Four Fairies – we see them first in the overture – their dresses, colour-coded, reminiscent of fantastical festival-goers – included Chrissie LeFranc's Moth, with some magical flute-playing, and Kathryn Waters' white-wigged Cobweb; she's also the first fairy, doing a little light gardening before being ambushed by Richard Spong's Puck. He's a very mischievous hobgoblin, got up like a faun, searching the audience for Athenians, perching for a moment in Titania's woodland bower, freezing the mechanicals in mid-rehearsal.
This is not Athens, but Havering's Edwardian Raphael Park. Lucky to have no wind, or rain, a comfortable temperature and only the occasional waterfowl and birdsong to punctuate Shakespeare's sylvan comedy. A very pleasant evening; as Theseus says, “ never anything can be amiss, When simpleness and duty tender it ...”

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Sea-Change Theatre at the Rose Playhouse

Shakespeare probably saw his Tempest over the river at Blackfriars. He'd be bewildered to find it performed 400 years later on the sparse remains of The Rose, already dark by the time the play was penned.
He'd be intrigued by this beautifully simple staging, directed by Ray Malone and designed by Lu Firth. Ropes, crates, and a distant prospect of the very Romantic storm, which we view, with Miranda, from afar.
Sea-change, a women-only company, seeks to “invert the Elizabethan convention of male-only performances”. Their name is taken from Act I – one of Shakespeare's many coinings – and this was their inaugural production, first seen on Lesvos last year.
The cross-gendering works well, for the most part. Many of the male characters, names unchanged, become women. Others remain resolutely masculine – the clowns, the Neapolitan nobles, striking in their beards, black doublets and red sashes. No chance of meeting Claribel, but we do get to see Sycorax [Lottie Vallis] – a strong female role – conjured by Ariel in a very effective scene.
American actor Marianne Hyatt makes an imposing Prospero, the poetry beautifully delivered [though it's a shame that Our Revels was both misplaced and misremembered]. Her daughter is played by Lakshmi Khabrani, in an impassioned, and often passionate, reading. Kimberley Jarvis is a compelling Ferdinand; Lucianne Regan an angelic Ariel, in a long white robe which seems to sap some of the fun and the energy from an otherwise delightful interpretation. A strong Caliban from Rosie Jones, giving The Isle is Full of Noises to just one auditor in the front row, and a great Laurel and Hardy double-act from Vix Dillon and Gerry Bell as Stephano and Trinculo, the drunken butler – skin-head and England shirt … 

Sue Frumin, who wrote this version, makes several appearances as Myrtle, the mudlark peddling relics from the river. A good idea to root the production in the place, but like the hand-held projector, it didn't really work in practice.

The publicity might lead us to expect a more radical re-working, rather than this magical, captivating 90-minute Tempest, which though it has its own agenda, manages to respect the text, the place and the audience. Let's leave the really radical to the rival house across the way …