Thursday, April 28, 2016


Theatre at Baddow in the Parish Hall

Two new plays, both excellent of their kind, given polished productions by Theatre at Baddow this week.

Mike Bartlett's Bull is a relentless hour of bullying and paranoia. Office politics in a corridor with a water-cooler. Pinterish in its unpleasantness, it's an uneasy listen. You long for a twist, a turning point. Worm, tables, whatever. Never comes. Roger Saddington's Thomas just sits and weeps under the final acid onslaught from Ruth Westbrook's icy Isobel.
There's much talk of truth and falsehood. The harassment, the torment, the naked nastiness recall the worst excesses of the playground – several times referenced in the script - “we're not at school”.
It's Thomas's worst nightmare – losing his job, access to his son Harry – and maybe this is the key to the piece. We all want to hit Isobel – Thomas tries repeatedly, but, as in a dream, his fist never connects. He knocks himself out in the end. Isobel finds no sympathy, leaves the teetotal loser his single malt leaving gift. “When you wake up, a drink may be just what you need ...”
Four superb performances in Jim Crozier's confident production – the pauses, the looks, all spot on.
Saddington is a sympathetic underdog, maybe too much so – should we perhaps suspect that he “brings it on himself” ? Terry Cramphorn is a smug, unfeeling CEO. And Patrick Willis is outstanding as Team Leader Tony, a master of merciless banter, glued to his smartphone, casually sticking the knife in, rocking in his chair.
Bull. Bullshit, Bullying, and the Bullfight, with its carefully choreographed, pitiless picadors.
Followed here not by Bartlett's Cock, for which it was originally the companion piece, but by a much jollier affair - Tom Basden's Party.
More childish banter here, but much more amusing, while still keeping a satirical eye on matters social and political. Lots of argy-bargy over language. Joanna Lowe directs a well-cast company: five clueless twenty-somethings meet in Jared's mum's shed to thrash out policies for their new anti-capitalist party. Jared – a lovely, earnest performance from Kieran Low – takes charge, Naneen Lane's dim Phoebe takes the minutes. Nathan, in sandals and cycle-clips, the only one in employment, is played with precisely the right keen bewilderment by Nathan Lowe, and Vicky Wright is excellent as the sulky Mel. Roger Saddington – the only actor allowed to do both shows – is Jones, roused to fury by lack of coffee. David Saddington pops in briefly as the mysterious Short Coat.
It's like a long comedy sketch, really, but consistently funny, even if these characters are no more believable as adults than the awful suits in Bull.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016



Witham Amateur Operatic Society at the Public Hall


There've been some pretty rum Pirates since copyright expired back in the 60s. All-male, Papp on Broadway, The Parson's Pirates [my favourite, from Opera della Luna]. And earlier this month a splendid Steampunk version at Brentwood.
WAOS went for the Australian version, with some modern tweaks, especially in the chorus numbers, some added business and topical asides, plus a lively megamix finale.
All the messing about did little for me. It seemed designed for a different company, a different audience. The “orphan” joke was made even less funny by being interrupted, General Stanley's character was not improved by what the Pirate King called his “flowers out the jacksie” moment. And the Fabulettes [Stanley's daughters] were allowed to upstage Mabel's aria, and encouraged to flirt outrageously with Frederick, in direct contradiction of the libretto.
But a cracking pace and many enjoyable performances produced an entertaining evening of alternative G&S.
Mabel was excellently sung by Jessica Edom-Carey, well matched by the equally youthful Frederick of Thomas Pleasant. Their wonderful Act Two duet is still echoing in my memory. Tom Whelan's staunchly traditional Major-General took his patter song at a brisk pace, well sustained until the lame encore. David Slater made a flamboyant Pirate King in his burgundy trousers; Anne Wilson was a superb Scots Ruth, the piratical maid-of-all work. And Stewart Adkins excelled as the Sergeant of Police – an interpretation which was hilarious both vocally and physically – at the head of his cleverly choreographed coppers. The Foeman number was the best thing in the show.
Fine ensemble work from the pirates too, and from the whole company in the Ode to Poetry, mercifully unimproved. The Fabulettes – a sexy sextet of smokers in beehive hairdos, led by Emma Loring's Chardonnay – enjoyed some nice harmony work.
The design could have been Pixar, with the towering cliffs of books, and the costumes were bright and stylish – lots of butch kilts for the Pirates.
Thomas Duchan directed – he was in the pit, too, playing an unsubtle keyboard reduction. The excellent soloists not always best served by generous decibels from the sound system.
WAODS gave the show their all; a big, bold, irreverent take on a favourite Savoy Opera. But my advice to other societies would be save your money, stick to the original, or be like Brentwood, or Trinity, and steer your own course.

publicity shot: Nick Griffin

Monday, April 25, 2016


the tour returns to Shakespeare's Globe

The Hamlet company are back home after two years on the road. Since they set off for Amsterdam in 2014, they've given 295 performances in 206 venues. The final four shows see them on the Globe's stage.
I've already written twice about this production – though in earlier incarnations.
It's survived the vicissitudes of touring very well. The flight cases now form the set – though the two planks are still in evidence, and The Mousetrap is even more stylised. The “sour beer” sequence works wonderfully here.
For this first show back, Matthew Romain gave his Hamlet, engaging the audience throughout. Brilliant support from the hard-working, role-doubling company: Amanda Wilkin's Horatio, Rawiri Paratene's prim, prating Polonius [and earthy gravedigger], Jennifer Long's Ophelia.
A rapturous reception from a packed Globe – these four shows long since sold out – beginning as soon as Tom Lawrence stepped forward to do his speech of welcome.
We look forward to Dominic Dromgoole's book of the tour. A documentary, too, maybe.

production photograph:Helena Miscioscia

Sunday, April 24, 2016


Brentwood Shakespeare Company 
at Brentwood Theatre

In fair Verona … Liz Calnan's Prologue exemplified three great strengths of this production.
Beautiful costumes, clarity of text and “two hours' traffick of the stage”.
Truth to tell, not quite everyone in the large cast was quite so well dressed, or spoke so clearly or intelligently. Two hours' traffick was achieved, thanks to deft editing.
More time might have been saved, perhaps, with cues picked up more deftly, and scenes dovetailed more snugly. Shakespeare wasn't able to have a blackout between scenes, and I always think he works best when you can't get a cigarette paper between the street and the bedchamber, say.
But these are small quibbles; June Fitzgerald' s production used the Brentwood stage effectively, with three doorways, and a clever balcony-cum-bedchamber. Plenty of room for the excellent sword-play, too.
Some fine performances: the star-cross'd lovers played by Ben Sylvester, a sympathetic Romeo making the verse sound powerful and natural, and Lisa Nunn as a child-like, innocent, impatient Juliet.
Richard Spong brought passion and insight to Mercutio, Matt Hudson made a compelling Benvolio, and there was a lovely, merry Nurse from Julia Stallard.
The death of Tybalt [Gareth Locke], and Paris's violent end [a fiery Andrew Spong] were both very effectively staged.
And the tragic d̩nouement had a wonderfully lit setting for Capel's monument Рthe shrouded Juliet in semblance of death, soon to be united on the tomb with her Romeo.



The Basildon-based Thalians are on tour in May with 'The Hothouse,'
or 'The challenge of Pinter in the basement or the upstairs room of a pub' 
or 'Anywhere we can perform that doesn't entail re-mortgaging our houses.' 
The play is set in a state-run sanatorium where the patients are possibly political dissidents although, as with most Pinter plays, times and places are vague and the usual menacing comedy lurks in the language like a dark stalker. What is clear is that the unchecked state power is corrupt and that a casual inhumanity makes for a searing comic indictment of institutional bureaucracy with all its power struggles or as Simon Russell Beale put it, "the madness of self-contained community." 

I saw Russell Beale in a similarly intimate production three years ago.
The Thalians hope to be presenting a highly entertaining and thought provoking play for a wider audience with an entrance fee as affordable and as darkly rich as a box of Black Magic - on special offer!

Dates in May are 

Thursday 5th and Friday 6th at The Swan, Horndon - on - the - Hill.
Thursday 12th and Friday 13th at Saks Bar, Southend.
Tuesday 17th and Wednesday 18th at The Ship, Old Leigh.

Starting at 8 pm

Tickets are £5 and you can book by phoning 01268 417854