Thursday, August 28, 2014


LADS at the Tractor Shed, Latchingdon

A broad definition of “hits”, and of “show” in this frequently entertaining miscellany. From Stratford East to the West End to Broadway and Hollywood, from music halls to vaudeville
Some Magic To Do” - from the recently-revived Pippin - makes a promising curtain-raiser, with jugglers and unicycles, and the finale, surely a first, has Spamalot segue into Hair, with happy hippies letting the sunshine in to the Tractor Shed.
Many gems and curiosities along the way: Stanley Holloway's Battle of Hastings, delivered deadpan by an E L Wisty lookalike, and Abbott and Costello's classic 50 Dollars cross-talk sketch, which will doubtless be even slicker come Saturday night, and a delightful soft-shoe Me And My Shadow.
The Great American Musical is well represented: Too Darn Hot, nicely jivey, If Momma Was Married [from Gipsy], Somewhere That's Green [from Little Shop] and an outstanding Miss Adelaide from Guys and Dolls, which just happens to be LADS' next big show in November.
Other musical highlights – Just A Bowl of Cherries [belted out like Liza], That's Life, and an amazing found-percussion sequence.
Dance numbers [ably choreographed by Vicki Bird and Aimee Hart] include Jailhouse Rock, Electricity and a brilliant Bye Bye Blackbird.
Some very tiny performers in the Somewhere Out There medley from children's movies, and, a highlight of Act One, a string of songs from the Great War, linked by original dialogue in a moving musical tribute to the fallen, produced and directed by Judi Embling.

This year's Show Hits is produced by Michelle Kuta, who directed it with Aimee Hart, assisted by Carole Hart. James Tovey is in charge of the music.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Mercury Theatre hosts poignant performance marking the 100th anniversary of World War I
Jubilant Productions present Merry It Was To Laugh There, an evocative reflection on WWI, using poetry and diaries written during the global conflict.
Thursday 11 – Friday 12 September
Weaving together poetry, music and diaries with archive imagery and pertinent facts about the lives of the men who were fighting and the women waiting for their return, Merry It Was To Laugh There is a newly devised, moving reflection of World War I.
Performed by two actors of great experience and depth, Christine Absalom (Radio 4, The Rivals, Under Milk Wood, David Copperfield - Mercury Theatre Colchester) and Tim Freeman (Arsenic and Old Lace, Journey’s End, Of Mice and Men – Mercury Theatre), Merry It Was is a must for all lovers of poetry, students of history and those who wish to learn from the past.
A devised piece, it captures the realities of war reminding us of the universal and enduring nature of the emotions expressed whilst acknowledging the unique and unimaginable conditions and situations of that time.
Merry It Was To Laugh There moves from the poetry of the early war and the poet soldiers such as Wilfred Owen, to the words of the soldier poets such as Woodbine Willy writing Trench poetry. It draws on the diaries of a serving soldier and gives a voice to those poems written by women who were finding a new role to play in the world while their men were fighting at the Front. It is an evocative, moving, and at times funny, at times tragic, depiction of real life experiences of the war to end all wars.
I was lucky enough to see it earlier in the tour - my 5* review here.
Merry It Was To Laugh There will play at the Mercury Theatre Colchester from Thursday, September 11 until Friday, September 12  at 7:45pm. Tickets are £12.50, with concessions available.
For more information, including performance times and to purchase tickets, visit or call 01206 573948.


Local actor Terry Burns 
brings his 
one-man show to Brentwood
After a successful run at Camden’s Etcetera Theatre, local actor Terry Burns is returning to his roots to bring his one-man show ‘Plain English’ to the Audrey Longman Studio at Brentwood Theatre. Terry says ‘It’s great to be back in Essex where I first started out. Plain English is based on my own experiences teaching drama in Essex and London and it’s really exciting to be able to bring the different kinds of characters I met there to life on the stage.”
Plain English by Terry Burns
A hilarious and moving one-man show about a newly qualified teacher's first year in an inner-city school.
Plain English is a vibrant one-man play, self-penned and self-performed by local versatile character actor Terry Burns. It follows the trials and tribulations of idealistic NQT Michael England on his first year on the job as an English teacher in a struggling inner city London school.
Now, I just want to get one thing clear, I’m not here to teach you how to pass exams! I’m here to help you develop a love for learning and words and to teach you how you can be creative with words. If I can do that, the exams will take care of themselves.” Michael England

Plain English runs from Tues 16th – Fri 19th Sept at 8pm in the Audrey Longman Studio, Brentwood Theatre, 15 Shenfield Road, Brentwood CM15 8AG. Tickets £7.

Monday, August 25, 2014


Shakespeare's Globe at the Master's Garden, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Perfect weather for a Much Ado matinée in the open air. The secluded, timeless garden tucked away in the medieval heart of Cambridge makes a seemly setting for this strange mixture of romcom and tragedy.
Max Webster's inventive production uses a simple wooden stage, with a kind of ancient gazebo behind. The costumes are a promiscuous blend of modern and periods from the 50s back to the 19th century.
The cast of eight actor/musicians doubles furiously to cover [almost] all the roles. Some delicious contrasts – Robert Pickavance is an imposing Leonato and a hilarious Ursula, Chris Starkie plays a sober Don John and a splendid Scottish Dogberry [flying goggles and duck-call], and our Beatrice [Emma Pallant] plays his sidekick neighbour Verges. Joy Richardson is kept especially busy, as both partners [Borachio and Margaret] in the bedroom deception, as well as taking the lines of the absent Antonio. She's the friar, too, and shares a stolen picnic cupcake with her Conrade.
The two couples on the very unsmooth path of true love are Sam Phillips as the suave, cool Claudio with Gemma Lawrence as his girlish Hero. Simon Bubb makes a very attractive Benedick, very amusing too, despite his tender years – something of a toyboy for Pallant's beautifully observed bluestocking Beatrice. Their “merry war” works wonderfully, leading up to the final wooing – handshake, sonnets and kisses.
Loads of bright ideas – the accused are wheeled in on sack-barrows – and I liked the Seville orange motif: the boy eats an orange, Benedick hides behind a crate of them, scattered colourfully across the stage at the climax of his gulling.
We've seen a washing line in that scene before; the twist here is that the linen is sopping wet from the tub, which is gleefully emptied over the concealed Beatrice – her very own ice bucket challenge.

John Barber's music is a particular strength, from the a cappella Sigh No More to the finale, with everyone [including stage management] on an instrument – Don Pedro [Jim Kitson] on lute, Leonato on trombone ...

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Jamie Wilson Productions at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford

Three light entertainment legends on the Civic stage, as Ha Ha Hood chooses Chelmsford to launch its national tour.
Sherlock Holmes last year, Robin Hood this, as the ageing outlaw teams up with Maid Marian, Friar Tuck and Little John for madcap new adventures.
Cannon and Ball, no less, are the Merry Men, wisecracking their way through Sherwood Forest with catchphrases and ad libs galore.
Su Pollard, a genuine Nottingham lass, gets to play Maid Marian, who in this version has ended up as a nurse in colonic irrigation. Which gives some idea of the level of the humour here. [“Well, it's not Shakespeare, is it,” as Bobby Ball so rightly remarks.] She gives a cracking performance, though, bouncing through the woods and belting out her numbers.
Andy Pickering is the onstage musician, backing the actors in Fings, Peshwari Puccini and theme songs, including, of course, Together We'll Be OK and Carl Sigman's original Robin Hood song.
An unbelievably energetic Ben Langley plays our hero, exchanging banter with the old pros and the punters, and generally keeping things moving. He also wrote the show, and shifts what little scenery there is.

He'll need that energy; the show moves on to Swansea next week, and stays on the road till the middle of November !

and for The Public Reviews:

Last year, Ha Ha Holmes with Joe Pasquale. This year it's Ha Ha Hood, Prince of Leaves.
Ben Langley, proud begetter of the Ha Ha series, has some advice for the audience - “Lower your standards!”. And, we might add, turn back the clock. It's as if the last thirty years never happened, and we're back in the Eighties, when Hi-de-Hi was a highlight of the telly schedules, with Cannon and Ball over on the other side.
Hard to pigeon-hole this unsophisticated entertainment. Part variety, part sketch, part panto, with plenty for the punters to do, and a good old-fashioned warm-up to begin.
The comedy, not surprisingly, is not cutting-edge. A male ballet-dancer splits his tights. Huge exercise balls are amusingly used at the boot camp. Jokes abound about bodily functions, and women who are fat or ugly. There's a song in which Hood [Langley, who also wrote the show and shifts the scenery] accompanies himself on guitar and encourages an unspecified woman to expose her “fun-bags” - “Show Them To Me”. And it helps if you can remember what a 3½” floppy was. [“You know you're old when...”].
The plot sees Robin and Marian ten years on, after an acrimonious uncoupling – the only remnants of the Merry Men are Little John and Friar Tuck …
The music borrows shamelessly – The Stripper, Kit and the Widow, the Cannon and Ball theme song [“Together We'll Be OK”], Lionel Bart [who famously flopped with his own Robin Hood spoof] and, my favourite, a Moonlight Bay comedy medley which could have been straight out of the music halls.
The national treasures in the cast certainly know their craft, and their catch-phrases; the audience are helpless with laughter much of the time. Lines are fluffed, props fail, comedians corpse. Sometimes on purpose.
But there's a warm, innocent nostalgia in the air, and that carries the show. Bobby and Tommy, “combined age 146” seem to be enjoying it all, especially the ancient “Who's in the first house” routine, done with delightfully manic desperation.
Su Pollard proves a game old trouper, perching up a ladder with the enema tube [don't ask], belting out the curry-oke Nessun Dorma, and, of course, shouting out Hi-de-Hi to the campers …
This gruelling national tour chose Chelmsford for its opening [“Our career's on the up, Tommy...”]
Hitler and Hamlet have already had the Ha Ha treatment. After Hood, what, I wonder ? Ha Ha Harold [one in the eye for him], Ha Ha Horatio [kiss me, Ha Ha Hardy]. Time, and the tour schedules, will tell.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews