Monday, May 30, 2016


Passion in Practice at The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Not a diary in the modern sense. A business day-book, perhaps. And this entertainment does not confine itself to the commercial jottings of the great theatre manager, proprietor of the Rose and the Fortune.
We meet his son-in-law, Edward Alleyn the actor, writing home to Joan while he is away touring with Lord Strange's Men. Peter Street, theatre builder, Moll Cutpurse, roaring girl, Simon Forman, medic and astrologer. All brought to life in their own words, spoken, as far as we can guess, in their own accent.
But centre stage, in a bravura performance, is the man himself, celebrated this year along with his acquaintance, and rival, W.S. “the other feller”. In Will Sutton's wickedly enjoyable characterization, we see him shelling out for a new script – from £3 – and for “Street's dinner and mine” - from 6d; he enthusiastically promotes bear-baiting, and is keen to make money however he can. But he's far from the illiterate rogue of popular imagination, and despite the stress, is a keen man of the theatre.
Much of this all-too-brief candlelit concoction is improvised, and the word-of-mouth evidence is fleshed out and explained by the uniquely fascinating team of David and Ben Crystal.

Like last week's Faustus, it would certainly bear repeating in the even more appropriate, if less atmospheric, arena of Henslowe's own Rose, just yards away from the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

Sunday, May 29, 2016



Made in Colchester at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester

for The Reviews Hub

“Quite amusing. A bit dated.”
Soundbite in the rush to the bar after Act Two. Possibly the same gentleman who was gently snoring during the quieter Deauville scenes. I hope he stayed (awake) to see stuffy, "I'm glad I'm normal", Prynne kissed unexpectedly on the lips ...
Despite its eighty-six years, “dated” is one criticism that hardly applies to Private Lives, especially in this lively, stylish production by Esther Richardson. She brings a freshness and a physical energy to the characters, especially the women. Olivia Onyehara's elegant Sybil, for instance, is speechless with delight as she emerges onto the balcony at the top of the show. And speechless with rage and frustration in the Paris flat at the start of Act Three. The fights are very imaginatively staged: a lovely silence before the food starts to fly, and a perfect pillow fight before the shadows on the door announce the arrival of the abandoned other halves and the interval. The cream leather sofa in the appartement is creatively used. The re-united lovers spectate from it in the final moments, before packing (their shadows on the frosted glass of the bedroom door) and escaping with one last incredulous look from the doorway.
Mandy and Elly, “idiotic schoolchildren”, are beautifully done by  Krissi Bohn, a meticulously well-spoken Amanda in some superb fashion-plate frocks (”a beautiful advertisement for something”), and Pete Ashmore, slightly less clipped and acid than some Elyots, occasionally losing diction in moments of rage, but a very credible character even today. Their scenes together are magic – the hotel orchestra signals a wonderful change of mood at the end of Act One, where the “round the world” exchange is charged with barely repressed emotion.
Robin Kingsland makes a convincing, staid Victor, “the pompous ass” whom Amanda has just unwisely wed. His blustery sparring with Elyot especially memorable.
Mercury favourite Christine Absalom makes a meal of two quite inconsequential moments as Louise, the maid, mining every carat of comedy gold from her head-cold, her brioche and her tea-trolley. Rewarded with an old-fashioned round on her exit.
Sara Perks has designed a stunning multi-level Paris flat, with baby grand, double bed and bear-skin rug. It's concealed for the first act by diaphanous drapes suggesting the Deauville hotel – seagulls and lapping waves, lacking only a hint of ozone ruffling the organza.
A few deft cuts – the rodent Tiller Girls amongst the casualties – keep the action moving in this sparkling, hugely enjoyable revival of Coward's ageless comedy of manners.

production photograph by Robert Day

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at The Old Court Theatre

Take me to the distant past; I want to go back...” Everything Everything. Pre-show music for our hero, perhaps, a rock-star rake who ends up wondering how he fetched up here – in debt and in disgrace, too famous to live a normal life.
Fame as Faustian pact, rock god losing it; they're not exactly original ideas, and this play, a 2014 work from Simon [Curious Incident] Stephens sometimes loses its way. But it's given a bold, in-yer-face outing by CTW, on a thrust stage, dramatically lit, with a suggestion of an arena rig behind the action. White noise, not rock music, links the many scenes.
Paul, fronting a 200-gig tour with crowds of 50,000, is not a sympathetic character, with his mood swings and his ocular cocaine habit. Insecure, lacking any inhibition, he comes across as repellent, cruel, soul-less and egocentric. We never hear him sing, and look in vain for the charisma that attracts his fans. He's given a typically gripping performance by James Christie: his confession to his old friend and musical partner Johnny [Tom Tull, in a nicely grounded performance] is painful to watch – especially so close-up – as he begins to crack under the pressure. Effective duologues with David his agent and his impecunious father, and a demanding tour-de-force, though perhaps too articulate for this offensive, foul-mouthed bully.
Laura Bradley shines as the star-struck mathematician Jenny who finally turns on her hero. Jennifer Burchett is excellent as the tragic Marnie, as well as Marnie's mum and Nicola the groupie. Jade Flack makes the most of the expat interviewer and other characters, including one of the Babylon whores whose surreal interrogation of the singer is perhaps an early sign of his breakdown. Echoed in Act Two by the aggressive questioning in the nick.
Ian Willingham paints an impressive gallery of characters: the agent, Paul's old dad, the maecenas who likes Halliday …

Birdland is directed for CTW by Ian Willingham and Danny Segeth.


Passion in Practice at The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse


Marlowe's mighty line rang new-minted around the candlelit Playhouse, in an eloquent, pocket-sized production by Passion in Practice.
A candle burns on Faustus' simple table, a bowl, a bottle at the front of the stage. And books scattered everywhere. The action begins with Marlowe himself, perhaps, in the person of the learned doctor, composing the “thousand ships” piece [cf Shakespeare in Love] before scrumpling the parchment and throwing it to the floor. Later, with a couple of quills, it makes an improvised dragon, a typically inventive touch. Helen's face is confined to a flimsy postcard, just like the prospects of Paris, Naples and the rest, seen from the soaring creature's back.
Aslam Husain makes a human, often humorous, “man that in his studio sits”, without losing any of the intensity. At the end, he vows to burn his books, and walks upstage to hell with a quiet, determined acceptance of his fate. The pact with the devil is brilliantly done.
Emma Pallant – a super Beatrice on tour a couple of years ago – is an equally intense Mephistophilis - “Why this is hell ...” chillingly done. A very youthful Lucifer from Alex Boxall, and Jennifer Jackson completing the cast. They are also, inter alia, Valdes and Cornelius, and, tellingly, the students in the final scene.
Improvised music helps the ambience, and the Original Pronunciation [Ben and David Crystal] brings extra energy to the relentless rhythm of the lines.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Writtle Cards at the Village Hall

Another appointment at Miss Truvy's Louisiana beauty shop, nicely tricked out in Writtle Cards' production, with a credible logo, beauty paraphernalia courtesy of Mack Hairdressers, and pink gingham tabards for the entire staff: Deb Sparshott's charming proprietress, a performance oozing period style, and new girl Annelle [Leila Francis] who loses her way and finds religion.
The Southern drawl was mostly very convincing, at least to a Limey ear; most successful were Truvy herself, and Louise Burtenshaw's sassy Shelby – one of the best I've seen, taking us with her on her emotional journey from her “blush and bashful” wedding through her rite of passage crop to her final exit.
She's absent, of course, from the closing scene – black clad, accessorized in pink – in which her distraught mother M'Lynn [a lovely performance from Sharon Goodwin] makes a heart-breaking big speech, movingly supported by the listening faces of the four ladies in the salon.
The one-liners are largely in the safe hands of Jean Speller's grumpy Ouiser and Paulette Harris's superb smart-mouthed recipe queen Clairee, resplendent in her Victoria-plum velours, harvesting the laughs with a knowing glance and a nifty inflection.
Slim Whitman and Jimmy Dean on Shelby's transistor radio, and Patsy Cline's That Wonderful Someone for the Chinquapin baptists. Steel Magnolias was produced by Daniel Curley, with Liz Curley in the director's chair.