Wednesday, November 22, 2017

LES MISÉRABLES

LES MISÉRABLES

BOSSY at Brentwood Theatre

21.11.17

A huge challenge to fit Victor Hugo’s epic onto the tiny Brentwood stage. BOSSY, who have been here before, wisely choose to emphasise the human stories rather than the wider picture.
The barricades [anyone for tennis?] are effective, with smoke and flashing lights from the battle beyond. Good work from the student militants here, and in the stillness of Drink With Me, the ante-bellum atmosphere poignantly suggested. Huge commitment from the ensemble for At the End of the Day, and the wedding ball looked good too – lovely gowns and convincing choreography. The ending makes a real impact: the simple tableau of Valjean’s death, with the newly-weds seated in front, before the company join in one last anthem, the youngest revolutionary up aloft, desperately waving the red flag of freedom.
Props and costumes vary in their impact – the map of Paris was excellent, the red tablecloth under it somewhat too small. The gates to Valjean’s garden on the rue Plumet, as so often, prove problematical, but once they are in place, there are some fine stage pictures for the operatic quartet and trio.
An excellent cast this time out, with some fine voices, despite the relative youth of these performers. Sam Harper makes a compelling Valjean, wonderfully sung with real emotional impact – Bring Him Home predictably moving. Joe Folley is Javert; a portrait of a man obsessed, with every word carefully shaped. He even convinces us that he is staring into the abyss before his final descent into the Seine.
Katherine Dodds plays Cosette, working well with her imposing Marius [Dan Pugh]. I might have liked a less introspective Empty Chairs – the phantom faces behind, strikingly lit, should not capture all our attention. Jodie Tarrant is the tragic Fantine, giving us a well-phrased I Dreamed a Dream, though it was a shame her eyes were obscured by her hat and the lighting. A superb Eponine from Tia Stack – one of the best On My Own I’ve seen, simply staged but with 100% emotional investment. As student leader Enjolras Jamie Wilson is in fine voice, and gives a captivating depiction of youthful idealism.
Enjoyable comic relief from the Thenardiers [Rosie Griffiths as the nasty Madame, Lady Macbeth to Michael Percival’s coarse, well-sung Monsieur]. Two nice little dance numbers for them, before each is dumped to the floor.
And Sam Johnson makes a great Gavroche – more Artful Dodger than innocent Oliver – a cocky young urchin engaging with his audience and making the most of his dramatic role in the uprising, even in his violent death, left largely to the imagination.

Not the ideal venue for the musical theatre MD, but Cathy Edkins provides solid support for her young singers, mostly on keyboards, though oboe and trombone are also prominent. Les Misérables is directed by Gaynor Wilson, bringing the familiar story to life, and encouraging some fine performances from soloists and ensemble.

Monday, November 20, 2017

THINGS TO COME – CHELMSFORD BALLET COMPANY’S SNOW QUEEN








THINGS TO COME CHELMSFORD BALLET COMPANY’S SNOW QUEEN

Chelmsford City of Culture ?
One of the strongest recommendations, surely, would be that rare thing, an amateur ballet company performing regularly to the highest of standards.
Chelmsford Ballet Company has been established in the City for almost seventy years, and for 2018, they’ll be following up their successful Alice with a classical piece, Snow Queen, from 21st to 24th of March.
We’re promised glitter, sparkle, gorgeous costumes and music by Alexander Glazunov, who arranged Chopin’s piano works for Les Sylphides.
The story is based on Hans Anderson’s fairytale, a battle between good and evil as Gerda seeks to break the cruel spell cast by the evil Snow Queen; her adventures take her on a thrilling journey north through enchanted forests, encountering fantastical beasts and a colourful band of gypsies. She must find the Snow Queen’s Palace of Ice, rescue Kay, and break the curse of Eternal Winter. This production is choreographed by CBC’s Artistic Director Annette Potter.
Tickets for Snow Queen are now on sale – book at the Civic Theatre, by phone [ 01245 606505] or online - www.chelmsford.gov.uk/theatres/  

photograph by Andrew Potter: Samantha Ellis as the Snow Queen

Sunday, November 19, 2017

THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS

THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS

The Waltham Singers at Chelmsford Cathedral
18.11.17

This is the best of me,” - words of Ruskin quoted by Elgar at the end of the manuscript. Andrew Fardell and the Waltham Singers made a strong case in support of this assessment.
It is a great work, both in its conception and in the forces required.
As in their Lenten concert earlier this year, the instrumental accompaniment was provided by Ensemble Orquesta.
From the Prelude, with its fortissimo climaxes, it was clear that Elgar’s vision of the soul’s journey to the afterlife was in safe hands.
The first entry of the choir – as the Assistants, the friends who pray with him at the last – was beautifully judged. The women [the Angelicals] sang the contemplative passages to great effect - “O Generous Love”. And the final prayers of those left behind “Spare him, Lord” were movingly done. But they could not hope to replicate the huge choral societies that Elgar had in mind, and the “sullen howl” of the Demons struggled to make much impact against the thundering brass and percussion.
Jeremy White’s bass brought gravitas to the Priest and the repeated exhortations of the Angel of the Agony. Rebecca Afonwy-Jones’s pure mezzo was perfect for the Angel; this was a truly uplifting performance – her phrasing of the Alleluia and the moving passage in which she speaks of the fleeting sight of the Almighty were wonderfully expressive. As Gerontius, Joshua Ellicott was superb, a committed, dramatic interpretation, with every word audible, his virile tenor cutting thrillingly through the chorus and the orchestra.

photograph by Martin Cuthbert

Thursday, November 16, 2017

LADIES IN LAVENDER

LADIES IN LAVENDER

Hutton Players at Brentwood Theatre
15.11.17

A charming period piece, with two juicy roles for the more mature actress, two stock characters, and two cyphers for the younger generation.
Hutton Players – directed here by Patrick Stevens – field a fine sextet. The Widdington sisters, set all a-flutter by one Andrea Marowski, the Angel, the Greek God, the Polish violinist washed up on their Cornish shore, are Kathy Smith and Lindsey Crutchett, the latter especially moving as long suppressed desires are rekindled, and sibling rivalry upsets their tranquil lives. The scene in which she finishes reading The Little Mermaid as Andrea sleeps on the floor is beautifully judged.
Ruddy cheeked, outspoken Dorcas, who enjoys making a fuss and baking, is given a lovely comic performance by June Fitzgerald, while the local doctor, widower and amateur fiddler, is confidently played by William Wells.
The “artistic visitor”, sketching the shoreline and helping Andrea launch his performing career, is Louise Bridgman – her subplot scene with Dr Mead excellently played - and the enigmatic shipwrecked Pole himself is Lewis Symes.
The set is a delight – Aunt Elizabeth’s counterpane, the azure seascape simply suggested, the pre-war wireless, inhabited by Vernon Keeble-Watson’s BBC announcer, doubtless dinner-jacketed. Only the garden gate jars – better left to the imagination, perhaps.

There is, of course, much music, including a little of Nigel Hess’s splendid score for the film. It might have been better to record the first extract especially [without piano], but the frozen, spotlit solos for Andrea are very effective. Even for the unlikely Toccata of his London début, the sisters listening in at home, dressed in their Sunday best.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

SOHO CINDERS

SOHO CINDERS
Springers at the Cramphorn Theatre
14.11.17

Soho’s Old Compton Street has a chequered, sleazy history. Nowadays it’s best known for its gay bars, the Admiral Duncan, and the Prince Edward Theatre.
It provides the setting, and the opening number, for this Stiles and Drewe musical, very loosely based on the Cinderella story.
A flat brick wall, with Ian Myers and his band just visible over the top, with the Glam Amour strip club in front, and the Sit and Spin launderette trucked on and off stage centre.
The pre-show sees the street peopled with a “promiscuous pot-pourri”: cops and joggers, tourists and Mormons. There’s a hen-do, too [my second this week].
Justin Clarke’s engaging production, with choreography by Kat McKeon, has many inspired touches: the Spin number, the slomo movement for Gypsies of the Ether, the circling paparazzi vultures, the excellent chorus work in Who’s That Boy.
Some impressive performances, too. Kieran Young is the young man who goes to the [political fundraising] ball, and loses not a slipper but a smartphone – a nicely nuanced approach, and lovely vocal work, in his Glass Slippers solo, for instance.
Catherine Gregory makes the most of Sidesaddle – her rickshaw becomes the Coach – while Gareth Locke relishes the sexist Campaign Manager [a cheer from the audience when he got his just deserts] to James Prince, the personable ex-swimmer who hopes to be elected as London’s next mayor. Ben Miller catches the angst of the ambitious man who’s desperate to play it straight. His fiancée, who suffers more than anyone when it all goes wrong, is Amy Serin; she has a moving duet with Velcro, “fag hag to the West End”, Robbie’s best mate and confidante, beautifully captured by Mae Pettigrew.
Favourites with the crowd, though, as often in the panto, are the Ugly Sisters – Sophie Lines and Becky Watts. Shameless, homophobic, greedy for profit and celebrity, they light up the stage every time they appear, and certainly deserve their Fifteen Minutes big number.
A lectern narration is not the best dramatic device – even when given by Stephen Fry – and often seemed redundant in a fully staged production. The lyrics and the dialogue do not always live up to the music; Hard to Tell a witty exception.
The show was warmly received [at the Soho Theatre, round the corner on Dean Street, and no bigger than the Cramphorn] in 2012, but it has yet to break through into the mainstream. So we should be grateful to Springers for this opportunity to enjoy this edgy alternative fairy tale.


production photograph: Aaron Crowe