Monday, September 22, 2014


Squint at Charing Cross Theatre

How do we choose to consume the news ? This timely piece suggests some answers, raises many questions and keeps its audience intrigued for a tense 90 minutes.

We theatricalise the state of our mediatised lives ...” There are moments near the beginning, when News Editor Neil is getting a Twitter roasting, when it looks as though the tone might be as clunky and didactic as that unfairly decontextualised soundbite from author/director Andrew Whyment. #literally. But dramatic instincts kick in, and the intriguing structure of the story carries the “debate-sparker” effortlessly to its gripping conclusion.

It's a play for the now generation, most likely to set its news agenda by what is trending. Whyment, and his company Squint, working with young playwrights and a young cast in “topical, contemporary ensemble-driven theatre”.

The visual style is familiar. Is Curious Incident a sub-genre now, like French Farce ? In the narrow perspective of the Charing Cross, a harshly-lit rectangular acting area is surrounded on three sides by seats for the actors, with a rack of costumes just visible. Roadie cases stand in for much of the furniture. Physical set-pieces include planes, trains and the tube; there's a newsroom ballet, another with suitcases, even pretty much a production number with umbrellas [“Bad Moon Rising”].

Difficult to discuss the plot development without giving away too many twists. #spoilers. It involves three soldiers, missing in Helmand, an unnamed “Royal Prince”, a clearly named Australian media mogul arriving in the UK to bid for the News of the World, a scoop born on Twitter, a fictional tv newsroom and an audacious show-and-tell revenge. Central to all this is Jamie, the squaddie's naïve but canny younger brother, brilliantly played by Cole Edwards. Far from being condemned to the regulation fifteen minutes of Facebook fame, he turns out to be the future, too …

There is clever cutting between the two plot-lines: a nice five minutes of confusion on the airport concourse where Sam Jenkins-Shaw, playing two characters decades apart, is hassled by Jamie and unwittingly takes Rupert's luggage. And the young story-teller heading on BOAC to Fleet Street tells a nervous Mary about a plane-crash as the transparent fish-tank NSC studio goes into meltdown. Our credulity is tested from time to time – the sister of another soldier has no access to news for three days [no broadband] – but the frozen moment of live television is a triumph of meaningful theatricality.

Palpable energy from the ensemble of eight as the plot unravels, priorities are changed, damage is controlled. Tom Gordon is Neil, most hated man in Britain, and Kevin Phelan compelling as “Red”, arriving in 60s Britain with a mission to change the way the news is delivered.

Long Story Short makes no judgements about the changes the years between have brought. Should we be grateful or fearful that the news is consumer-driven, that the fast always beats the slow, that the preferred medium of the future is the blogosphere, seemingly unaware of the difference between reality tv and real events ? A democracy of dunces ? #public interest

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

THINGS TO COME - JUMP and you’ll get there

JUMP and you’ll get there
15th-18th October 2014 in Chelmsford Cathedral

A new play by Alison Woollard to celebrate the centenary of Chelmsford Cathedral and Diocese

Composer and lyricist, Katie Miller

JUMP tells the story of the hundred years since the Diocese of the Chelmsford was created and St Mary’s, at the top of the High Street, became its Cathedral.

Music, song and drama show how the clergy and congregation responded to the challenges which faced them in serving the population of Essex and east London and turning a parish church into a Cathedral.

Why was a new diocese needed ? How was St Mary’s chosen as the cathedral ? Over a hundred years huge changes face the people who work and worship there: two world wars, the needs of London over the Border, the education of young people, the role of women and the use of the Cathedral itself.

Our title comes from the Rt Rev Henry Wilson who was bishop during World War Two. They sum up the courage and the optimism of all the people whose efforts created the Diocese and Cathedral.

A cast of over 30 comes from the Cathedral, local drama groups and the Cathedral School.

Jump and you’ll get there - 15th-18th October 2014
in Chelmsford Cathedral

Wed-Fri 7.30pm, Sat 7.00pm

Tickets £12 (£6 for under 18s)
Available from  01245 256042  -  6.30pm-8.30pm

Booking is now open - because of the unique performance space the director has chosen within the Cathedral, only 100 seats are available for each performance.
More details on the Cathedral's website

Picture shows Helen Clothier and Esme Hillier, two of the "Women of Chelmsford" in one of the musical numbers from the show.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


at St John Baptist, Danbury

An intriguingly eclectic programme for the keynote concert of this year's Festival, the fourth celebrating the work of this 20th Century Essex composer.
The central work is Armstrong Gibbs String Quartet in G Minor, known as Kenilworth. It dates from his wartime exile in the Lakes, and has a very English feel, especially in the folk-inspired Vivace. Echoes of Elgar in the Lento, shades of RVW in the finale, where the Maestoso theme is re-stated. Played with passion and insight by Robert Atchison and David Jones from the London Piano Trio [the go-to-guys for Gibbs chamber works], with Jacqueline Hartley, violin, and Bill Hawkes, viola.
The programme ended with an energetic reading of Dvorak's much-loved Second Piano Quintet [Olga Dudnik at the piano], but it began with something much more arcane – 1919, by Ryuichi Sakamoto: six movements from his album 1996, for Piano Trio. Pretty certain I wasn't alone in not knowing what to expect. Turned out to be very enjoyable versions of his melodious movie minimalist hits, including Oscar-winning Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, Rain, from The Last Emperor, and The Sheltering Sky, with haunting romantic lines for the strings.
This year's Festival has also featured Tea With Dr Gibbs [with soprano and pianoforte], a new eco-opera for children, a book launch and a Flute and Piano recital by Kia Bennett and Tim Carey, including a Suite by Armstrong Gibbs, two of his piano postcards from the Lake District, and a substantial sonata by the “English Rachmaninov”, Gibbs' contemporary Edwin York Bowen.

Two years to wait for the next Festival in Danbury, but you can hear Tim and Kia's programme again this Friday, 26 September, in a lunchtime concert at St Thomas, Brentwood.


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at The Old Court

Conor McPherson's bleak apocalyptic drama owes nothing to Hitchcock, and precious little to Du Maurier.
Diane, a writer, is holed up in a derelict cottage near the sea with a man. Each tide brings deadly waves of predatory birds. Civilization has ceased – think Day of the Triffids – with pockets of scavenging survivors battling to stay alive. A fugitive girl joins them, upsets the precarious balance, finds the diary to which the writer confides her thoughts.
McPherson has little gift for character, or for dialogue. The scenes are often short, punctuated by the tides and the birds.
Mike Nower, in the final production of his fine body of work for CTW, has included a prologue, in which researchers from the future explore the cottage and find the diary. And added visual representations of the gulls, crows, whatever, in descending order of effectiveness, as shadowy forms on the auditorium walls, as film, as endlessly revolving projections. They're much more menacing when they're unseen, attacking the boarded windows, flapping and fluttering around the shutters.
Nower has assembled an experienced company, not least Robin Winder in a nice cameo as the mysterious neighbour. Strong performances from Sara Nower and Greg Whitehead as the “couple”, barely communicating as they live in their own worlds, and from Kat Hempstead as fierce, vulnerable Julia.
The set is excellent – solid and convincing, wouldn't look out of place on a professional tour. The house is lit by candles, an open fire and pocket lamps. There's one very successful candlelit scene at the table; elsewhere contours and character tend to be lost in a flat, warm wash.
An interesting, if only patchily successful, take on a classic chiller to start the new season at The Old Court. Next at CTW, for Halloween, The Haunting of Hill House.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


at the Audrey Longman Studio, Brentwood Theatre

Everyone enjoys hearing tales out of school – from Greyfriars to Grange Hill, not to mention those all-seeing flies on the classroom wall.
Terry Burns' terrific one-man show has an impressively authentic ring. It follows naïve NQT Michael England, thrown in at the deep end trying to teach English to Year 11 Set 5 in “Landfill” Comprehensive.
The characters we meet are inspired by real-life staff and students from Burns' own time at the chalk-face.
In a brilliant tour-de-force, he takes us to Cougher's Corner, where colleagues share banter and a break-time fag. Key players in the story are John Cooper, the loud-mouthed bully who's Michael's mentor, shy Simone, who reads Yeats and idolizes her teacher, Wayne, rapper, boxer and troublemaker, and Parveet, troubled poet and class swot, who, like Posner in History Boys, sits at the back and takes notes, and whose rise to literary fame gives the piece its shape. There's even time to meet Michael's middle-class parents.
These very recognizable characters are beautifully realised in Clara Onyemere's economical production – Cooper, addicted to pickled eggs, is genuinely scary, appallingly unpleasant. Simone is touchingly emotional, Wayne is revealed as much more than his dickhead reputation – his rap is a highlight of the show.
Perhaps the “no smoke without fire” crisis is predictable, and plays out slightly improbably, but by that time we're so involved with mild-mannered Mr England and his inner-city class of “muppets” that we're more than happy to go along with it. Many questions are left unanswered, loose ends untied, but the dénouement, when it comes, is both unexpected and profoundly moving.