Sunday, November 29, 2015


Writtle Cards in the Village Hall

Among this year's festive invitations: The Nutcracker on Ice, and The Sword in the Stone reworked as a rock'n'roll panto. But nothing quite so outrageous as this – fictitious – entertainment on offer in Writtle.
Times are hard for Little Grimley Amateur Dramatic Society. Their ranks are thinning, talent is in short supply and audiences seem to prefer to spend their Saturday nights in front of the box. Hence these desperate measures. A sex panto – though I think Jim Davidson got there first with his smutty Sinderella – and a monstrous mash-up of talent shows off the telly.
The first play – Last Panto in Little Grimley – sees members of the group debating, very amusingly, the way forward. Four lovely performances here: Jean Speller as the hapless Joyce, Paulette Harris as the overbearing Margaret, Daniel Curley as the “ape man” stage manager and Nick Caton, loudly booed by the audience, as the ruthless director. The wonky word-processor gag seems lame, but there were many hilarious moments, not least the very recognizable round of “diary bingo”.
There may be trouble ahead” warns Nat King Cole at the start of the second piece. Same characters, but renamed, recast and relocated to Writtle. From the subs bench we have Beth Crozier being overbearing, and new signing Marge Naylor as Joy, compelled to perform on roller skates, just like they never did in Cats. Jim Crozier is the autocratic dictator this time – a fine oratorical monologue – and, getting lots of laughs as the lad Barry, Chris Rogerson, wisely creating a character as far removed as possible from the consummate comedy of Mr Curley, whose use of a banana was a masterclass in hilarity. The choreographed scene changes work well, and I love the inflatable Tonioli on the judging panel.
Post-match stats – number of prompts – something of a hostage to fortune, perhaps, as is the cutting criticism of Simon Dupont, reviewer for another paper, who pens the kind of poisonous piece I shall write just before I retire ...
It's not Noises Off, or The Play That Goes Wrong, or even the Farndale Ladies. But it is a wickedly well observed look behind the amdram scenes, slickly directed by Liz Curley, and a great hit with the packed house in the Village Hall.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


National Theatre at the Lyttleton

A new play by Caryl Churchill. Brief, even for a one-act offering. Tripartite. First, the “funeral party for a man with an adventurous past” - drinking champagne in hospital is mentioned.
Mourners stand around awkwardly, wine-glass in hand, making small talk interspersed with intimations of their own mortality – or pithy autopsies – and recollections of the departed. Rarely is a sentence finished, but instead of a naturalistic blending or overlapping, each speaker seems to apply the brakes – a disconcerting effect.
Then a masterly monologue by the dead man – a disembodied torso in the darkness – a confusion of ideas about the [possibly overpopulated] afterlife: Chiron, Valhalla, Purgatory. A powerful performance from Patrick Godfrey. 

Then an extended image – Godfrey again, with a patient Hazel Holder – perhaps of end-of-life futility, or perhaps eternal damnation, echoing Marlowe's Faustus -  “Why this is hellnor am I out of it.”
Too much of an eternity for some, exiting early through the Lyttleton doors before the final fade to black.
Dominic Cooke's uncomplicated direction lets Churchill speak, though I'm not sure what she's getting at in this black triptych.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Mercury Theatre 
2016 Spring/Summer season

Sixty different productions in five months, including of course Made in Colchester, produced on-site. 
End of the Rainbow, starting its tour at the Mercury in February , stars Lisa Maxwell as Judy Garland , directed by Mercury Theatre Artistic Director Daniel Buckroyd. 
Then the regional première, with Buckroyd at the helm again, of Bruce Norris’s comedy drama Clybourne Park, a razor-sharp satire lifting the lid on race and real estate in a fictional Chicago neighbourhood.
Concluding the Made in Colchester Spring/Summer season, in a very different world, Noël Coward’s classic comedy Private Lives. 
Daniel Buckroyd, Artistic Director of the Mercury Theatre said:
“We’re excited to be producing three acclaimed and very different dramas at the heart of our new season – a ferocious, funny and fascinating look at the last few months of Judy Garland’s turbulent life; a delicious dark comedy about who we’re prepared to have as our neighbours, and a classic comedy of marital manners.”

The Mercury's intimate studio space is almost unrecognisable after its re-fit, and there's plenty to look forward to there -  including the National Theatre Connections Festival, and Flute Theatre's Hamlet, Who's There - a claustrophobic drama that compresses the traumatic events of the play into a single continuous night.
Daniel Buckroyd, Artistic Director of the Mercury Theatre said:
“We’re proud to be a host venue for the 21st anniversary season of the National Theatre’s Connections Festival, and to have a full programme of more intimate, adventurous and original work on offer in our newly refurbished Studio Theatre – some of the most exciting new work is now playing and being created here in Colchester.” 

And of course there are visiting productions to keep us entertained: the Flare Path tour [a WWII drama from the Birdsong stable], a Strictly spin-off with Ian Waite and Natalie Lowe, Simon Callow as Orson Welles, Tasmin Little, Mark Steel, flamenco and Anne Reid.

for more information, or to book: 
01206 573948. 

Monday, November 23, 2015



Writtle Singers at All Saints Church

The title for this concert – and the first words we heard sung – is from Ursula Vaughan William's Hymn to St Cecilia, set by Herbert Howells. The hymn seemed ideally suited to the chamber choir, as was the same composer's Like As The Hart – a beautifully balanced sound.
November 22 is St Cecilia's Day – we heard the Britten/Auden Hymn here a couple of Novembers ago – and also the date of the first performance of Howells' “Take him, Earth, for cherishing”, a piece commissioned for the memorial service for John F Kennedy, assassinated exactly twelve months earlier. A dignified, deeply felt, expression of grief and loss, confidently tackled by the a cappella choir, augmented by the organist for the evening, Jonathan Dods, who gave us an agile Dialogue by Peter Hurford, as well as Howells' Master Tallis's Testament, a series of variations which grow in complexity and intensity, brilliantly performed on this modest instrument.
For the final work director Christine Gwynn chose Norman Caplin's Missa Omnium Sanctorum, a mass, lively and reverential by turns, written for All Saints' Margaret Street, with plenty of opportunity for solos and duets.
As ever, Writtle Singers excelled in celebration of the serendipitous and the lesser known, knowledgeably introduced and convincingly performed.

photograph of All Saints' St Margaret's Street by David Nicholls

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Essex Symphony Orchestra at Christ Church Chelmsford

Second symphonic Siegfried Idyll in less than a week. Last Sunday, the BBC Concert Orchestra, and this Saturday the Essex Symphony under Tom Hammond. Lovely sound from the strings here – the winds somewhat exposed on the back row, but all blending to excellent emotional effect in the climactic moments.
Wagner wrote his intimate original for his wife's birthday; he was a great admirer of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony - “[it] carries us away with bacchanalian power through the roomy space of nature” he wrote. Performed by the ESO, leader Philippa Barton, with splendid attack and rhythmic drive. Even the Allegretto second movement – theme from The King's Speech – was infused with energy, not just a solemn dirge. The Allegro Con Brio finale, too, sustained its impetus till the last triumphant bars.
Emma Hanlan was the soloist in Nielsen's Flute Concerto. A suitably spiky, forthright approach from the orchestra, the soloist audaciously holding her own in free-flowing conversations with clarinet and other soloists – including trombone and timpani ! Her approach was teasing and enigmatic, her tone beautifully crafted throughout the range.

This was the first concert in the ESO's new season. Coming up later, Saint-Saens' Organ Symphony in Chelmsford Cathedral, and Mozart's exquisite Sinfonia Concertante next July.