Friday, November 21, 2014


Little Baddow Drama Club
at the Memorial Hall

This Gothic comedy was penned back in '77 by Jack Sharkey, onetime jokes editor of Playboy.
Dreadful is a relative term”, and his often clever spoof of the Transylvanian genre has many witty touches, and is amusingly self-referential. But it runs out of comedy steam a little towards the end, as the characters sit around listening to explanations of what's been afoot.
Director Kenton Church [who also dresses up to play the various Shtunken brothers] has assembled an excellent cast, including some stalwarts and several new faces. The range of accents is breathtaking. We're in the Carpathians, I think, but there are Americans, including the daughter of the Home Counties Baroness and her Mad Scientist spouse.
The piece really needs brazen, bold performances, and some actors achieve this better than others here. Peter White is excellent as the deformed Mord, as is Sylvia Lanz as the prim Teutonic housekeeper, knocking back tots of schnapps.
John Peregrine is the mysterious von Blitzen, with Rita Ronn as an imposing grande dame [beautifully turned out, as are many of the women characters]. The youthful US contingent is well handled by Sarah Trippett-Jones, Heather Lucas and James Oakley.
The sound effects [phonograph horns high on the castle walls] are brilliantly done in the manner of steam radio, and the set, with its tiny fenestrals affording a glimpse of figures on the stairs, magically makes this tiny stage into a cavernous baronial hall.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


at the Savoy Theatre

This is a show that can't be accused of taking itself too seriously. And the audience approach it in the same spirit of old-fashioned fun.
First seen on Broadway ten years ago, and based on a Michael Caine movie from the Eighties, it's done as a traditional Musical Comedy, with glamour, gags, and proper chorus boys.

The company is seriously boosted by the arrival in the cast of seasoned troopers Gary Wilmot and Bonnie Langford – their work together is exemplary, and their Like Zis/Like Zat duet in Act Two is one of the best things in the show.
Alex Gaumond now plays Freddy, the slob to the suave Lawrence of Robert Lindsay, who survives from the original cast. Mr Lindsay enjoys sending himself up, undermining his glamour and charm, exchanging banter with the MD Richard and knowing glances with someone in Row E. He channels Henry Higgins, Leslie Philips, and in more reflective moments Michael Aldridge, whom he increasingly grows to resemble.

The design is Riviera Deco, with scenery flying out and sliding in, and the frocks are a delight, too. Less sophisticated is the writing – if the plot pits crass against classy, the former certainly wins out in the words. Just when All About Ruprecht looks set to rival Coward, Freddy's milkshake enema sours the tone. Ah well. The production numbers are impressive – tumbleweed for Oklahoma, and Katherine Kingsley [excellent work as Christine Colgate, the Soap Queen] can make Nothing Is Too Wonderful To Be True, a trite, forgettable ballad, sound like vintage Porter.

A good night out, just the thing for the office Christmas outing, unsubtle escapist nonsense in the sophisticated surroundings of the Savoy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


in Folk Song and Prose
at Brentwood Theatre

I've been listening to In Flanders Fields, the album from Coope Boyes and Simpson, so I was keen to hear another traditional music take on the Great War, presented by folk musicians from clubs across the South East, produced by Chris and Linda Paish, and narrated by Jan Ayres.
Some pieces in common, of course, Living It Up, and that musical hall classic Oh It's A Lovely War.
Poems from Owen and Sassoon, Kipling and Duffy, and songs the Tommies knew, as well as some original material: Thirteen Florins, a splendid, heartfelt new piece, written and sung by Mike Sparks, about Suffolk farm workers who enlisted after the harvest, leaving money behind the bar of the pub against the day they returned; a lovely setting of Vera Brittain's Perhaps for two unaccompanied voices, and Old Men Sing Love Songs, inspired by George Butterworth, whose Banks of Green Willow we heard sung very much as he would have first heard it in Edwardian Billingshurst.
It's a shame that this worthwhile charity event was let down by poor presentation. Folk clubs, I know, are relaxed, informal places; eye contact with the “audience” is carefully avoided. But this was a theatrical entertainment – the performers in the spotlight, us in darkness. Seeing all the musicians sitting in a semi-circle, staring down at their folders, looking at their watches, did not create a good atmosphere - unlike the cans of Maconochie's, the jars of Tickler's, which, with the poppies, successfully evoked the period. A good idea not to have applause between the items, but leaving a hesitant pause instead killed any mood that might have been created. And too many performers, readers especially, were simply not up to the task.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.
Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to Christmas songs again,
Although You cannot hear.'  
But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014


at Chelmsford Cathedral

It's one of the greatest works of Western sacred music. But we can't be sure why Monteverdi wrote it, or where, or for whom. Did he intend it to be performed as published ? With what forces, in what context ?
This intriguing uncertainty has given musicians creative freedom to interpret this monumental setting; James Davy's performance with the Chelmsford Singers, his Cathedral choir, a first-rate roster of soloists and a superb period band, effectively blended the devotional and the dramatic.
Every corner of the Cathedral was explored, it seemed, with the capacity audience in two facing blocks along the nave. A spectacular opening, with the choristers before the altar opposite the massed choirs at the West End. Exquisitely sung solos from the ambos for The Song of Songs; duet, trio and ensemble dictated by Duo, Tres and Omnes, choristers for the Sonata, trebles for the decorated, divided Gloria in the surround-sound climax of the Magnificat. And the echo in Audi Coelum drifting down from the quaint gothic balcony over the South Door.
The choral sound was superbly shaped, with some luscious harmonies, illuminated by the brass and rounded by the architecture. The six soloists were all the more effective for being mobile and close to their audience: the intimate Nigra Sum, the sombre, subdued Deposuit.
Canzona, with their director Theresa Caudle on violin and cornett, gave colourful, often virtuosic support to the vocal forces.

More than 100 performers were involved in this memorable occasion – it is a measure of their success that our applause persisted until the very last of them had left the nave.


Young Gen at the Civic Theatre

A stage packed with young performers, singing, from memory, and dancing too. The confidence and the discipline they showed are a clue to the continuing success of CYGAMS, now celebrating forty-five years entertaining Chelmsford audiences.
This varied concert party began with their first ever show, Oliver: Consider Yourself splendidly done with some great characterizations and a bonus tap routine, and the showcase ended with a rousing One Day More. All directed by Jimmy Hooper, with choreography by Helen Millwood and Bryan Cass in charge of the music.
Opportunities to shine, and to gain invaluable performance experience, for members both seasoned and tyro. Often, as in the lovely arrangement of Over the Rainbow, roles were shared. Too many highlights to list, but standout work in the quartet for Somewhere, the cleverly staged “Loathing” from Wicked, both numbers from Miss Saigon, the massed forces for Seasons of Love.
Many challenges, too – not every number is easy to sell without the context of its show – none greater than the poetry and the complex scoring of Cats. Macavity and Memory both nicely done here, a foretaste of Young Gen's staging of the show in the Cramphorn next April. Already selling fast, I hear …

the image shows some of the cast in rehearsal