Monday, July 21, 2014


Chichester Festival Theatre

Highlight of the Shaffer season, and grand opener for the renewed main house, a spectacular, starry Amadeus.
Marble floor, crystal chandeliers, and a baroque proscenium arch at the back acting as a sort of light box for inner scenes – it looks wonderful. The performances, by comparison, sometimes seem a little underpowered, though Jonathan Church's stylish production is never less than engaging.
Rupert Everett's saturnine Salieri – dry, academic but driven by ambition – morphs brilliantly from deathbed to heyday in an instant, raven wig on, cloak off, scoffing Italian sweetmeats and moving smoothly through the impeccably realised Viennese court. And, memorably, delivering his last lines tied to a post in a strait-jacket.

Joshua McGuire is a slightly faded, puffy, powdered epicene Amadeus, with Jessie Buckley impressive as his young wife – her mad scene especially effective.
Among the huge supporting cast, Simon Jones as the Emperor, and Chichester stalwart John Standing as Orsini-Rosenberg.

A champagne aperitif to a season which will also bring us two smash-hit musicals [Guys and Dolls and Gypsy], An Ideal Husband with Pat Routledge, and 101 Dalmatians for Christmas.

Simon Higlet's set design

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Chichester Festival Theatre at the Minerva

Peter Shaffer's ingenious farce first saw the dark of day at Chichester, and was originally commissioned as a companion piece to the Strindberg.
They make strange bedfellows, despite tangential resemblances: they both begin in absolute darkness [no running man exit lights, even], matches are struck, a steel razor is used – once as a simile, once as a means of suicide [as also in Amadeus next door].
The superb set [Andrew D Edwards] for Miss Julie has a long table at the centre of the vast kitchen – an iron stove, a high window.
Jamie Glover's fine production uses a new version by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, which makes the dialogue seem as fresh and real as Downton, but with more depth and sincerity.

Excellent performances, too, especially from Shaun Evans as the articulate, intelligent manservant, whose Lawrentian relationship with the young mistress – Rosalie Craig – is thrillingly played out in the intimacy of the Minerva. She is feral, flaky, a “peasant at heart”, but fatally indecisive. Emma Handy is the busy servant Kristin, standing erect and still in adversity, never losing her dignity, always knowing her place.

A complete set change for the Shaffer – a sculptor's pad in the 60s, with the only good furniture “borrowed” from the connoisseur next door.
Some shared casting, though. Craig is the ex set on revenge. Evans, less successfully, is the camp neighbour. [created by Albert Finney, with Ian McKellen in the revival]. I felt that this performance – perfectly adequate, but looking and sounding far too similar to his Jean, took something from the masterful characterization before the interval.
Elsewhere, wonderfully stylish farce from Paul Ready as the nervous Brindsley, Robyn Addison as his idiot deb girlfriend, Jonathan Coy as her bufferish dad – memorable business with the rocking chair – and Marcia Warren as the teetotal spinster neighbour, downing spirits in the dark.
The set pieces and the physical comedy are perfectly executed, especially the steep staircase and the inevitable trapdoor.
In the matinée we saw, the gremlins wanted to make the already unlikely plot even more bizarre - the telephone cord was severed, and a loud report towards the end could well have been the Colonel's service revolver ...

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Groundlings Theatre Company at the Rose, Bankside

Praetorius on the soundtrack, and the Rose's already limited acting space half-filled with battered trunks and suitcases. Who was F J G GILL, and what would he think to see his luggage gracing the ancient boards of Bankside's earliest playhouse ? The boxes and the other baggage are creatively used here, setting scenes and concealing characters.
The Groundlings are based in Portsmouth – they offer training as well as producing their own shows. This pocket-sized comedy was first seen in their own heritage theatre near Gunwharf Quays. Six actors, eighty minutes, and a hectic canter through the comedy from the sea voyage to the farcical finale, where audience members are pressed into performing as the alter egos of Antipholus and his “man” Dromio.
Richard Stride's production has many happy moments amongst the box shifting: Mark Flynn's callow Antipholus doting on Emma Uden's bespectacled, russet-haired Luciana, the Dromios farting at the door, and the puppets-in-a-box for the Abbess and Egeon [Stuart Frank, who also gives us a memorable courtesan, and Oliver Gyani who makes a nicely anxious Goldsmith and an imposing Dr Pinch, with his phial sloshing ominously]. Anna Mallard, with huge hair, paces impatiently and speaks the verse impeccably.
Poor old Dromio bears the brunt of the mistaken identities as man and master “wander in illusion”. He's played in a green roly-poly suit by Helen Oakleigh – an excellent match, you'd think, for the greasy kitchen wench. Bags of energy, if too much on the same note for my taste.
This is reduced Shakespeare, of course, and works well in this largely traditional take, with its Elizabethan costumes and period music. The wordy dénouement could perhaps have been trimmed further, bringing us a little earlier to the lively jig.

The Comedy of Errors plays until July 27, in tandem with the Groundlings' Henry V: Oakleigh directs this time, with Stride as the hero of Agincourt.


at the Noel Coward Theatre

Too much Shakespeare ? Too much love ? Lee Hall's light-touch reworking of the original Stoppard/Norman screenplay gets the balance about right, with plenty of sly references to the Bard and his works, but a strong [and vaguely Shakespearean] romantic intrigue between young Will and the tomboy Viola de Lesseps [Lucy Briggs-Owen].
The setting [Nick Ormerod] is heavy wooden galleries, based loosely on Henslowe's Rose. Three levels, a wooden stage floor, and a mobile central section which lets us shift in an instant from backstage to front of house, from bedroom to bawdyhouse.
Some moments work very well: the opening writer's block [“Shall I compare thee to a … mummers' play”], or Kit Marlowe [David Oakes] prompting the amorous Will [Tom Bateman] like Cyrano from the shadows beneath the balcony. Our conviction that Marlowe was the genius behind the Stratford man is gently nurtured throughout.
In Declan Donnellan's warm-hearted production there's much music, perhaps too heavily amplified – especially that strident alto – witty dialogue and courtly dancing [sometimes simultaneously], cross-dressing, a trap-door, a delightful dog and some superb performances from the huge company: Alistair Petrie's blustering Wessex, Anna Carteret's virgin Queen, David Ganly's “pedlar of bombast” Burbage [of Blessed memory], Abigail McKern's Nurse and Paul Chahidi's harassed Henslowe.
Everyone's favourite moments from the film are preserved, of course – the boatman [Thomas Padden] and young Webster [Colin Ryan] his role much enhanced here.

The ending, with the stage of the Curtain expanded to fill the space, is magical, as the doomed love story, and Shakespeare's writing career, are ingeniously entwined.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


Brentwood Arts Festival at Brentwood International Centre

Karl Jenkins' popular and accessible Mass for Peace made a perfect ending to Brentwood Arts Festival's commemoration of the Great War.
Rain on the roof, thunder overhead, and massed choirs behind the Brentwood Symphony Orchestra; it was a stirring occasion. Commissioned by the Royal Armouries for the Millennium, the work begins with distant trumpet and drums, explores mankind's destructive obsession with war using a variety of texts from many ages and diverse cultures and ends with an optimistic vision of peace from Revelation.
In the less than ideal acoustic of the Brentwood Centre's vast hall, Dryden's “thundering drum” fared particularly well, as did the more contemplative orchestral moments from solo cello, and the trumpeter's Last Post, following a great roar from the chorus, and preceding the moving “Angry Flames”. The massed choirs, too, made a splendid sound, in the rhythmic Sanctus, say, or the expansive [could be Korngold] Kipling setting. And the Brentwood Songsters Children's Choir, made its mark with Torches, from the Mahabharata.
The solo singers – no fewer than four in this performance – fared less well, and often struggled to reach the back of the audience. Mezzo Susan Marrs had a lovely moment, though, in “Silent, so silent now” from Guy Wilson's Now The Guns Have Stopped.
The massed choirs – Hutton and Shenfield Choral Society, Brentwood Choral Society, Howard Wallace Chorale, Bra-Vissima, Times and Seasons, Brentwood Songsters – and the augmented orchestra – Brentwood Philharmonic and Phoenix Youth Orchestra – were conducted by Tim Hooper.

An impressive curtain-raiser from the Royal British Legion Youth Band, who took us from Teddy Bears to Va Pensiero, and ended with a Great Wars Singalong and a patriotic medley.