Thursday, September 22, 2016


Trinity Methodist Music and Drama

Those intrepid Townswomen get their teeth into saucy French farce in their latest dramatic offering.
The hotel set boasts a Dansette and five doors, none of them working quite as it should. No French window, but a French maid called Fifi, and a cast of characters with ominously similar names.
The Farndale Ladies – and their one male member – have countless costume changes and false entrances, as they double and treble as wives, mistresses, friends, secretaries and the plumber's wife.
The confusion is complete, the plot as tangled as Minnie's knitting. So no surprise that it all got too much by the end, life imitating art; even the attentive prompt – Terrie Latimer – struggled to rescue the floundering actors.
Some priceless performances, notably Sue Bartle as Minnie [“Are we acting again?”] Robinson, physically superb as Roger, gamely struggling with the script, a last-minute substitution from wardrobe. Jenny Edler was scatty Felicity, Alison O'Malley the formidable Phoebe Reece, and Helen Wilson her sister Sylvia, cast as both Frank and Mary Carrott. Emma Byatt, an assured farceuse, also played a married couple, as well as a mistress. They all seemed adept at handling male parts, but their SM, Gordon [David Ehren], was pressed into service as a wonderfully wooden Barrett.
Much to enjoy in Tony Brett's production, from the invisible partition to the Cancan kickline finale. The surreal door sequence went very well, but the “this is my husband” routine could have been a little slicker. Many of the classic amdram pitfalls were featured: the garbled prompt, the nightmare drinks table, the wig and the moustache. And there was a memorable rendition of the Marseillaise, with spoons and washboard obbligato.
I hope that Brexit will not mean an end to their cross-channel ventures; I was sorry to have missed previous attempts, including the intriguing “Cave, girls, it's Fraulein Humperdinck”.

production photograph by Val Scott, who was also responsible for the amusingly authentic programme

Sunday, September 18, 2016



Renegades at Brentwood Theatre


Caryl Churchill's playlet from 1980 takes us into the bedroom with three couples, whose relationships are rocky, raw and toxic.
She writes two kinds of fight – one a restless, wordless desert, one a torrent of words, tumbling over one another, in the over-lapping dialogue for which she is famous, used for the first time in this early piece.
The triptych begins with the strongest element – Frank and Margaret, ten years wed, and launching late at night into the vicious war of words we imagine is not unusual.
Both actors are excellent at the rhythms of the recriminations – Sara Thompson entirely believable as the anguished, frustrated wife; Tim Murphy perhaps not quite menacing, or drunk, enough to give his wounding words full weight.
The Hammers programmes are cleared, the phone changed, and we're in another room, another bed for a different kind of dialogue of the deaf, where Richard Spong's subtly delineated Pete takes refuge in nerdy talk about movies as his depressed wife Dawn [Candy Lillywhite-Taylor] paints on scarlet lips and pathetically pleads for help.
The last scene has the immature film fan again, but this time shacking up with Margaret from scene one. But their ex's are never far away: “We talk about them a lot, say the same things over and over.” Jealousy, loneliness, unfocussed angst, a wonderfully effective emotionally-charged silence, and then the whole things fades in the middle of Pete's mansplaining Apocalypse Now.

An interesting early work, and well worth reviving, especially when it's done with this kind of artistry and attention to detail. Directed for The Renegades Theatre Co. by Lin Pollitt. Even if 50 minutes is little short for an evening's entertainment. 


Shakespeare's Globe at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse


Ending its short run in the Jacobean playhouse, John Wolfson's intriguing play is a welcome addition to the richly varied offer at this Bankside address.
In fact it began life here, years ago, as a rehearsed reading [with Sam West no less], before turning up on Radio 4.
We're promised “A Meeting of Caesar and Christ” - the Caesar in question, in AD33, is the notorious Tiberius. He's dying, and pins his hopes on an Eastern healer he's heard about. But too late – his man Pilate has already executed the miracle worker from Nazareth. If not historical, then this much is at least apocryphal. But there's no evidence that the ailing emperor ever made the journey to Judaea, or talked face to face with the risen Jesus.
Despite some uneven writing, it makes a thought-provoking play, the theology and the history leavened in Andy Jordan's simple, lively production with a good deal of humour, ranging from cerebral wit to crude anachronisms.
The Magi, now elderly but still following the Messiah whose birth they witnessed, have some of the best lines, Joseph Marcell's Caspar particularly good. Philip Cumbus owns the stage as a divinely decadent Caligula, and David Cardy is an engagingly down-to-earth astrologer.
The two men-gods at the philosophical heart of the play are Stephen Boxer's rambling, raging Tiberius, well contrasted with Samuel Collings's serene Jesus.
John the Evangelist – a strong presence from Matthew Romain is left to explain how some things are better left out of the history books...

production image: Marc Brenner

Monday, September 12, 2016



at the Anglo-European School Ingatestone


Viewers of the BBC's “All Together Now” will know how talented and keen our non-professional orchestras can be. The County's connoisseurs will be familiar with the work of the Essex Chamber Orchestra, established in 1979 to enable alumni of our youth orchestras to go on playing after the age of 21.
Now, its entry criteria are more liberal, but last weekend's concert saw many veterans from the early days, both in the orchestra and in the audience.
The programme was uplifting and hugely enjoyable: three popular works played with style by forces led by Suzanne Loze and conducted by Andrew Morley.
Tim Carey, a musician much in demand, was the soloist in Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto. Under Morley's alert, dynamic baton, the opening Allegretto was a cantabile conversation between piano and orchestra, with an expansive cadenza. The limpidly beautiful Largo was given an eloquent, expressive reading; after the jaunty Rondo, an Allegro which brought out the subtleties behind the catchy tune.
The concert began with Nielsen's Helios Overture, a piece which paints the progress of the sun across the Aegean sky. Starting with lower strings and horns, and achieving a wonderful brilliance at the zenith.
The final work was Dvorak's cheerful Eighth Symphony, played with energy and enthusiasm. A warm tone and positive phrasing in the opening Allegro, and after the naïve charms of the slow movement and the scherzo, a thrilling sprint finish.

photos [© ECHO] - the concerto in rehearsal and the packed Sunday evening audience.

Sunday, September 11, 2016



Mad Apple Collective at ACanteen

Threadneedle House, Ideas Hub, upstairs on Exchange Square [now Carluccio's loos] – Danny Segeth loves seeking out new and unusual performance spaces.
So here we are at A-Canteen, a vibrant bar-restaurant over the river from M&S, in the 21st century equivalent of the back room of the boozer. An ambient background of Friday night partying, occasional shadows passing over the frosted glass.
And, appropriately, the four short pieces on the menu all involve conversations over food and drink.
The last – winner of an open competition – is Duck Eggs, a grubby Ayckbournish comedy with a neat twist at the end. Strong characters from host couple Dav [Alex Phillips] and V [Esme Hollier], with the ill-at-ease, bickering visitors played by Stephanie Yorke-Edwards and Joe Kennedy – the latter a lovely study in uncomfortable outrage. Written by Luke Stapleton, and directed by Segeth himself.
A clever twist, too, in Ian Willingham's Intelligent Love. Directed by the playwright, it's set in a not-too-distant future of clones and robots. Engagingly performed by Ruth Westbrook, giggly and drunk, having a brief encounter with unique, freaky Jake [Ben Fraser in a witty R2D2 teeshirt, his AI-enhanced brain regurgitating the history of the Roman Empire].
Technology is at the heart of Georgina Whittaker's Swipe Right, directed by Tom Tull. Nick [Mikey McDonagh], is celebrating his birthday with Lee [David Corder, glued to his smartphone, distraught as the signal goes and his battery dips below 52%] and Cat [Jade Flack, aggressively eating Doritos]. But a Tinder match [Natalie Paluzzo] rides to the rescue with her Spiderman tattoo and a delicious birthday cake … “mostly” fruit.
Naomi Page's Choices, directed by Richard Dawes, is a much subtler, more profound piece. A middle-aged couple try to enjoy an evening out. But the meal, like their marriage, is haunted by their lost son, hit-and-run killer Pete [Mikey McDonagh]. Beautifully played by Dave Hawkes and Andrea Dalton, who inhabit their roles perfectly, making the most of the writing, which is at its best in the less articulate moments, full of pauses and unfinished thoughts.

Wherever Mad Apple go next, it's worth following them in their search for innovative theatre in unusual spaces.