Sunday, July 27, 2008


Tomorrow's Talent at Little Waltham

Three dozen kids burst into the hall from every entrance, making an arresting start to a remarkable evening.

Gavin Wilkinson's Tomorrow's Talent Company had just four days to put this show together. Some of the performers were experienced troupers, but most were youngsters, some appearing in a musical for the first time.

It was thanks to West End musical actors Gavin, his assistant Emma Tapley and his MD Corrie Mac that the end result was so impressive.

The simple songs, close-to-home characters and linear plot of Willy Russell's play made it a good choice for this group. Lively numbers came thick and fast: the Fairground Song, I'm In Love With Sir, and Boss of the Bus just three examples, the latter cleverly reprised at the end to get the large cast out of the arena.

Jess Moore as the dim Carol, whose crisis on the cliffs is central to the plot, Joe Toland as the stuffy Mr Briggs, and Gregory Bennett as the bus driver all gave memorable performances, but even the cameos were telling: Andrews, Digga and Reilly, Milton, Maurice and the Bored Girls all had their moments in a first-class family show.

This was Gavin's first summer school for Tomorrow's Talent. During the school holidays he's at St Peter's College in Chelmsford with free workshops, including another musical against the clock, the Broadway smash Rent.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Jeffery Wilson Quintet at the Cramphorn

It was a rags to rags story. Starting with a finger-cracking Jelly Roll Morton marathon from Peter Marshall, who not only did most of the evening's arrangements but also played trumpet and piano, and even treated us to a vocal.

And it finished, two and half very hot hours later, with a remarkably lively Tiger Rag.

The “history” was reduced to a bit of name-dropping and anecdotage: Benny Goodman's coat, Ma Rainey's teeth, Irving Berlin's piano. We learned about the disputed origin of this “decadent music” - jazz history is a fiction, Wilson assured us – and the influence of klezmer music brought to the US by Jewish immigrants.

But it was the music the capacity crowd had come for. Two Ellington medleys, familiar numbers featuring Jeffery's sweetest clarinet, and, in Caravan, some serious sax. Mark Bassey's wonderful trombone was prominent in the line-up, and the powerhouse was provided by Les Cirkel on drums and Murray Salmon on bass.

Pop tunes [ the Beatles, arranged imaginatively by Peter Marshall ], standards – Michel Legrand - and even a new composition, Brazilian Breeze, with improvised percussion and a real sense of fun.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court

A telly actress, a professional child, an old ham from “Stratford Rep”, a Hull Trucker. All of them savaged by the poison pen of tabloid critic and nasty woman Doris Wallis. And all dreaming no doubt of Theatre of Blood vengeance.

Doris is sadly unaware of the difference between hubris and hummus, and sure enough, after the interval, she is roundly humiliated between the libel courts and Wogan's sofa.

Ben Elton's 1991 comedy, written for the ample talents of Dawn French, was riotously revived by director Vince Webb and an enthusiastic cast.

Catherine Bailey was a loud, selfish, callous hack, with Kate Olson excellent as “Peggy” her mousy PA. Mike Nower was doubly convincing as “Douglas” the mild-mannered accountant, with Paul Macklin relishing his moments as “Eduardo” the jail-bait toyboy.

Phil Osborn was “Sidney” the red-top editor, with just the right aggressive tone, and a vocal delivery from the 'Enders school of acting – the articulation of the word “slag” the acid test here.

Some of the first act dragged a bit, with Elton's scatter-gun one-liners sometimes lost in the decibels. But the actors clearly enjoyed the coup-de-theatre denouement, and so did we.
Though I'd hardly dare say otherwise ...

Legal note:
The Standard's tv critic – like Elton, originally a stand-up comedian - was successfully sued by a foul-mouthed celebrity chef. Wolfit sued Tynan, David Soul sued the Daily Mirror. The usual critic's defence is “fair comment”. I rest my case.


at the Civic


Harder, better, faster, stronger”; the opening routine, choreographed, like much of the work, by Jemma Sawyer, was relentlessly energetic in hoodies and masks. But its title could well stand for the ethos of the whole evening.

Essex Dance Theatre, led by the inspirational Debbie Holme, has encouraged generations of young people to express themselves physically. Their community work reaches parts where traditional dance schools rarely venture, and their work is invariably challenging and exciting: the loose-limbed jive of The Red Light's On, the emotional punch of the opening of Pin Ball Wizard, the empowered good-time girls, elegant in little black dresses, in Big Spender, and the spectacular ending to I Know Where I've Been, choreographed by David Nurse.

Some of the most impressive work on show here was prepared by students for their exams. Craig Wakeling's Retroactive 1964, inspired by the iconic Rauschenberg, for which Craig prepared the music track and also discussed his ideas with the artist just before his death in May. And the more traditional Narcissi, with Craig joined by Josie Pavely. And Mendisi Tshuma's powerful autobiographical piece, expressing his feelings about his native Zimbabwe and his exile in Essex.

There was tap, the hard-to-avoid Hairspray, two successful audition pieces, and to end, the EDT's signature piece, The Knowledge.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


ENO at the Coliseum

5 July 2008

Bernstein's Candide has its roots firmly not in the European Enlightenment but in 50s America.

For its French première, Canadian director Robert Carsen embraced that setting, right from the delicious “Volt-air” tv montage which accompanied the familiar overture. The best of all possible worlds clearly the post-war US of A.

The picaresque plot works well in this cartoon cut-out framework, and the story was told with wry humour and deadpan delivery by the excellent Alex Jennings, who played not only Voltaire but the advocate of Optimism, Dr Pangloss, and his unfortunate antithesis Martin.

A stylish Cunegonde from Marnie Breckenridge, and a beautifully sung hero from Toby Spence, who managed to look [and often sound] 18, innocent, and American. Coliseum stalwart Bonaventura Bottone sang a number of roles, including the Red-neck, White-trash, Blue-collar immigration officer. The audience warmed to Beverley Klein as the Old Woman whose misfortunes make Candide's look trifling, and it was good to see Simon Butteriss taking time off from G&S for a couple of telling cameos, including one of a pair of camp stewards.

Not all of the satirical points made sense. Voltaire's savage wit was not directed at any one ideology or any one nation. His New World was not the USA but a land unspoilt until the Westerners arrived. The deposed kings seemed a cheap laugh – it played better on the continent, perhaps. And the old Titanic gag – from Coward's Cavalcade – was dredged up not once but twice.

Rumon Gamba conducted a large operatic orchestra in the Coliseum pit, but otherwise the sound-world was very much that of Broadway – everything amplified and often unfocussed. Little point in having one of the leading tenors of his generation if the mixing desk might have made a lesser voice sound as good ...

Friday, July 04, 2008


at the Civic


A very successful blend of chat and cello – the first he's done, he assured us.

The leading UK cellist of his generation fielded the usual questions about his instrument, his practice routine and his favourite composer. He also spoke passionately about his involvement with the British version of El Sistema, the Venezuelan music programme for children of the streets.

With Pam Chowhan at the piano, he played a varied selection, all from memory, each with a brief introduction. His shimmering pianissimo was heard first in a Bach Adagio, and again in Fauré's Elegie, which also featured superb piano playing and an impressive sustained note. The pizzicato from Britten's Sonata in C was technically stunning, as was Falla's Ritual Fire Dance.

The two performers worked very well together, listening and reacting all the time. The major work of the evening was Debussy's Sonata, written during the Great War. There were three tracks from Unexpected Songs, reminding us how close the cello's sound is to the human voice, and including a moving arrangement of the parlour ballad Trees.

We heard Julian's own Song for Baba, his father's In the Half Light, and, as a well deserved encore, the last of his brother's Variations.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Adelphi Theatre
2 July 2008

I first saw the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when it was less than half the length it is now. Since then, I've seen tours, West End and provincial productions and amateur attempts, and watched it grow to the bloated spectacle it is now.
This Adelphi version, boosted by the reality tv casting that launched Lee Mead to stardom, may not be my last, but is certainly the most lavish so far.

It is essentially a revival of Steven Pimlott's 1991 Joseph, and stands up pretty well.
There were lots of clever touches, and striking design ideas, helped by a double revolve. Anthony van Laast's choreography was energetic and inventive – the Canaan Days Apache number was a delight.

Lee is a competent Joseph, and sings his big numbers with a passion. But he is outclassed by Jenna Lee-James as the Narrator – clear diction, strong presence and an ability to sell the most humdrum number as if it were a hit. Dean Collinson as Pharaoh, his part now swollen by a new number, gave a solidly amusing pastiche of the King of the later, fatter years.

The Brothers see
med a little mechanical at first; only in the Megamix did the whole company really come alive. The children, though cute and lively, were often a distraction, and sounded thin and unpleaseant through the amplification which otherwise achieved a decent soundscape, with good balance between soloists, band and chorus.

Photographs by Tristram Kenton © The Really Useful Group Ltd 2007