Saturday, September 27, 2008


CAODS at the Civic Theatre


It really was Cole, singing through the surface noise to open this hugely enjoyable revival. Then the curtain rose to reveal Patrick Tucker's ship-board band, and we were off on a transatlantic trip through unlikely meetings, paper-thin disguises and a crazy plot involving a silly-ass, an ex-evangelist and Public Enemy Number 13.

The classic numbers are the great joy of the show, of course, and each of them was put over with style and polish, from the big tap crescendo that ends Act 1 to the tiny, intimate Goodbye Little Dream from Karen Kelleher's Hope.

No weak links in this huge company, with lovely character work from Alex Gwyther and Kevin Abrey. Reno, the brassy nightclub singer, was the excellent Kirstie Wooldridge [available for weddings and corporate events], and the hapless Moonface saw David Pridige in a very funny performance. His little Bedlam scene with Billy was superbly done.

John Goodfellow's juvenile lead had just the right insouciance for the role, and he had commanding presence and a lovely singing voice, too. I must also mention Peter Smith's masterly captain, and Laura Bradley's sassy Erma.

Precise ensemble work from Reno's angels and the Sailor Quartet, gorgeous period dresses, and endlessly inventive choreography, in the memorable Blow, Gabriel, Blow, for example.

Cole Porter's Anything Goes was directed by Jeremy Tustin, with top-deck musical direction from Patrick Tucker.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Back Room Theatre Company at the Keene Hall


First outing for this fledgling group, with a capable cast taking us back to the 80s for Tony Marchant's wry look at life.

In the less than ideal surroundings of the Keene Hall, the small stage was set with NHS beds and screens. Two women meet, exchange confidences, find mutual comfort, and prepare to confront their fate.

Marchant stretches credibility by putting an infertile 30-something next to a teenager seeking a termination. But once established, the potential for dramatic tension is well exploited, with sudden changes of mood, laughter and despair.

Caroline Wright was quietly convincing as the confused youngster who wanted to be as pure as Isla St Clair; a touching, beautifully realised performance. In the adjoining bed, loud, warm, generous Chris, who has a blockage in her tubes and a robustly cynical view of life. She was played with a good sense of light and shade by Lorraine Ely.

The action was punctuated by the brusque unfeeling student nurse, Shana Armstrong.

This short play never really gets anywhere, but we come to know, and feel for, these two women whom fate has thrown together, and the final scene, confessions in the wee small hours, was tender and moving.

The director was Matthew Jones, assisted by David Pridmore.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Reduced Shakespeare Company at the Civic Theatre


Those quickfire iconoclasts from the Reduced Shakespeare Company have turned their attention to the Good Book for this UK tour, taking us from Genesis to Revelation in an hour and a half.

The script has been considerably rewritten since I last saw it, with references to Lakeside, Facebook and that other scripture plunderer, Andrew Lloyd Webber. There were lots of local jokes too, targeting Melbourne, Dukes and Great Leighs racecourse.

In sandals and biblical robes, the three energetic comedians kept us amused with a constant stream of good-natured sacrilege, directed by RSC veteran Matt Rippy.

William Meredith, the serious one obsessed with the Ark, Jack Bennett, who got to play most of the distaff side, and Simon Cole, the “adopted theatrical Englishman”, who got some of the biggest laughs with his easy rapport with the audience.

I enjoyed his songs, too, such as Begotten, delivered like a less musical Lehrer. Other highlights were the Before and After Babel sketch, the commandments that didn't make the top ten, the slo-mo Goliath, Revelation the Musical, and the unforgettable audience participation Noah's Ark.

The literate and witty script did require some basic Biblical knowledge, and raised some big theological questions. Why is God like Batman ? Can you tell Elijah from Elishah ? The show even provoked heated discussions in the bar at half time. And that's more than most clergymen can claim.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Danbury Parish Church


The accessible music of local composer Armstrong Gibbs is undergoing something of a revival, almost fifty years after he died.

This very first Festival included four concerts as well as a special Evensong, a walk, a lunch and a supper.

At the heart of the weekend was the concert given by the Lingwood Consort, featuring Gibbs' choral cantata The Turning Year. Setting four seasonal poems, the music ranges from the sensuous scents and sounds of summer to the hard northern winter. The last movement, the most effective in performance, was reminiscent of a traditional folk song, a lusty paean to the spring. The atmospheric accompaniment was by the Festival Strings, led by Artistic Director Robert Atchinson, and pianist Olga Dudnik. The conductor was Christopher Kingsley.

The piece really needed stronger forces vocally. And I couldn't help wondering what the Secondary Schools of Carlisle would be commissioning today. Assuming they could raise a choir at all. The Gibbs is such an old-fashioned piece, nostalgic for a rural England that had already begun to disappear before the war.

Like The Turning Year, Vivaldi's Gloria was originally written for young performers. And I learn from the programme notes that it was published in its present form within a year of the Gibbs. Vivaldi, so ubiquitous now, from ringtones to commercials, was only really re-discovered in the twentieth century. The Lingwood Consort were on excellent form here, with meticulous phrasing, and the accompaniment [ with Paul Hagger at the organ ] blending happily with the voices, notably in the Propter Magnam Gloriam.

The concert began with two curtain raisers – Vivaldi's lively Alla Rustica concerto, a pleasingly intimate performance from the five string players, and a Handel Organ Concerto from Paul Hagger, the strings, and Festival Chairman Christopher Kingsley on continuo.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


JR was at the Mercury

... a highly enjoyable evening watching Dillie Keane in 'My Brilliant
Divorce'. I knew her previously as the pianist with the acerbic wit from 'Fascinating Aida', 'she' with such telling glances from her keyboard. In Geraldine Aron's one woman play she used all her audience-handling experience to excellent effect, playing Angela Lipsky whose husband is in mid-life crisis and an affair. We sympathise with her in her difficult divorce proceedings with an especially shifty solicitor, a series of helpline counsellors, and various 'dates'. This is tour de force material that Ms Keane manages with great aplomb, taking us from gales of laughter to sadness with a flick of her acting prowess switch.

Sneaking snippets from the flyer we have : 'as irresistible as a chocolate truffle .. a sweet surprise' and 'great jokes but there are also sudden shafts of piercing emotional truth .. a small masterpiece'

A late start due to technical difficulties, which turned out to be 'sound' .. we even had hiccups during the play but these did not put Dillie off .. indeed they probably made us more sympathetic, especially in the second act where she used one of the blips to her advantage. The easily tour-able set was simple; a table and chair in front of a gauze backdrop where the occasional simplistic but highly effective images were projected.

I see from the flyer that it is being performed at the Palace Theatre in Southend on 4th October. Do try to see it !

Saturday, September 06, 2008


Theatreworks at Hylands House


The storm winds ominously stir the great oaks. Early autumn leaves fall among the nuptial petals.

Hardy's Tess would feel at home in the Stables at Hylands, and the courtyard made a good auditorium, despite some minor problems on this first occasion.

Ali Gorton's version for Theatreworks told the sad story with a simple clarity, never overdoing the sentiment or the humour. The minimal scenery had the standing stones as a brooding symbol throughout. The dramatic impetus was often strong, with confrontations and conversations helping the themes unfold.

I was less happy with the woodland spirits and the druids, and the pantomime horse should have been axed early in rehearsal.

Natalie Ball was impressive as the troubled, tragic Tess, with all her insecurities and ingenuousness. Confusingly, Dominic Ward was both Angel and Alec, never really convincing as either. Felicity Brooks was a strong Izz, amongst several other supporting roles, and Alice Parsloe had good presence both as the mother and old Mrs D'Urberville. Excellent character work from Miles Chambers in a myriad of incarnations, many of them authentically rustic.

The denouement was sensitively handled, and despite the weather, the sizeable audience had a great evening's theatre. This was the last date in a national tour which included some very prestigious venues; I hope Theatreworks will want to come back to the stable yard next season.