Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court


An unlikely hit, Yasmina Reza's drama depends a lot on the casting, which in the West End was regularly changed to bring in new guest stars. The original actors were Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Ken Stott.

The problem I have with it is that it is so very French. Three thirty-something men, discussing not football or popular culture, but philosophy, poetry and fine art. The play is about relationships, but "art" [the quotes are part of the title] is the catalyst, the keystone of the conflict.

CTW's trio – chamber music is not a bad analogy for the style here – was a tad blokish, given the intellectual weight of the dialogue. Body language, mangled French, Christopher Hampton's coarse translation, none of it helped us believe what we were hearing.

But the performances were otherwise excellent, and Christine Davidson's production had some wonderful ideas: the diary-room asides to the audience, the three wise monkeys, the three taps to the chest immediately echoed by three knocks on the door [any French actor would recognise les trois coups], the sequence with the olives – all great theatre. The pace was varied and the actors sparked off each other with practised assurance.

Stuart Moore was Serge, an unlikely dermatologist [feet resolutely apart, arms too far from the body] and proud owner of the 200,000 Franc canvas. Jeremy Battersby got closest to the spirit of the piece with his cynical, slightly crumpled, slightly camp Marc, brilliant when he was trying to be on his best behaviour, and very effectivel in the nicely judged final moments. Caught in the middle [nicely reflected in the sofa grouping at one point] was Dean Hempstead as Yvan, the referee and reconciler, who shone in his virtuoso phone call with his mother.

The suitably monastic set was by Robin Winder, and the assistant director was Lynne Foster.

read Mary Redman's review for the Essex Chronicle Go!

Monday, May 19, 2008


Trinity Methodist Drama at the Civic Theatre


Trinity have been bringing operetta to the Civic Stage for thirty years. This latest revival of the Sorcerer boasted excellent singing, a polished pit orchestra, beautiful costumes, an imposing set and plenty of pyrotechnics.

Acting was less strong, with some notable exceptions, including director Tony Brett as the deaf old notary. The other star turn was Adam Sullivan, as the huckster of the title. Although by no means the most experienced member of the cast, he is clearly steeped in the Savoyard tradition, and gave a great character performance as well as handling the vocal part with some skill.

Janet Moore was Lady Sangazure, delivering her numbers beautifully, including a lovely new setting of In Days Gone By. Daniel Owers was a smart suitor to Beverley Lockyer's Aline, and Elizabeth Kent was Constance, again very assured in her solo work. The old fogey parson was nicely sung by Gary Griffiths.

The ensemble was well managed, [the Act One finale, the quintet in Act Two] and the Curtain Call was a triumph of staging. But elsewhere there was “maddening inaction”, and this, combined with the philtre plot [which Sullivan loathed], meant that this was not quite vintage Trinity.

The MD was Gerald Hindes, keeping the show moving with sprightly tempi, and a lovely oom-pah overture.


Cameo Players at Hylands House


As part of Hylands House Jane Austen week, the Cameo Players, who specialise in these period pots-pourris, brought us Dear Jane, her life and work in letters, reminiscences and extracts from works both familiar and obscure.

It was a wonderful evening. The splendid surroundings, the costumes [Jane Hunt], even the weather, combined with a talented cast to make a memorable entertainment.

The script, researched and devised by Lindsay Lloyd, began with Jane's nephew recalling her funeral, and ended with a selection box of bons mots from the canon.

On the way, we met a gallery of characters both fictional and actual. Jane's brother marching his company to winter quarters in Chelmsford, her father and his “large and varied library”, Kipling on Persuasion, the cruel Mrs Craven, Tom Lefroy, her Irish love, her dear sister Cassandra.

There were triumphs and tragedies, courtship and gossip, family theatricals – a priceless piece of juvenilia called The Mystery – dancing, and music: Doublet [Kate Knight and Roy Sach], appropriately and elegantly costumed. And of course her “children”, the novels.

We heard sensitively dramatized scenes from several, including dancing with Darcy and a breathless exchange about the Mysteries of Udolpho.

The Cameo company on this occasion was Robert Bastian, Ken Rolf, Paul Carnell, Lindsay Lloyd, Naomi Phillips and Patricia Lee.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Chelmsford Cathedral


Beethoven's sprightly Seventh Symphony made a fine finale to the first ever Chelmsford Sinfonietta Festival. The orchestra, under its regular conductor Robin Browning, and led by Suzanne Loze, began with great delicacy, though the drive and the urgency in the writing were always present. The Allegretto began almost like a quartet – the string playing was a great strength of the whole programme – building to a monumental climax, and the martial trumpets and tympani of the closing Allegro brought the evening to a glorious conclusion.

After a sure-footed, impeccably paced Mozart Symphony, Craig Ogden was the soloist in the Rodrigo Guitar Concerto. An inspired choice for a sultry evening, this familiar work came across as fresh, almost improvised, with beautiful playing from Ogden and the strings, now whispering, now dazzling, and Chris O'Neal's limpid cor anglais in the famous Adagio. Before signing CDs in the interval, the soloist left us with an exquisite arrangement of Django Reinhardt's Nuages.

Craig Ogden was also prominent in the London Tango Quintet, who launched the Festival with a feast of Piazzolla, including the three-part Angel pieces. It was a lovely, rich sound, with ad hoc percussion from the five players, who also took turns in the spotlight with a showpiece solo. So Ogden gave us a Vivaldi Concerto, enterprisingly accompanied by the other four, with a delicious slow movement followed by a sprint to the finish. Tim Carey, whose baby this Festival was, played Liszt, double bass Tony Hougham a movement from a Bottesini concerto, violinist David Juritz the exciting rough magic of Ravel's Tzigane. Milos Milivojevic, whose accordion playing was crucial to the success of the evening, amazed us with a Mendelssohn Chorale Prelude.

Tim Carey was joined by duet partner Martin Sanders-Hewett for Friday's concert, which included Bach arranged by Myra Hess, Debussy's passionate, desolate En Blanc et Noir, the exuberant Scaramouche, and a typically witty and inventive Grainger arrangement of music from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. After this brilliant, and no doubt exhausting, exploration of the repertoire, they managed a delightful encore: a couple of numbers from Richard Rodney Bennett's Four Piece Suite.

A very promising first Festival. The word on the Cathedral Lawns was that there should be another. I would certainly support it. A winning combination of this great little orchestra – just the right forces for the Beethoven in this venue – a manageable [and affordable] three nights of music, and the glorious architecture and acoustic of our Cathedral. Sponsors take note – Hill and Abbott, regular supporters of the old Cathedral Festival, were alone this year.

Friday, May 09, 2008


LADS at the Tractor Shed Latchingdon


original West End production starring Sybil Thorndike, Edith Evans and Wendy Hiller photo: Picture Post

The stalls glittering with evening dress, an all-star cast, a solid set and a well-made play. That's the world of 1950s theatre in which N C Hunter's great hit was conceived.

Out at the tractor shed, it was the set that came closest to the original – the hotel drawing room looked just like one of those photos you used to see in the acting editions. And there was an impressive scene change – twice – to the wintry garden. The pace was generally good, prompt permitting, and there were some effective groupings – the top of Act III, for instance.

Peter Jones's actors, following in the footsteps of Edith Evans and Penelope Keith, had mixed fortunes. Gill Bridle was excellent as Mrs White, combining a domineering manner, perfect diction and real pathos. The Austrian refugee, saddest of the resident dispossessed, was nicely portrayed by Robin Warnes, and Anita Collings had her moments as the slightly vulgar Mrs Ashworth.

The orphans from the storm who disturb the communal life of the hotel were an unlikely family, led by Pam Burton as the insensitive, flirtatious, worldly Helen Lancaster, playing with the hopes and fears of the sad emigré and the invalid Adonis [Daniel Beaver], encouraging them to dream of the waters of the moon.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Chelmsford Cathedral


A Festival of Firsts for the centenarian EMA. Helping to fill the gap left by the Cathedral Festival, they abandoned Thaxted this year for the County Town, programming two major choral works for the first time. The choirs were Brentwood, Havering, Ingatestone and the Davenant Foundation, with support from Dovercourt.

Bruckner's Third Mass was the major work. Hundreds of singers, four soloists and the might of the Essex Symphony Orchestra combined to suggest the religious fervour of the piece. The brass at the end of the Gloria soon after the Qui Tollis sequence, the soloists in the Credo, especially baritone Ben Beurklian-Carter, added to the drama of this monumental setting. The choral singing was not always totally accurate, but the power of the voices carried the day.

Elgar's mighty Te Deum and Benedictus veer between the grandiose and the devout. The choirs, under the energetic direction of Keith Orrell, did not always sound comfortable with the music, but there were some wonderful moments, such as the blaze of Glory at the end of the Benedictus.

The instrumental interlude was provided by the young Hungarian

Tamas Balla, who played an enjoyable, if inauthentic, Marcello oboe concerto. But the real treat was his encore: five minutes of unaccompanied Bach. The perfect phrases rang around the Cathedral,

bone-dry Krug after Asti.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


Lunchtime at Chelmsford Cathedral


Back from his "short sabbatical", the Master of the Music played a recital of Bach and the British to a large and appreciative audience.

The major work was the Toccata and Fugue in F major [BWV 540]. It was a performance of strength and clarity, the rippling sinews of the Toccata sharply defined.

After the Chorale Prelude BWV 654, Delius's slightly soporific First Cuckoo, then, with string tones replacing the pastoral woodwind, Elgar's charming Salut d'Amour, and to close, the same composer's mighty Allegro Maestoso from the opus 28 Organ Sonata.

Peter Nardone dedicated his recital to Dr Mary Berry, the musicologist and conductor, who died the day before, Ascension Day.

He recalled their last collaboration, a CD of Machaut recorded, not without difficulty, in the composer's own cathedral at Reims.

Friday, May 02, 2008


Theatre at Baddow


Shelagh Stephenson's first play has three sisters gathering in the family home on the eve of their mother's funeral. There is little love lost between them. They bicker, swig whisky, share recriminations and the odd reefer.

In Joe Kennedy's emotional production, the laughs and the depths were given equal weight, though I felt that a more oppressive set might have helped to situate these characters more securely. The ending was very moving, and the drug-fuelled dressing-up which ends Act One was equally effective.

Emma Moriaty was very touching as the doctor who must learn to love the cold, Caroline Wright was entirely believable as the sulky, garrulous youngster, vulnerable and insecure. Domineering Teresa was stylishly played by Lorraine Ely, increasingly unsteady on her feet as her life, too, unravels before our eyes.

Alan Ireland was the good-natured Frank, and Roger Saddington did a good job with the sketchily-written TV doctor, timing his laughs and delivering the water memory nonsense with real feeling.

Their late mother, remembering toffees from Torquay and watching the encroaching sea, was Jean Speller, who brought out the poetry of the part. She was especially moving as she tried to explain what Alzheimer's is like from the inside.

The opening night performance was secure and confident, despite a well-aimed jar of cold cream, and a front row with two critics, a chap in shorts who was helpless with laughter, and two elderly ladies who kept up an all-too-audible commentary on the show. As they said, “a weird story”.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


at the Civic Theatre


This two-hour, no-nonsense set was packed with good tunes played with affection and enthusiasm.

It was a friendly, family affair. Joining Kathryn on stage was her young brother Peter, composer and fiddle-player, and her father's influence was often mentioned. The first of a sequence of waltzes, for instance, was written by the pair of them for the old man's birthday, and it was her dad who persuaded her to write Our Kate, for the millionaire writer and philanthropist Catherine Cookson. It was a plaintive piece, gentle and strong.

Peter Man was written for her brother – a hard, fast duet for fiddles. Another enjoyable fiddle sequence started with Ossian's St Kilda Wedding, and included Snowy Monday and Rocket Dog, Kathryn's tribute to her energetic Fluffy.

Tricky, rhythmic reels, a number for the New Crossing [Gateshead's Millennium Bridge], and, by request, Rothbury Hills, with the Northumbrian pipes accompanied by Julian Sutton's melodeon.

There were a couple of numbers from “Instrumental”, her 2007 album, but we had to wait till the encore to hear any vocals – a County Durham miners' song, with Kathryn joined by guitarist Joss Clapp.

A happy, upbeat gig, but, to my taste, too brashly loud. Not for the first time I am wondering at what point it is felt that four traditional acoustic instruments need stadium amplification, monitors and stacks of reverb. This is music born in rooms behind pubs, after all. Is it because the punters want the sound from the CD ? Or because balance is thought more important than immediacy ?

It's not just folk - I've had the same misgivings listening to Indian classical in the Cramphorn.

What next - the Maggini wired up like Bond ?