Wednesday, October 15, 2008


KEGS Arts Society


In the first of a series of performance events, the London-based Dovetail String Quartet played music written by students at the Grammar School.

The first group of movements – almost a mini quartet – began with a lively set of variations, rich in thematic material and with more than a hint of melancholy. The second piece, Lamenting Ascension, had its own sadness, and a mood of Celtic yearning. And lastly, Sforzo Buono, a sunny, cantabile, fugal Finale.

In contrast, the quartet movement from Exploration proved an edgy, demanding work, highly commended in this year's BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composers' Competition.

Two piano pieces were featured, Seelische Qual, and an extrovert improvisatory pair of Intermezzi.

A unique opportunity for these composers to hear how the notes sound under the fingers of professional players. Composition software just can't compete, though the Sibelius pieces were interesting, especially the gentle clarinet and piano jazz of Midnight Groove, and a convincing four and a half minutes of Minimalism.

This fascinating evening of music ended with an eloquent performance of Dvorak's picture-postcard of Bohemia in exile, the American Quartet. The sweet nostalgia of the Lento, with its expressive violin melody echoed by the cello, was particularly effective, as was the energetic, heartfelt vivace Finale.

The Dovetail Quartet are Clare Taylor, Clare Wheeler, violins, Emily Richards, viola, and Edward Furse, cello.
The composers were Rosie Harvey, Samule Booth, Tom Vincent, Sasha Millwood, Maxwell Spence, Oliver El Holiby, Amar Vasani and Henry Robertshaw.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court


Tennessee Williams' first great success is a gift to its actors. CTW's high-quality quartet seized their opportunities, and gave us some fine, emotionally charged performances.

The memory play was introduced by Robert Bastian, narrating in a totally involving, movingly natural series of fireside chats. It was as if he was sharing intimate confessions, impromptu, with every member of the audience individually - a remarkable achievement. He was also superb as the son, for whom, in the end, not even the movies can provide an escape route from the banality and tedium of his stifling family life.

His drunken home-coming was beautifully judged, contrasting with the dejected return of Lynne Foster's broken mother, bewildered by life, disappointed by her daughter, arguing with her son in a memorable confrontation.

The pathetic Laura was Kat Tokely, whose extended scene with her Gentleman Caller [Lionel Bishop] was one of the most carefully crafted I've seen on this stage. The hopes, fears, dreams and delusions of these two damaged young people were appallingly real, the symbolism and the lighting both adding an extra frisson.

The lighting was often effective, the narrator's lime spilling onto the glass animals, and Kenton Church's music tracks, with a delicate, tinkling theme for Laura, helped the drama too.

The fire escape looked good, but the set generally was disappointing, with wayward doors and unconvincing furniture. The flats looked like, well, flats, and the door handles looked like Homebase. The performances deserved better.

And despite the many impressive facets of the production, the overall effect was uneven and inconsistent, and the evening did not quite live up to the promise of the opening moments.

The Glass Menagerie was directed by Raynor Henden-Bragg, assisted by Vince Webb.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


Theatre at Baddow


Old-world snobbery meets the classless society. Coward's comedy from the dark ages of the early 50s paints a backwater ruffled by a ripple from across the pond, a microcosm of post-war English life.

Theatre at Baddow went for the witty repartee, the farcical encounter, in a very enjoyable production directed by Pauline Saddington.

The plot revolves around Moxie, lady's maid and long-lost sister to a Star. Enthusiastically played by Lorraine Ely, totally inhabiting her character, glorious in disguise, hilarious in her cups. Her Act One scene with Felicity [an elegant Beth Walters, her lines deliciously pointed, perfectly timed] was a portent of delights to come.

The Hollywood ingénue was Caroline Wright, glamorous but shallow, every inch a screen idol. Her leading man was a cool Roger Saddington.

Crestwell the butler, played with a wicked twinkle by Bob Ryall, was chirpy rather than sardonic, with below-stairs support from Eleanor Mears as a ditsy housemaid.

The cast was completed by Joe Kennedy as the stuffed-shirt son and heir, David Saddington as a caustic hanger-on [Coward himself ?] and Helen Bence superb as Lady Cynthia, sadly widowed in this production, a past mistress of the cutting remark and the reproachful glare.

A successful revival of late-flowering Coward, with stunning frocks and a solid, timeless set.

Friday, October 03, 2008


Phoenix Theatre Company at Christ Church


“Amusingly written with some very good twists.”
“A team play.”

But the dinner party and the marital rift are just a front, and even the best made play can come off the rails – it just takes one buckled line.

The crew and the front of house team are in the pub next door, so the front tabs stay open to allow us to enjoy the spats and tantrums.

These luvvies are pros, we're told, and there were some convincing caricatures from Liz Curley as the ASM, and Daniel Curley as an ageing actor laddie, tottering to the footlights and giving us his famous Lear.

I enjoyed Paulette Harris's star-struck, stuttering St John Ambulancewoman.

The two couples were: Chris Webb and Joan Lonario, who was a formidable bourgeois guest in the play and a coarse Red Peppery leading lady once the gloves were off, and Angela Gee as the divine Sarah with Paul Dogra as the troubled Rupert, who over-acted amusingly in the last few pages.

Other, better plays were never far from our mind: Noises Off, The Dresser, Private Lives, even Merry Wives with its famous buck basket. The profession may be in dire straits, but at least most actors can still speak. And you cannot afford so many real prompts amongst the spoofs, or speak of dropped laughs and then see them slip through your own fingers - “He'd ignite!”, one glaring example.

Still, as they said, there were no four-letter words. Quite a relief after Bouncers the night before.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


Reform at the Civic Theatre


Every night in the theatre is a unique experience. Those actors, that audience, those words will never come together in that way again. But the opening night of Bouncers at the Civic was a one-off to remember.

The place was packed with teens – all far too young to get past the door staff at “Mr Cinders”, mostly dressed for a night down the disco.

The four actors from Reform – no strangers to a bit of rough and tumble – must have wondered what hit them. It was as if all the underage dancers and chancers they'd ever sent packing had returned en masse to seek revenge. The Children of England.

This wry look at 80s urban nightlife must have seemed like ancient history to these kids, the bouncers like dinosaurs. The bus ride into town, the basket meals, the barber's shop with its Vinnie Jones cut, the girls with their white handbags, even the video shop, all now extinct.

The challenge was to rouse and engage the crowd with YMCA, Michael Jackson and slightly over-extended scatological sequences, then calm them for the reflective Brechtian soliloquies. On the whole, this quartet succeeded impressively. Director Keith Hukin as Les, David Walker as Judd, Kivan Dene as Ralph [excellent in all his roles, especially the creepy DJ] and Richard Marriott a superb Lucky Eric.

Reform are famous for their gritty, physical work, and this punchy production of the prototype of the genre was a good choice to introduce students to the thrill of live theatre.