Saturday, July 30, 2011


The Greville Players at the Three Horseshoes

This wonderful old-fashioned pub, with its glorious garden, was the setting for an enjoyable evening's entertainment on the topic of growing old.
First, two monologues by Ned Hopkins. “Ted”, a sentimental story with a twist of the sort you used to be able to sell to women's magazines, with Rodney Foster as a retirement home resident who keeps his secrets in a trunk. And “Maggy”, a much more engaging piece about a prim Scottish widow who ventures into Jenner's looking for Heather Honey and finds more than she expected. Beautifully played by Jenny Francis; although we do meet Drummond Braithwaite, “glorious nut sundae” Tino is more successfully left to the imagination …
After the interval [home-made cakes and Saffron Ale] we had an opened-out version of Joyce Grenfell's classic A Terrible Worrier [the one about the rabbit], performed with impeccable comic timing by Rita Vango. And finally, to the obvious delight of the audience [all of us chuckling away in recognition], a delicious selection box of one-liners, aphorisms and inbox memes, delivered from the dayroom of the Dr Watson Retirement Holme, punctuated by tea, physical jerks and Renée & Renato, and all put together by the director [and “Vera”] Jan Ford.

Friday, July 29, 2011

HAMLET - Globe on tour

Shakespeare's Globe at Corpus Christi, Cambridge

We know that Hamlet toured to a Cambridge college in Shakespeare's own day. It was usual for the text to shrink as the players moved further from the capital and the playwright – European tours sometimes gave little more than comic highlights and dumbshows.
Dominic Dromgoole's production – a brisk three hours including interval – includes more of the quartos than usual, and it was good to hear some less familiar moments – Polonius packing Reynaldo off to Paris, for instance. Not to mention the clown's catchphrases ... And the ambience of the Master's garden in Corpus, pigeons calling, distant revellers in Silver Street, St Botolph's tower in the background, was wonderfully timeless. This play especially is full of references to strolling players, and this background is emphasised by the start – the song “A-begging I will go” and the actors wandering on, changing into costume. 'Two planks and a passion' is evoked, too.
Just eight actors [who also play the music] for all these characters – the Mousetrap is particularly brilliantly imagined – only the Prince himself escapes doubling duty.
Polonius apart [an excellently wordy – and occasionally amnesiac – John Bett, who was also the Gravedigger], they all took the text at a gallop, but with no lack of clarity - “trippingly on the tongue” indeed. Amanda Hadingue's Gertrude was hard to hear at times, but I loved Jade Anouka's feisty, fun-loving Ophelia – and she was great as the Player Apprentice who's “nearer heaven”.
 Simon Armstrong was Claudius [and of course the Ghost and the Player King].
In the title role, Joshua McGuire was constantly on the move, and often very witty - I thought I caught a flash of Frankie Howerd at one point. But there was little sense that this young student's "noble mind" was tackling some of the greatest themes in theatre.
Ripon next for this fit-up, then Buxton, Worcester and eventually Helsingør, better known to us as Elsinore …

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Duke of York's Theatre

Taking a break from its UK tour, this critically acclaimed 2007 Journey's End has set up its dug-out in the Duke of York's for the summer.
Kitchener on the safety curtain, Vaughan Williams for the incoming, but then just the rumble of guns for the scene changes, and Jonathan Fensom's cramped, candlelit set as background to this classic exploration of heroism and the desperate domesticity of life in the trenches.
Grindley's flawless production has many strengths. Not least an exploration of the text that allows full weight to what is not said, could never be expressed. The eyes averted, the awkward pause were just as eloquent as Sherriff's undeniably superb dialogue. Dominic Mafham's avuncular Osborne, for instance, recalling life at home, finds a raw nostalgic nerve caught as he mentions his wife. The cheery Trotter [Christian Patterson] lets his merry mask slip just for a moment.
And the lighting, impressively replicating the candles' flickering glow, made the low-ceilinged makeshift living room, with camp beds and a dining table jostling for space, look like an Old Master, especially at key moments – like the first meeting between raw recruit Raleigh [Graham Butler] and his schoolboy hero [James Norton] – where a strong stage picture was held just long enough to have a little more emotional impact.
There are no star names here, just an excellent ensemble, who brilliantly suggest the camaraderie and the conflicts of enforced proximity, with the horrors of war just yards away up the dug-out steps. Food and drink [rustled up by Tony Turner's drily stoical Private Mason – a distant ancestor of the beloved Baldrick] are a key theme, giving comfort and a structure to life on the front line, as well as making a desperately needed distraction from the tragic inevitability of death in action.
All the performances were superb. As the boy straight from school, “keen” to join his hero Stanhope, Butler was achingly naïve and vulnerable; his return from a suicidal raid on the enemy trenches was shockingly powerful; he realises at last that war is not rugger or cricket, and Denis is no longer the captain of games he worshipped only three years ago back at school.
Norton's subtly characterized Stanhope, drinking too much to liven up the dull routine, and as we realise in his heart-to-heart with Hibbert [Simon Harrison] to ward off the demons of doubt and despair that threaten to impair his effectiveness as a leader of men, veered unnervingly from affability to rage as the whisky kicked in. His rages were frighteningly intense, but his moments of introspection were tellingly done, too, such as his explaining to Osborne how he could see through the wall of their dug-out to the mud and the worms.
We know the play, we know the history of 1918. So the end is inevitable. But Grindley has one more stroke of genius in reserve. After hurried arrangements for lunch on their return, the men with whom we have shared a couple of hours of banter and soul-baring, go over the top, and we're out with Stanhope into the deafening hell of the guns, to find a peace of a kind in the company of those men unnumbered whose name liveth for evermore ...
this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews


Writtle Cards

Jim Hutchon was at the Village Hall

Director Daniel Curley’s version of this Victorian melodrama relies on a sense of carefully contrived claustrophobia for its mood. A destitute gentlewoman marries for security but, unhappy at home, is seduced by a charming cad and decamps with him. Deserted and again destitute, she returns to her marital home in the guise of a servant. It is not a bundle of laughs; the genre has been so parodied over the years that it was never going to be a tear-jerker, but it still needs a real sense of the gentry brought low for its effect.

The gentlewoman, Laura Bennett, didn’t get into character much, so her spiralling downfall wasn’t too effective. The baddies always have it best in these pieces, and a spiteful sister in law – played convincingly by Liz Curley, and an equally unsympathetic cousin – Josephine Curley, did a lot to point up the lady’s misery. The cad was Ben Fraser who sleazed his way throughout with unctuous oiliness. The boring, safe husband was Andy Millward, who had impeccable timing in his delivery.

The set was unimaginative – a well-decorated provincial drawing room which doubled unconvincingly as the Boulogne sea front and public gardens in Grenoble, but the style of the production was shot through with imaginative touches, good use of period music and stylised tableaux which added strength to the plotlines.

And despite an, at times, almost inaudible delivery, Laura Bennett deserves my undying admiration for delivering the line - “Gone, and never called me mother!” without missing a beat.


Blitzed Theatre Company at Brentwood Theatre

Big Brother eyes watching from a video screen, mask, mime and ambient music for Prospero's island – Neil Gray's Tempest teemed with ideas.
Making some key characters women was only partly successful – the stranded nobles in their wedding finery strained credibility, and it was just silly to address each other as “Miss” – but I think Shakespeare would have appreciated the mannish Antonia and Sebastienne [Laura Hughes and Helen Castle]. It's only quite recently that we've felt the need to revere the Bard's text – 200 years ago the cuts and changes we heard at Brentwood would have seemed trivial. Though it seemed perverse to butcher two of the best speeches whilst preserving pages of dull dialogue. And “stranger bedfellows” and “the island is full of noises” just seemed careless.
Among the inspired moments were the boat breaking, and the feast vanishing, before our eyes, the black nymphs, the death of the wonderful Sycorax puppet. I admired the stripped-back staging, and the “thousand twangling instruments” played by the actors. However, even if you are motionless and silent in the wings, your body language will still speak volumes.
Darren Matthews was a gentle, beguiling Prospero; his faithful Ariel was impressively played by Emma Feeney, physically and vocally comfortable in this crucial role. Caliban was a suitably brutish Nicola Stacey. Not everyone managed the verse as successfully as Matthews and Feeney, but I did enjoy the comic duo of Will Fox's Trinculo [with glove puppet] and Matthew Jones's Stephano, who for some reason was allowed a period costume.
The pacey two-hour production was rounded off with a lively jig, worthy of the great Globe itself …


Tomorrow's Talent at the Civic Theatre

publicity photos by Louise Freeland

Tim Firth's Madness urban malaise musical would like to do for NW5 what Blood Brothers did for Liverpool. It cheekily plunders the band's back-catalogue to tell the story of some salt-of-the earth citizens of Casey Street, and chart the double life of Good Joe/Bad Joe.
It couldn't have better, more enthusiastic advocates than Gavin Wilkinson and his Tomorrow's Talent Theatre Arts company. Wilkinson himself is a veteran of the West End original, and he brought an impressive presence to the key role of Joe's dead dad, with Becky Stephens excellent as Kath.
A super-strong cast brought 24-carat commitment to the many roles – Sarah the girlfriend who escapes to university, wonderfully sung and acted by Emma Bennett [Jessica Moore in other performances], Reecey who tempts Joe to leave the straight and narrow [Bart Lambert], and a great character quartet in support: Tara Divina and Deanna Byron as the heartless girls, and Josh Butcher and Mark Ellis hilarious as the clueless boys.
Golden Boy Joe Casey was played with touching honesty by Sam Toland, no stranger to the Civic stage, which was hosting a Tomorrow's Talent musical for the first time.
The staging was slick, professional and very inventive: the skipping, jumping chorus collapsing to reveal that first kiss, the breathtaking ballet of the classroom desks, the tasteless Wings of a Dove and the patriotic Camden market, with its pastiche of Who Will Buy.
And let's not forget the young people labouring unseen in the pit, providing great sounds under dynamic young MD Kris Rawlinson.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


The Lord Chamberlain's Men at Hylands

Named after Shakespeare's own acting company, this enterprising outfit have it even tougher on their gruelling tours – no cosy inn-yard, but vast spaces, helicopters and flash photography.
The Lord Chamberlain's Men were back at Hylands again this year, with its sloping lawn, its “woods a league without the town”, to bring us A Midsummer Night's Dream unplugged, packed with magic and mirth.
Andrew Normington directed in a clear, almost intimate, style, with authentic music and some wonderful costumes helping to transport us into Shakespeare's world. No scenery as such, and none needed, but their fit-up stage made good use of its traps, and its balcony, where Oberon [Oliver Pengelly] and Puck [Morgan Brind] stood to look down on the lovers' tiff.
The girls – Tristan Bernays's troubled Hermia and Thomas Judd's outraged Helena – were outstanding, and Judd also brought us a lovely Snout. A cast of seven meant that the Mechanicals were reduced to three and a latecomer, but we had a goodly complement of fairies, in fetching black tatters. Peter Bray was an imposing Titania, and spoke the verse impeccably. I was initially unsure about Brind's stand-up Merry Wanderer – as if a dearth of apprentices forced one of the clowns to take the part – but his dry humour and powerful presence soon won me over.
Roddy Peters got to wear a proper ass's knoll as Bottom, and his Pyramus was suitably OTT; his Thisbe [Bernays again] even managed a moment of tenderness amongst all the slapstick and the hammage.
To end, not only a Bergomask, but Up and Down sung as a charming Round.


Chelmsford County High School for Girls

A far cry from Agatha Harrigan's Orphanage to the County High School for Girls, but both are crammed with talented young ladies who are happy to burst into song and break into a dance.
This end-of-term entertainment, directed by James French, with choreography by Maria French, was a very impressive piece of musical theatre – especially successful when the stage, and the auditorium, was over-run by orphans, down-and-outs and Fifth Avenue flunkeys. Most memorably in the Without A Smile mass tap routine, evoking 42nd Street and Busby Berkeley.
Many praiseworthy performances from individuals – too many to mention – with Alex Buckley a confident and tuneful Annie, though perhaps a little too grown-up, a little too blonde. Her Warbucks – and the only man on stage – was Jamie Dent: happily the pair of them were also allowed a Fred and Ginger moment in Act Two. Nice character work from Lucy Adams as Rooster and Roisin McNamara as Lily, and a lovely operatic cameo from Raheel Tharmaraj in NYC. But if anyone was going to steal the show it was Stephanie Dagg as a raddled, rasping Hannigan, bottle in hand, oozing loathing and avarice from every pore.
MD Alex McGee got some great sounds from his singers and his band, woodwind and percussion particularly, and I liked the newspaper décor. But too much of the action was on the floor, and so obscured for most of the audience. Fortunately Sandy the Dog barked right on cue, otherwise I would have missed her altogether



Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at The Old Court


Patrick Marber's intense four-hander is impressively played in this high-octane production directed by Joe Kennedy.

The shorter story
No love, no glory
No hero in her sky

It's a high profile piece – National Theatre, must-see movie – so most people will know it's an unblinking look at painfully untidy relationships, a challenging, edgy La Ronde de nos jours. Often too close for comfort.

Hunky dermatologist Larry [Philip Hart] meets Dan and Alice in A&E, and from then on the manipulative, selfish stories unfold and interweave, in a narrative deliberately disorientating.

The ensemble is well balanced and impressively at home in this naturalistic style. Except that it's not really natural at all. Lack of restraint is seen as a sign of maturity, but these are the chats, the fights, the soul-searchings we would have if we were only more articulate, if only we'd thought of it at the time …

It's a lot to ask; the other characters are a stripper, a portrait photographer, and a writer stuck in the “Siberia of journalism, the obits page”. I was most impressed by Leanne Johnson's Alice, embodying “the moronic beauty of youth”, seemingly confident in her own charisma, but just as vulnerable, and just as vicious, as the others. Harry Sabbarton is the writer whose book “borrows” her life, excellent in his proposal of marriage, and on opening night we saw Anna played by Vikki Pead. She inhabited the specialist in “sad strangers” with a cocky assurance, but was often very funny, as in the wonderful “baggage” image, pinning down a key difference between the sexes:

"This is what we’re dealing with; we arrive with our baggage and for a while they’re brilliant, they’re baggage handlers. We say, ‘Where’s your baggage?’ They deny all knowledge of it. They’re in love, they have none. Then just as you’re relaxing, a great big juggernaut arrives … with their baggage. It got held up. The greatest myth men have about women is that we overpack."

The show runs till August the 6th – in that closing performance, and three others, the role of Anna will be played by Kelly McGibney, in what I am told is completely different version of the play ...

The minimal setting, merely suggesting Bart's, Postman's Park, was very effective - I liked the way confrontations were often played against black and white.

The slightly forced wit of the opening promised much, and if some scenes, though striking, were over long – cyber sex, pole dancing – and the formulaic delivery sometimes made the text seem pretentious, “Closer” was nonetheless a superbly interpreted exploration of rage and sadness, sex and lies, shot through with desperate green-eyed prurience.

Catching the show again at its last performance, I found it had acquired more muscle, and more tears, during its run, and the set pieces were even stronger [the deception quartet, the three-way divorce dialogue, the aquarium farce, enhanced – presumably for one night only – by Philip “I'm a doctor” Hart having a little trouble whipping out his bloom].
Kelly McGibney was impressive as the photographer who specialises in strangers, using a meaningful glance or a well-placed inflection to make her points. Her early confrontation with Alice, punctuated by the click of the shutter, was masterly. Her performance did, as we'd been promised, change much of the dynamic of the piece, though it's not just diplomacy that makes it impossible for me to join those who “preferred” one or other of the Annas … Certainly Alice and Anna sounded more alike this time, bringing an extra layer of significance perhaps, and making Dan's Fleet River error the more understandable.

Jim Hutchon was at the opening night - this is his Weekly News review:

This is an amoral play where subtle variations on the theme of two couples coupling are drawn out in front of a superbly minimal set and evocative music. Joe Kennedy’s direction is precise and light-handed, allowing four excellent actors to bring the abstract character sketches to life, while maintaining some hold over the logic of events and fractured timescales. It is a very modern play where they all think they crave love, but mistake it for naked lust which permeates the stage and language throughout.

Harry Sabbarton, who has a superb line in hang-dog expressions, is very convincing as Dan, a journalist/writer who falls for a girl he takes to hospital after an accident. Leanne Johnson plays Alice, the injured girl who admits she is a stripper, but skilfully walks a tightrope between the character’s perverse and conflicting attitudes to sex and morality. (Her expert pole-dancing sequence is worth the admission price alone).

While photographing Dan for his forthcoming book, Anna, played with immaculate attention to detail and fine timing by Vicki Pead, is propositioned by Dan and, in the fullness of time, capitulates. Played with confusion then passion by Philip Hart, Larry the doctor is introduced via almost Shakespearian trickery into the gang, and soon the four are into the familiar revolving door mode.

What is most refreshing about the production is the sheer commitment, energy and passion of the actors, which makes this a (rather lengthy) evening of pure drama. 

poster image: Joe Kennedy, James Sabbarton and Emma Moriaty
Postman's Park memorial photo: Leanne Johnson

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Writtle Singers in the Parish Church

Sunshine and showers, the smell of strawberries … but this is not Wimbledon but Writtle, and these Mixed Doubles are works for divided choir and piano duet.
The main work was Frank Martin's Mass for Double Choir. A stretch, even for the augmented Singers, so there was sometimes more grain than sheen to the sound, but nonetheless a fine interpretation of this intensely personal work, sympathetically encouraged and firmly guided by Christine Gwynn. The Gloria, with its quiet, lambent opening, the dancing resurrection of the Credo, the shifting sands of the Sanctus, all drew us in to Martin's spiritual universe; the Agnus Dei made very effective use of the double choir, with an underlying chant and a more colourful overlay blending beautifully for the closing “pacem”.
The first part of the evening was a typically thoughtful sequence of choral music, beginning with an Ascension hymn by Stanford – the choirs separated by the length of the nave – and including Naylor and Harris [with impressive solos in the closing pastoral moments], as well as an eloquent juxtaposition of Purcell's Hear My Prayer with Chilcott's modern meditation on it, the “My Prayer” mantra repeated hypnotically. Plus enjoyable piano four-hands favourites: Warlock's Capriol, and Ravel's Mother Goose, 
enlivened by snatches from the fairy tales.

photograph of All Saints, Writtle
 © Copyright Robert Edwards 
and licensed for reuse 

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Christ Church

Jim Hutchon was at Christ Church:

The Essex Symphony Orchestra’s summer concert launched an exceptional talent onto the music scene. This was the 25yr old composer Andrew Hall whose new work, Marconi Echoes, was debuted to great appreciation by the knowledgeable audience at Christ Church.
 Conceived as an almost unprecedented collaboration with the composer, orchestra and conductor Jonathan Tilbrook over a year of development, the piece is exclusive to the ESO, and takes as its theme the place Chelmsford has in the history of radio and electronics. It is a bright, optimistic piece of five movements bookended by the echoes and very clever variations on the first song to be broadcast on radio – Dame Nellie Melba’s rendition of ‘No Place like Home’ -for the first and last movements.
 The orchestra had been completely re-arranged in a complex and unfamiliar reseating so that each of the three intervening movements, featuring different sections of the orchestra could be employed in colourful and abstract tone poems depicting first, Marconi’s ‘electric light moment’ for the invention of radio complete with the hiss and crackle of the cat’s whisker, then the explosion of electronic technology which it presaged, and finally, the width of networking that it spawned, through the computer age and even the Facebook generation.
 The collaboration between composer, orchestra and conductor was midwifed by the Adopt-a-Composer scheme of the Performing Rights Society Foundation, and there will be another chance for audiences to hear the work, as it was recorded by Radio 3 for broadcast later in the year.


Howard Wallace Chorale at the Bishops Hill Centre

Choral singing has been dragged back into the limelight, thanks to the likes of Gareth Malone and Last Choir Standing. No longer confined to the madrigal, the church or the valleys, the genre has embraced Broadway and the charts.
This is the populist path long followed with great success by the wonderful Howard Wallace Chorale. And last Saturday, under the imposing Bishop Hill roof, I finally heard what all the plaudits are about.
They began [and ended, in fact] with Bridge Over Troubled Water, sung from memory, and their Summer Evening music meandered through Elgar, Stanford, Copland at the classical end, and Harold Arlen, Swing Low and Unchained Melody from the Easy Listening shelf. Which also included a new arrangement of Wonderful World by the choir's founder, Howard Wallace, who has now passed the baton to their present charismatic conductor Tim Rhys-Morgan. The hard-working accompanist was Steven Miller.
Three choir members sang showpieces – Marion Davies the Novello favourite Waltz of my Heart, Angela Rose a beautifully phrased number from Showboat, and Angela Broad, in a fetching feather boa, that virtuosic party piece from Herbert's The Enchantress. Nostalgic Friday Night fare.
There were two generous medleys, too, from Lennon and McCartney and the Abba jukebox musical Mamma Mia.
A welcome change of pace and style from the generally relaxed tempi of this repertoire was Copland's Little Horses, sung with panache and precision by the ladies alone.


Byrd Anniversary Concert at Stondon Massey

To Stondon Massey, for the annual concert commemorating the life and music of William Byrd. The Stondon Singers, under the exacting direction of Christopher Tinker, first gave us a suitably upbeat Sing Joyfully with a nice echo effect for “blow the trumpet”; Byrd’s contribution also included three Alleluias, and, from his secular pen, This Sweet and Merry Month, and a lively dance for Amaryllis which bounced beautifully along to follow the interval Pimms and pretzels.
There was Tallis, Sheppard and Stravinsky, and a second Sacrum Convivium from the modern British composer Gabriel Jackson – beautifully crafted in a sumptuous style with more than a hint of Whitacre and the French Romantics.
Tomas Luis de Victoria was featured too, in a performance of a mass from 1592 notable for the richly woven colours of the Kyrie. Victoria shares his 400th birthday this year with the King James Bible, and that work was celebrated with an impressive new piece from Michael Aves. “A Vision of the Word” was a challenge which the choir met with their customary diligence and enthusiasm; the harmonies of “Alpha and Omega” and the closing exhortation to “Write!” especially thrilling.
The concert ended with two helpings of Imogen Holst – The Twelve Kindly Months, and a dramatic arrangement of Gypsy Davy.


Shenfield Operatic Society at the Brentwood Theatre

Lots of débuts in this very enjoyable trip to Titipu, not least Rick McGeouch's as director. His Mikado was a pleasingly traditional take on G&S, with superb set design, striking oriental costumes and inventively used fans. The strangely configured stage was brilliantly used; the Act One finale was especially well choreographed [Annette Harris]. But he did allow himself a few modern modifications: I liked the King's Speech spoof; I was less sure about the trashing of Tit Willow.
He did have a fantastic cast to work with. Stuart Brown's comic Koko, his roots in the rag trade still showing, gave a performance to treasure in the Lytton part. His Little List, entirely updated, even-handedly included both Waitrose and The Only Way Is Essex.
Simon Cook's light tenor was well suited to Nanki-Poo, and he proved a fine actor, too. His Yum Yum was Louise Stuckey, in her first leading role for Shenfield – she has a lovely soprano, and was entirely convincing as a graduate of a ladies' seminary. Her two giggling companions were Hannah Matthews-Jones as a perky Peep-Bo and Lauren Ramshaw as Pitti-Sing, very effective in the ensembles.
Nina Jarram [a G&S virgin] made a wonderful Katisha – touching at times, but mostly a terrifying predator.
Neil Sturgess was a well-characterized Lord High Everything Else, and Boot Banes a revelation as the Emperor – an imposing figure with a memorably mirthless laugh. [I'd no idea his armoury included the Savoy Canon.]
Adrian Ure was the MD [his first time with Shenfield, too], heading up an unusual reduction for woodwind and piano.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Latchingdon Arts and Drama Society at the Tractor Shed

Paxton and Hoile were once names to conjure with in our villge halls and our weekly reps. My colleagues and mentors Peter Andrews and Gilbert Sutcliffe cut their critical teeth on the kind of pot-boilers that are now all but forgotten.
Maiden Ladies is a classic example, snatched from oblivion by the enterprising Peter Jones and his LADS.
We're straight back to the old am-dram days here, when cues were missed, corpsing was rife and the prompt worked harder than some of the cast.
This particular farcical comedy needed a deal of concentration at the start, when names are dropped and schemes are laid. All to do with what is coyly called a “romantic weekend” in a lovely cottage in deepest Surrey, threatened by the untimely arrival of the mother [Beth Greaves] together with the awful Eric [David Hudson]. Decency must be preserved, so the Maiden Ladies of the title must be impersonated, giving Reggie [a very enjoyable performance from talented farceur Daniel Turnbridge] a chance to slip into several sets of female attire, variously aided and thwarted by his valet Martingale [Arthur Barton], as they make a couple of Charley's Aunts of themselves.
Jamie-Leigh Royan's Calerie looked and sounded a woman of the period in her 30s slacks; Jemma Walshley's blonde Sylvia seemed closer to Essex than Surrey.
Robert Strange did his best with the rather thankless Heath, and I enjoyed Moir Gunfield's formidable vicar's wife.
Bill Wright was the city spiv sent to plunder The Cedars, but the plum cameo here was Robin Warnes' district dick, a prototype Truscott with a nice line in physical comedy and a disconcerting tic which made his name a strangulated “Crutch”.
I admired the impressively massive beam across this late Tudor cottage, and there were many nice moments of pure farce – the whisky bottle, the moving table, for instance. But elsewhere we were in Farndale country, with some prime examples of coarse acting, my favourite perhaps the unglazed door.
As John Folkard remarks in his excellent programme note, this kind of play is almost pre-history to today's young actors. All credit to Latchingdon for bringing it back in all its ghastly glory.

Saturday, July 09, 2011


at London’s Little Opera House at the King’s Head Theatre

Britten's claustrophobic treatment of Henry James would seem ideally suited to the tiny stage at Islington's King's Head.
Edward Dick's tightly focused production used a bare stage, two chairs and a gauze to conjure up the great house at Bly.
The projected images [Richard Bleasdale] added little to the atmosphere, but I liked the prologue, with David Menezes pacing around Katie Bird's damaged Governess with his case-notes in his hand, and at the last revealed as a psychiatrist, with the sinister Miss Jessel his nurse.

Modern dress is hard to square with the story – children are thankfully no longer entrusted to governesses – and this wicked world of mystery and imagination almost demands a period setting. I could put up with Quint's leather jacket, or Miles's trainers, but Mrs Grose [impressively sung by Laura Casey] I could not stomach as an overgrown teen from the Little Britain gallery of grotesques. Hair in bunches, Hug Me shirt, pigging sweets and swigging cola, she looked like the kind of babysitter you'd be wise to keep well away from your children. She was unnecessarily close to the new governess, too, I thought. And in general there was too much physical intimacy. The dark undercurrents, subtly suggested by Britten's score, are best kept under – we can surmise an unhealthy relationship between Quint and Jessel without seeing them enjoy a quickie on an uncomfortable wooden chair.

Musically there was much to admire, not least Musical Director David Eaton's heroic efforts at the piano, playing a fiendish reduction with sympathetic passion and superb technique. The children [Samuel Woof and Eleanor Burke on press night] were excellent at suggesting drowned innocence; Flora was beautifully sung, while Miles caught the subtle expression and meaningful glances that give his character its enigmatic allure. Menezes was a brooding, haunted Quint, using a broad dynamic range to develop an intense persona. Catrine Kirkman was a striking Jessel, dark, Gothic and a powerful presence. But the discovery of the evening was Katie Bird's Governess. Her fine acting drew us into her disturbing world, and her voice was outstanding, even in this strong young cast, rich and nuanced, with eloquent phrasing and excellent diction.
This was my first visit to what now bills itself as London's Little Opera House. The benches are not the most comfortable; the room quickly became stuffy. But to see opera this close, at this standard, is a rare treat – what an inspired idea, giving young singers a chance to shine, and audiences an operatic evening out at pocket-money prices.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Tomorrow's Talent Juniors at the Cramphorn Theatre

Despite the Pussycat Dolls title, the emphasis of this slick, enjoyable showcase was firmly on the kids here and now.
Starting with ragged urchins from Oliver and Les Mis, the huge cast filled the Cramphorn stage with colourful routines, energetically directed by Gavin Wilkinson. A costume change, and they were back for Monster Mash, My Fair Lady and The King and I, all done to powerful backing tracks.
There was drama too, notably the touching scene from David Campton's Split Down the Middle, with nicely contrasting characters from Giselle Byron and Kirstin Allen [Sophie Weatherhead and Annabella Saward in the “Hollywood” cast].
I also enjoyed the dialogue from A Proper Little Nooryeff, with Emma Shorey frustrated by William Keeler's lack of commitment to dance [Joseph Bennett and Olivia Hendrick for the matinée]; followed, cleverly, by Electricity, written for that other ballet boy, Billy Elliot. No dance moves for William here, though he more than compensated with his contribution to the stunning finale.
This is the first time the juniors have had the limelight to themselves in the Cramphorn – invaluable performance experience for these enthusiastic young people.
The seniors will be strutting their stuff next door at the Civic, where Our House, the Madness musical, runs from the 20th to the 23rd of July.

production photographs