Thursday, May 31, 2012


Music from the Queen's Coronation, 1953
Chelmsford Cathedral

A glorious curtain-raiser to the Jubilee celebrations, this Choral Foundation concert was a reminder of the wonderful music heard in Westminster Abbey when our Queen was crowned.
Not a reconstruction, of course. The Abbey boasted 400 voices, and here there were more brass players than men's voices. But a showcase of the great British music, which, across the centuries, has accompanied this solemn ritual, set in historical context by a commentary from the Reverend Prebendary William Scott.

Beginning with the stirring bombast of Parry's I Was Glad, written for Edward VII, and heard last year at the Royal Wedding. There was Crown Imperial, too, and Zadok the Priest, as well as Walton's Coronation Te Deum, which received its first performance that June day, as did Dyson's joyful Confortare, Harris's Gradual and Healey Willan's O Lord Our Governour. Choral music from the age of the first Elizabeth was represented by Byrd's beautiful Sing Joyfully, sung by the boys and men. The twentieth century gave us Vaughan Williams' O Taste and See, with a striking treble solo, and Stanford's exhilarating Gloria [George V]. The whole Cathedral rose to sing The Old Hundredth, and Gordon Jacob's Coronation arrangement of the National Anthem.
The Cathedral Choir and Consort, with the Westminster Brass and Simon Lawford at the organ, were conducted by Oliver Waterer.
The next special occasion from the Choral Foundation is an eagerly awaited appearance by The Swingle Singers, coming to the Cathedral on September 28.


Brentwood Shakespeare Company at Brentwood Theatre

It was Shakespeare's earliest play. It has the smallest cast. And frankly, it's not one of his finest.
Brentwood Shakespeare chose to set it in a garden, with Mozart muzak throughout – the al-fresco world of Fiordiligi and Figaro. This adventurous approach was easy on the eye, with some wonderful costumes, and it had several splendid spin-offs: Alan Ablewhite's lisping fop, Lindsey Crutchett's Restoration parvenue Panthina, desperate for her Proteus to better himself.
I wasn't convinced by Mark Griffiths' lumpen proletarian – certainly not a gentleman "and well derived" in the Shakespearean sense. But it did allow a nice contrast with Andrew Hewitt's supercilious Valentine, with his snobbish smile. Their girls were similarly distinct – Helen Sinclair's pert Julia [a splendid "Sebastian", too] and Natalie Sant's elegant Silvia, by far the best speaker of the verse.
Elsewhere there was sometimes a fatal failure to move the lines forward, and laughs were in short supply, though Elliott Porte, as a lugubrious Lance, working with Harvey, the stand-in Crab, delivered his speeches impeccably, while achieving a real rapport with his audience.
This charming, gently revolutionary comedy was directed by Vernon Keeble-Watson.


Garfunkel and Simon at the Civic Theatre

One of our best-respected tribute artists – already a hit here with his Real Diamond back in March – John Hylton brought us his Paul Simon at the height of last week's heatwave.
Wearing a red baseball cap obscuring his Diamond hair and most of his face, he brought with him to the Civic a four-piece backing band and, of course, his Art Garfunkel, aka Allen, his son.
There was some half-hearted banter, but it was the music the fans had come for, and they were not short-changed, starting with A Hazy Shade of Winter and ending in party mood with Cecilia.
In between, most of the favourites – 59th Street Bridge Song, The Boxer, a nice Mrs Robinson, a rather muddy Scarborough Fair, an excellently realised Sound of Silence and Bridge Over Troubled Water, with the long intro from impressive keyboard man J Black - upright piano and primitive Korg Triton.
Some unexpected treats, too: the Everlys' Bye Bye Love, Bert Jansch's hit Anji, and Father and Daughter, with a great guitar intro from Gary Millen. But, alas, not So Long Frank Lloyd Wright, which the lady in the front row would dearly have loved to hear ...
For me, these "proper songs, with real lyrics" might have been better appreciated without the stadium-strength sound system that seems to come as standard these days; but there was no doubting the excellent musicianship of father and son, not to mention their even more laid-back band, and the enthusiasm of the audience for what is probably the nearest we'll ever get now to this legendary duo live in concert.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012



Norwich and Norfolk Festival lunchtime concert, Assembly House, Norwich


The last of the 2012 Festival's popular lunchtime concert series in the Assembly House was given by the La Mer Trio, formed in 2010.
In a varied, enjoyable programme, which featured Takemitsu as well as a new commission, they proved adventurous, imaginative musicians.
The new piece was Triptyque de la Lande, by Thomas Oehler, who was with us in the Assembly House for the performance. It was inspired by a moorland in Brittany, the three movements each evoking an image from that landscape. The first, Triskele, began with the harp softly strumming, then, after broken rhythms and truncated phrases, it developed urgent motifs which eventually sank back in repose. Dolmen had the viola's lower register in soliloquy, with commentaries from flute and harp gradually asserting themselves, before the lively closing Korrigan dance.
The Takemitsu – "And Then I Knew 'Twas Wind" - inhabits a different, dreamlike landscape, enhanced today by birdsong from outside the open windows. A homage to Claude Debussy, it also includes unusual effects on all three instruments, as well as many of Takemitsu's trademark devices. Phrases were echoed and deformed, before flute and viola moved towards unison and the unanswered question at the end.
My favourite landscape, though, was Bax's Edwardian watercolour world, his Elegiac Trio meandering through a post-romantic pastoral, beautifully evoked in a polished performance.
The Baroque was represented by a Leclair Trio Sonata, with its deliciously lazy largo Sarabande and energetic finale.
They ended their programme with a soundscape closer to their Debussy origins: Ravel's familiar Tombeau de Couperin, crystal clear in this chamber version, with especially eloquent phrasing from the flute in the Rigaudon.

The La Mer Trio, all award-winning graduates from the Academy and Guildhall, are Renate Sokolovska, flute, Maja Wegrzynowska, viola and Hannah Stone, harp.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Chichester Festival Theatre

It's what Hugh Whitemore does best. Plays with words, often from letters or memoirs, using the magic of theatre to shed new light on figures from our recent history.
It's less that a lifetime since Hugh Gaitskell was leader of the Labour opposition, criticising the Tories for their eagerness to wage war in the Middle East, under the "delusion that we are still a world power". An unlikely lover for the attractive wife of Bond creator Ian Fleming, you might think. But this fascinating rummage around the Suez crisis convinces us that beneath the stiff shirts and the severe raincoats there beat hearts both vulnerable and passionate. As many of the matinée audience would recall, this was the way we handled emotions back then – quietly, with dignity and a stiff upper lip.
Nicholas LePrevost's rumpled Gaitskell was utterly believable, as was Anthony Andrews' ailing Eden, though his tired, hooded eyes were more reminiscent of his successor, Supermac.
The elegant womenfolk were Imogen Stubbs as Ann Fleming,
Abigail Cruttenden as the PM's loving Clarissa.
But for me, the acting honours went to Martin Hutson's principled, determined Nutting, who resigns rather than support his government's stance, and Simon Dutton's slightly louche, weary Fleming, neighbour of "Chinese Nell" [Coward] whose brittle, oblique dramatic style is echoed in several of the dialogues here.
It is a wordy piece, and lacks a clear dramatic arc, perhaps, though Eden's artist, atheist father is a potent device. Without Chichester's stylish production – the bombing and the ballroom dancing, the revolves and the Fifties frocks – it might flounder under the weight of history and gossip. Nonetheless, the parallels we are left to draw – Blair and Selwyn Lloyd [the excellent David Yelland] both went to Fettes – are salutary, and the seaboard encounter between the convalescent Eden and the pugilist Prescott is an improbable treat – but, like Gaitskell's love of ballroom dancing, not too good to be true at all, apparently ...


Greville Theatre Club at the Barn Theatre Little Easton

This is Godber in heritage mode; an autobiographical plod through the postwar years, ending in the miners' battle with Thatcher in the 80s, when the piece was written.

I'm not sure that linear chronology, with characters flagging up the year in slightly forced narration, is the most potent dramatic device. But the Greville's remarkable revival, produced and directed by Jan Ford, made the most of the play's undoubted strengths.

The music, for instance, those "old time records", 78s up in the attic, was effectively used – from The Trolley Song to Bowie – and the set, with exquisite simplicity, echoed the misty-eyed view of the pits, with flying ducks, replaced by Paul's graduation portrait, the only ornament [design by Richard Pickford and Steve Bradley].

The story centres on the Parker sisters, and traces their parallel lives from flirty dances at the Welfare Hall to frosty silence and isolation. Carol Parradine and Diana Bradley both gave outstanding performances in these demanding roles. The accent, the attitude, the clothes [Judy Lee] were all impressively convincing: Annie's raw grief as she hears of her husband's death, May's stormy love/hate relationship with her son, the writer, were strongly delineated in wonderfully sustained character work.
Their menfolk, the miners, were Adam Thompson as the father, stoically loyal to the NCB even as it destroyed his health, and Chris Kearney as Roy, killed underground just as his dream of a paper shop is about to come true.
Social mobility is one of the themes of the piece; Paul, good with words, several degrees at Sussex, leaves home, his friends and his childhood sweetheart for the Big Smoke. He had too much narration for my taste, but was engagingly played by Jonathan Scripps, who had a good feel for Godber's wry humour. Kay, the girl he left behind, was excellently done by Sonia Lindsey-Scripps. The moment, at the Silver Wedding, when she first realised that her mortgage and her microwave were no substitute for her "Milk Tray Man" was typical of a meticulous exploration of this contradictory character; there was plenty of fun, too, with early fumblings to the sound of paso doble, and the alluring promise of a taste of her Terry's Chocolate Oranges...
She also played the mysterious Cherry, the metropolitan girl who replaces Kay in Paul's affections.
Chris Plumridge was the laddish Tosh [né Edward], and Lynda Shelverton played a couple of northern neighbours.
This production was typically painstaking – I admired the stage pictures – May's first entrance with the [? Silver Cross] pram just one example – and the freezes – Harry picking up his feet for May's Bex Bissell.
The young women shouting down through the rock to their men in the mine was followed by a nicely expressionistic scene underground.
And at the end, what ? May and Harry turn sixty ["wi' nowt to look forward to"]. They share the domestic chores, he does his DIY, but there'll be no more Paris or Yugoslavia, we suspect, as her illness and her paranoia take hold. Estranged son Paul turns up on her birthday, with Cherry, an olive branch and a red rose. But she'll have none of it, and retires to her room. Then, in a strange coda, the sisters, long separated by a political tiff, are reunited; the trip to the Carvery, and the southern girlfriend, are embraced in what I suspect is an ironic happy ending, with the dramatist as deus ex machina. No such optimism for the coal industry, which seemed to believe almost to the ignominious end that "people'll always need coal". I don't know what became of the Astoria, but this Welfare Hall is, happily, now a thriving Playhouse, with Pygmalion playing this week.

Salt of the Earth's run at the Greville had sold out before opening night, testament to the reputation of the Greville and its unique auditorium, if not to the pulling power of Big John Godber.

Saturday, May 26, 2012



Norwich and Norfolk Festival at the Playhouse, Norwich


Irving and Olivier, Sinden and Sher, Nigel Hawthorne, Simon Russell Beale – so many memorable Malvolios. But none, I'm sure, got under the skin of the steward as successfully as Tim Crouch, in a wonderful one-man-show of his own devising.
It's actually the fourth of his Shakespeare solos, with Cinna [the poet] to come later this year.
The houselights are never completely dimmed; we, the audience, are Sir Toby Belch, we represent the forces of disorder and misrule, with Malvolio the lone, sane voice of reason. And there's no shortage of latter-day cakes and ale for him to rail against – slouching, binge-drinking, inappropriate dress – the way he says "DVD" makes it sound like the distasteful work of the devil.
In the best tradition of stand-up, the innocent are singled out: reading the programme, blowing one's nose, laughing, all ruthlessly pounced upon.
"Find that funny, do you ? Is that the sort of thing you find funny ?" is his refrain, for all the world like an old-time schoolmaster. At other times he's Basil Fawlty, or the nutter on the bus – "I am not mad ..." - with Olivia's discarded letter the catalyst for a priceless rant about litter – "a godless mass of filth".
"Somewhere between comedy and pain," he advises, encouraging a lad in the second row [still wearing his school uniform] to come up on stage and kick his proffered arse. And that's the melancholy magic of this unsettling monologue: we laugh at this wretched "funny, funny man", but shift uncomfortably in our seats, knowing that laughter can easily turn to bullying and bear-baiting, as our hero is "hideously abused". Some moments are very bleak, but even the hangman's noose is testing tragi-comedy, with two more 'volunteers' up on stage, Joe to hold the rope, Lizzie poised to pull away the bentwood chair.
Crouch starts off in his grimy, fantastical, prison garb, with a red wattle under his chin and "Turkey Cock" pinned to his back. By the end he is his Puritan self again, and is cleverly "revenged on the whole pack of you".
Along the way he unpacks the mad "improbable fiction" of the plot of Twelfth Night, and explores the dark despair of lost love, the struggle between order and anarchy, and the cruel comedy of Illyria and the playhouse.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Trinity Methodist Music and Drama at the Civic Theatre

A punchy, polished revival of a rather tired show, with too many so-so songs. And this new version has not improved it much – I used rather to like the old Military Canal.
But it was clear from Kipps' first entrance – stepping shyly into the spotlight to tell us his story and paint us the pictures – that this was a production that would draw us in and keep us entertained.
Toby Holland was the draper in question – rather fresh-faced to convince as the oldest apprentice in the business, but a very engaging all-rounder. His childhood sweetheart, who comes to find him in the wilds of Folkestone, was superbly played by Charlotte Reed. They headed a large cast, notable for including many new faces, and for being impressive in depth, from the Walsingham family right down to the deckchair man cum photographer.
I liked Joe Gray's left-wing apprentice, and Tony Brett's bibulous Chitterlow. The skinflint Shalford was given the full Dickensian treatment by Trinity stalwart Tony Court.
Beautifully dressed – in the Floral Hall especially – the chorus sang and moved with style and energy. The musical director was Gerald Hindes, the production was by Cathy Court, and the set design – a simple sixpence sliced in two – was by Paul Lazell.


Kytes Theatre Group at Brentwood Theatre

A daughter and her nervous mother receive no gentlemen callers. The embarrassing man in their life leaves the home to drink in cheap taverns and shady bars, and brings home unsuitable friends to play cards. Magazine subscriptions are sold to a "circle" over the phone.
Familiar Tennessee territory ? Well, this is the feel-good comedy Williams never wrote: Mary Chase's ever-popular Harvey.

This is the one – best known as a Jimmy Stewart vehicle on celluloid – about Elwood P, whose imaginary friend is 6 foot 1, and has holes in his hat where his ears poke through.
For her début as a director, Claire Hilder wisely assembled an experienced team of all the talents. Lionel Bishop was "the biggest screwball in town", giving a wonderful study of this oh so pleasant philanthropist – a laid-back, almost throwaway performance, but exuding childlike innocence and naïve charm.
The useless shrinks who fail to turn our harmless hero into a "perfectly normal human being" were Darren Matthews as Sanderson and Paul Sparrowham, predictably excellent as Chumley: his closing scene with Dowd – Pittsburgh and maple trees – was beautifully delivered.
Jeanette Tirmizey played the distraught mother, Emma Feeney her frustrated daughter. Plenty of pleasure to be had from the supporting cast, including Bob Thompson's taxi driver, Alan Thorley's judge and Sacha Flory's feisty nurse.
The clever set design – by the director and Dr Sanderson – swivelled to allow a reasonably seamless cross-fade from family mansion to funny farm, and the incidental music [Happy Days Are Here Again] neatly established period and mood.

Our visits to the bijou Brentwood venue sometimes recall a regular old-style repertory company: familiar, friendly faces playing a range of styles and roles over a season. This week, for instance, our two doctors and our Myrtle May, not to mention one of the lady callers and the director herself, were to be seen on this same stage just days ago in College Players' hugely entertaining Roxy Krasner.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Chichester Festival Theatre, Minerva

Three young couples, each with two small children in tow, find themselves "glamping" in adjacent canvas chalets on a Welsh farm. And as the dirt and feathers are scrubbed from the "organic, free range" eggs, so their careful social façades crack and collapse.
This sort of tragi-comic exploration of middle-class angst is usually born and raised in Scarborough, so it's refreshing to welcome Michael Wynne to the club, in his first play for Chichester.
I wasn't sure about the tone at times, and the happy coda didn't quite ring true, but Angus Jackson's production was faultless, with an outstanding set, with real mud, and, you've guessed it, three successive kitchens for the three contrasting couples. And an able cast of campers.
Sarah Hadland was the cringe-makingly awful, organized Bridget, Elliot Levey her pathetic ex.
The first couple we meet, and the most likeable, were Dean Lennox Kelly's Alan, all pent-up aggression, and Lucy Montgomery, excellent as the reluctant glamper Justine. Oliver Milburn managed a nicely repulsive charm as City dentist Alistair; his long-suffering, demanding Amanda was played with a toxic smile by Hattie Ladbury.
Completing the cast were two tired children, a stray hen and Bronwyn from the farm, played with growing despair and distress by Lisa Palfrey.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


College Players at Brentwood Theatre

"There's a zombie stealing the Ark of the Covenant!!!" They do still write dialogue like that, I'm glad to say, and the anonymous ["… is he Greek ?"] screenwriter behind this Roxy Krasner sequel has come up with a wickedly entertaining confection. Think Indiana Jones done over as a 39 Steps style spoof, and you'll start to get the B picture. There were also a couple of dance routines and a weird Sapphic subplot, all expertly "produced and directed" by Sue Welch and Nick Wilkes.
Technically, the show was a triumph, with a lovely wide set, brilliant back projections and an impressive pair of female facilities.
A strong cast embraced the OTT style, none more successfully than Paul Sparrowham as the lecherous Limelight Larry – his striptease and cover-up a comic highlight. Roxy herself, talking novel and secretary sidekick, was engagingly done by Lindsey Hollingsworth, with Darren Matthews as her granite-jawed detective. Excellent work too from Emma Feeney as Cleo Cartwright, Mariam Uddin as the undercover reporter Holly Woods and Hannah James as Goldie, Queen of the Nile. Best support – Stephen Bracken-Keogh's dyspeptic telegram man, and, well worth waiting for, a double cameo from June Fitzgerald and Elaine Laight as the Salmon Sisters.
We're promised a third episode, and indeed were treated to a slick trailer before the credits rolled.


Old Court Radio Company in High Chelmer
[photograph of an earlier performance: M J Elliott]

This year's Altogether Now Festival includes three drama productions: Bank Job, from the quirky pen of actor James Christie, and a revised revival of Writtle Cards' Always Odds On, written by Nick Caton.
And to open the Festival, this brand new Sherlock Holmes mystery, adapted by Roger Johnson from his own short story. From our mystery city centre location we look out to see, not Baker Street but, through century-old limes, the Fleece Inn and St Mary's Church.
This is the story of one Henry Staunton [Johnson], patron of the arts and inveterate gambler, and his lost golden chalice. Unwisely perhaps, he calls in, not Vince Webb's plodding Lestrade, but Holmes [Jim Crozier] and his trusty Watson [Dave Hawkes], whose sharp minds are quickly on the tracks of the thief.
It's a witty, convincing radio script, opening with the great detective "in the dumps" as Watson reads out titbits from The Thunderer. The cavernous venue has just the right acoustic for the grisly scene in Stoke Newington mortuary, and the atmosphere is suitably enhanced by the sound of the Sherlock violin ...


Icarus Theatre Collective at the Civic Theatre

This muscular Macbeth first took to the stage at the Edinburgh Festival last year. Its great strength is the design: a vast red cloth, dark vertical beams, with blood-red gashes to mark each death on the tyrant's path to power. And a prominent super-moon, eclipsed or overlaid with gore and portents. All underscored with massive music [Theo Holloway].
The show is a little longer than it might be, despite the swift pace, since we have messy skirmishes at the start as well as the end, and we see Banquo's banquet twice, from two angles, either side of the interval. This youthful Banquo's death and resurrection were strikingly done, though, and Matthew Bloxham's performances [he was also the Doctor and a paralytic Northern porter] were among the best. I liked Sophie Brooke's Lady M, wanton, languorous and wild-eyed from the start. She too played many parts; characters became witches or assassins in the swish of a cloak. Joel Gorf was Macbeth. He had a commanding presence, and interacted interestingly with the weird sisters, but whereas some speeches ["is this a dagger"] were impressive, some were garbled or thrown away ["murdered sleep"].
Max Lewendel directed.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Theatre at Baddow

They say "smorgasbord" I say "bran tub".
Four very different pieces [I loved the individual poster design for each one – uncredited, as far as I could see], each with some moments to savour.

Kelly McGibney's Beth, scoffing the Pringles on her hotel bed as vacation chaos relentlessly erupts around her, in Joe Kennedy's farcical chunk of California Suite. If Tarantino did Whitehall farce ...
The chilling final minute of The Edge, directed by John Mabey. It's a patchy little play, with too much exposition but some nicely spooky psychological twists. And that dénouement faultlessly handled by Mike Nower and Roger Saddington.
Helen Quigley's choice was Joining The Club, a clever piece of social observation which managed to get its laughs despite some indistinct, under-pointed dialogue.
In By The Half is Jimmie Chinn's wryly affectionate look at an ageing actress [Sara Nower excellent as the haughty, dotty Thorndike figure] and her grumpy dresser [Barbara Llewellyn]. Joanna Windley-Poole directed, and also played the estranged daughter who has sad news to impart.

An entertaining, varied evening, with something for everyone, raising funds for UNICEF and providing a chance for a dozen talented actors to have their turn in the limelight.

Sunday, May 06, 2012


Chappel and Wakes Colne


The restored Victorian Goods Shed at Chappel is not an ideal theatre space: no proper blackout, draughty, with noisy heaters never really beating the chill.

But what an evocative setting for this what-if World War II tale; a guard's waggon stage left, and over our heads, an old station clock, relentlessly, defiantly ticking away the time [our time, not Jerry's alien daylight saving].

Private Resistance tells the story of the Auxiliary Units, small bands of local men [and boys] who would harass the foe from within, attacking from behind the lines, keeping Britain fighting while we waited for the Yanks to finish off Pacific business and ride to our rescue.

The railway plays a key role in the story: the "only real noise" to ruffle this rural idyll twenty miles north of Chelmsford, transporting "liberated" art works and Jewish families, and the focus of the sabotage for the May Day Uprising of 1943. What would the Suffolk maquis have made of the viaduct just up the line …

This is my third look at Ivan Cutting's Home Front alternative history. The ensemble playing is, if anything, still stronger, with glances and half-formed sentences conveying so much. And the second half, which seemed a little wordy at Wivenhoe, now seems an intriguing exploration of the nature of occupation, of collaboration, of gender roles and family ties. The final sequence, with the only survivor looking back at those dark, dangerous days, is a moving coda to this story of a very British guerilla war.

Thursday, May 03, 2012


at the Civic Theatre

As a teenager, I sniggered over Richard Gordon's comic novel, and later enjoyed the Pinewood movie version. Now Simon Sparrow and his chums are touring the land in a broad farce, written by Richard Gordon and Ted Willis, and directed by Ian Talbot.

No hint of irony here, as the characters shout the lines and vie to out-play each other. There's a cod melodrama, a stalled seduction scene, but precious little medical banter, unless you count the hospital porter diagnosed half-undressed on the kitchen table.

Designer Paul Farnsworth has come up with a lovely set of student digs, where all the action takes place, so that Sir Lancelot [a dapper Robert Powell] and Matron [the formidable Gay Soper] are forced to slum it with the young medics. The large supporting cast included Peter Dunwell, excellent as the larger-than-life porter Bromley, and Rachel Baynton as the demure but determined Janet.

Sparrow [Phillip Langhorne] and his friend John [Tom Butcher] are rather eclipsed by Joe Pasquale's Grimsdyke. He draws the bits of plot together in hindsight, looking back from his Mayfair practice at his days at St Swithin's. The audience willingly suspended its disbelief, though as Joe admitted, accepting him as a doctor was "a big ask". But, miked up, mugging and ad-libbing, he did provide some of the biggest laughs of an undemanding evening's entertainment.


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court

Jim Hutchon was immersed in the 80s Disco scene ...

Co-directors Catherine Kenton and Jenny Almond went for a mainly hilarious take on this 80s comment on night life. Four men took on more than twenty parts, as bouncers, then giggling girls preparing for a night on the pull, then blokes downing 14 pints to pluck up the courage to get to the disco and get some flesh.

John Mabey was Judd, with the intellect of a “painted-on brain” , James Christie was Les, a Glaswegian with clearly a penchant for meaningless violence, Barrie Taylor was Ralph, most in touch with his feminine side, though he exuded a hidden menace. Elder of the tribe, was David Hawkes, as Lucky Eric, who had seen it all and, in a speech which, for me, was the high point of the drama, extolled the sadness behind the façade. The setting was an ‘in the round’ disco complete with blinding lights and thundering sound.
This was totally immersive theatre, with the pace and volume being forced upwards as the overworked four slipped seamlessly between bouncers and flouncers and punters and hunters. As the volume reached the threshold of pain, the audience were shot from their seats onto the dance floor in a whirling melange of colour.

Of all the many versions of this play that I have seen, I really felt, for the first time, that they had nailed it.


Little Baddow Drama Group at the Memorial Hall

Jim Hutchon checked into the North Hill Hotel ...

Something of a departure for Little Baddow, this assembly of prose, poetry and music on the theme of hotels from all corners of the earth was, above all civilised and often thought provoking. Some of the pieces were from familiar pens – Dickens, Belloc, Trollope, Bennett (Arnold) and Bennett (Alan). But others were either totally obscure or not noted for this sort of treatise.

The five readers were Michael Gray and Rita Ronn (who co-produced the evening) plus Caroline Ogden, Ken Rolf and Allison Tibbatts. Interspersed with the readings were songs from the gifted duet of Kate Knight and Roy Sach, who provided appropriate melodious commentary on the proceedings.

Some beautifully-crafted, odd and some frankly very strange pieces reflected the wide-ranging search which had gone into the unearthing material for this. I could have done with, perhaps more variation, many of the pieces were erudite and often funny but generally delivered in standard book-reading English. There were some variations: Ken Rolf made a passable stab at Bryson American, and Michael Gray did a fair Bennett (Alan).

They managed to cram no less than 40 pieces into two stage hours, tho’ I felt the material couldn’t really sustain that length of production. Perhaps fewer, with longer pauses and a longer finger buffet interval would have helped. But this was, nonetheless a very enjoyable and civilised evening.