Monday, September 29, 2014


Lend Me a Tenor
Ken Ludwig’s multi-award-winning farce

The Queen’s Theatre’s resident company cut to the chase… presents Ken Ludwig’s multi-award-winning slam-door comedy Lend Me a Tenor from 3 – 25 October.

This furiously-paced frivolous frenzy will entertain everyone for as long as they can keep up!

We’re in a hotel in Ohio in 1934 and Il Stupendo has come to save the day! It’s the biggest night in the history of the Grand Opera Company as they anxiously await the arrival of the world’s greatest tenor Signor Tito Merelli – or Il Stupendo – and his performance of Otello that will save the struggling company.

But then… doors start slamming when womanising Tito is incapacitated and his wife’s goodbye letter is mistaken for a suicide note! Max, the Opera Director’s meek assistant, is given the daunting task of finding a last-minute replacement. Chaos ensues – featuring a scheming soprano, a jealous wife and the Cleveland Police!

Lend Me a Tenor was Ludwig’s first commercially-produced play, which went on to enjoy enormous success in the West End and on Broadway. It has received numerous Tony and Drama Desk awards, been nominated for Laurence Olivier and Outer Critics Circle awards and been translated into 16 languages and produced in 25 countries!

The cast includes cut to the chase… company members Fred Broom, Georgina Field, Christine Holman, Greg Last, Sarah Mahony, Sean Needham, Sarah Scowen and Steve Simmonds.

This production is directed by the Queen’s Associate Director Matt Devitt, with set and costume design by Mark Walters and lighting by Daniel Crews.

Lend Me a Tenor runs from 3 – 25 October at the Queen’s Theatre, Billet Lane, Hornchurch. Tickets are from £12.50 - £26.50. For more details and to book, call the Box Office on
01708 443333 or book online at

Sunday, September 28, 2014


CAODS at the Civic Theatre

Lloyd Webber's rock oratorio, a passion play for the heavy metal generation, gets a powerful, largely traditional staging at the Civic.
The opening prologue sets the tone – Jesus's early life is played out like a fast-forward Biblical epic, with costumes and tableaux worthy of De Mille.
The show itself, originally a concept album, focuses on the last days of Christ, and on the role of Judas, the troubled outsider, given a compelling performance here by Simon Bristoe. The chorus is inventively used, spilling out over the vast steps which, with a perspex pyramid, make up the set. The energy is palpable – in the Temple, in the Garden of Gethsemane, in What's the Buzz. Subtlety is not notably part of director Ray Jeffery's toolbox, and heartstrings are shamelessly tugged, while the title number, with its assorted Angels, is high camp kitsch, as is the decadence of Herod's entourage. The red capes and plumes make a strong visual statement before the uncompromising Crucifixion. Only in the reflective John 19:41 is the movement something of a distraction.
Excellent performances, vocally and dramatically, from Stuart Woolner as a handsome, charismatic Messiah, and Karen Kelleher as a dignified Magdalene.
This is a demanding show musically, literally an opera, with big arias and complex ensembles. Under CAODS new MD Rob Wicks it is given a great performance; only occasionally are the words lost under instrumental enthusiasm or tortured screeching.

A virtually sell-out run, with standing ovations for the principals, adds up to a huge success for Chelmsford's premier company.

production photograph by Christopher Yorke-Edwards

Saturday, September 27, 2014


Blackmore Players in the Village Hall

Much more comedy than thrills in this amusing pot-boiler by panto veteran Norman Robbins. Tinned peaches to the fresh fruit of real plays, never aspiring to professional productions, these ready-to-wear pieces are unaccountably popular with amateur groups.
The Friday-night crowd were in a receptive mood, and laughed long and loud at the shenanigans on stage. As the title suggests, a fortune is at stake, the millions left by Edie Puddephat [check comedy monniker]. Long-lost family gather to claim their due, but a freak accident is the cue for some dark deeds, as the beneficiaries are bumped off one by one – road accidents, poisoning, ailurophobia and the neatest cardiac arrest ever. Mr Brian Harris has taken a helpful ad in the programme, offering help with wills and estates, and we could have used his assistance with the convoluted and improbable plot. Not a “Kind Hearts” tontine, this, so it is not clear how the deaths will enrich the survivors. The characters manfully recap from time to time - “As we all know, ...” but on the second night it got to the cast in the end – cue general corpsing, with the prompt [Vera Hitchin] put through her paces and collateral damage in the priceless “carrot page” Spoonerism. Or is that in the script ?
Heading the gallery of stereotypes is Barbara Harrold as Velma, an excellent Northern battle-axe - “If I want your opinion I'll give it to you” - with her meek son Fordyce [nicely characterized by James Hughes with sharp suit and side parting]. She alone has the accent to a tee – some of the more distant relations bring estuary tones to the wake. But plenty of entertainment to be had from Martin Herford's Peasegood [check comedy vicar], Charley Magee's gloriously tasteless Miriam [check comedy lush], and Glenys Young's Bella, with anklets the size of ASBO tags. Youngsters Adam Hughes [tattooed male stripper] and Rebecca Smith [his pierced girlfriend] look great, but need to be chavvier and chippier.
Co-director [with son Andrew] Linda Raymond successfully steps up to take the part of the enigmatic Genista Royal, housekeeper to the dear departed.
The solid set successfully evokes the house of the late Edie – much fun with the cats' pee – but there are dark patches in the downstage corners.

Not a period piece, but harks back to another age, when we talked about nancy boys and unmarried mothers, every suburban villa had its domestic help, and every village had lively, thriving amateur theatricals like the Blackmore Players.


Shakespeare's Globe

The groundlings were well placed to appreciate the exotic body art on view in this otherwise slightly disappointing look at the story [half fact, half fiction] of what happened to Fletcher Christian and the other Bounty mutineers.
The play, which opened in Chichester, transfers well to the outdoor arena, though polystyrene rocks that look realistic under lights risk looking more artificial in the cruel light of day.
The space is well used, with actors rushing in through the yard, and much banter between the crowd and the innocent, ingenuous Tahitan women who're brought along to found a utopian colony, turning over a revolutionary "virgin leaf". Shades here of Lord of the Flies, and Our Country's Good, but strangely lacking in drama and credible characterization, despite the efforts of director Max Stafford-Clark – plenty of violent incident in the second half especially – and a strong young cast. The women have the toughest time – speaking like debs when talking their own language, lapsing into pidgin to converse with their husband/captors. Despite their guileless talk of orgies and sexual entertainment, there is little to frighten the horses here.
Tom Moreley is the troubled Christian, with excellent support from Ash Hunter as the hypocritical quadroon Ned Young, and Naveed Khan as the native slave who does most of the dirty work.
The counter-factual ending [hinted at in the opening] is interesting, though the revenge of the dusky maidens is not convincing historically or dramatically. Richard Bean's play is clearly the result of much historical and anthroplogical research. But though there is rarely a dull moment, with music, movement and conflict of all kinds keeping things moving, we never feel a part of history in the way that we do with, say, Anne Boleyn or In Extremis.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Squint at Charing Cross Theatre

How do we choose to consume the news ? This timely piece suggests some answers, raises many questions and keeps its audience intrigued for a tense 90 minutes.

We theatricalise the state of our mediatised lives ...” There are moments near the beginning, when News Editor Neil is getting a Twitter roasting, when it looks as though the tone might be as clunky and didactic as that unfairly decontextualised soundbite from author/director Andrew Whyment. #literally. But dramatic instincts kick in, and the intriguing structure of the story carries the “debate-sparker” effortlessly to its gripping conclusion.

It's a play for the now generation, most likely to set its news agenda by what is trending. Whyment, and his company Squint, working with young playwrights and a young cast in “topical, contemporary ensemble-driven theatre”.

The visual style is familiar. Is Curious Incident a sub-genre now, like French Farce ? In the narrow perspective of the Charing Cross, a harshly-lit rectangular acting area is surrounded on three sides by seats for the actors, with a rack of costumes just visible. Roadie cases stand in for much of the furniture. Physical set-pieces include planes, trains and the tube; there's a newsroom ballet, another with suitcases, even pretty much a production number with umbrellas [“Bad Moon Rising”].

Difficult to discuss the plot development without giving away too many twists. #spoilers. It involves three soldiers, missing in Helmand, an unnamed “Royal Prince”, a clearly named Australian media mogul arriving in the UK to bid for the News of the World, a scoop born on Twitter, a fictional tv newsroom and an audacious show-and-tell revenge. Central to all this is Jamie, the squaddie's naïve but canny younger brother, brilliantly played by Cole Edwards. Far from being condemned to the regulation fifteen minutes of Facebook fame, he turns out to be the future, too …

There is clever cutting between the two plot-lines: a nice five minutes of confusion on the airport concourse where Sam Jenkins-Shaw, playing two characters decades apart, is hassled by Jamie and unwittingly takes Rupert's luggage. And the young story-teller heading on BOAC to Fleet Street tells a nervous Mary about a plane-crash as the transparent fish-tank NSC studio goes into meltdown. Our credulity is tested from time to time – the sister of another soldier has no access to news for three days [no broadband] – but the frozen moment of live television is a triumph of meaningful theatricality.

Palpable energy from the ensemble of eight as the plot unravels, priorities are changed, damage is controlled. Tom Gordon is Neil, most hated man in Britain, and Kevin Phelan compelling as “Red”, arriving in 60s Britain with a mission to change the way the news is delivered.

Long Story Short makes no judgements about the changes the years between have brought. Should we be grateful or fearful that the news is consumer-driven, that the fast always beats the slow, that the preferred medium of the future is the blogosphere, seemingly unaware of the difference between reality tv and real events ? A democracy of dunces ? #public interest

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

THINGS TO COME - JUMP and you’ll get there

JUMP and you’ll get there
15th-18th October 2014 in Chelmsford Cathedral

A new play by Alison Woollard to celebrate the centenary of Chelmsford Cathedral and Diocese

Composer and lyricist, Katie Miller

JUMP tells the story of the hundred years since the Diocese of the Chelmsford was created and St Mary’s, at the top of the High Street, became its Cathedral.

Music, song and drama show how the clergy and congregation responded to the challenges which faced them in serving the population of Essex and east London and turning a parish church into a Cathedral.

Why was a new diocese needed ? How was St Mary’s chosen as the cathedral ? Over a hundred years huge changes face the people who work and worship there: two world wars, the needs of London over the Border, the education of young people, the role of women and the use of the Cathedral itself.

Our title comes from the Rt Rev Henry Wilson who was bishop during World War Two. They sum up the courage and the optimism of all the people whose efforts created the Diocese and Cathedral.

A cast of over 30 comes from the Cathedral, local drama groups and the Cathedral School.

Jump and you’ll get there - 15th-18th October 2014
in Chelmsford Cathedral

Wed-Fri 7.30pm, Sat 7.00pm

Tickets £12 (£6 for under 18s)
Available from  01245 256042  -  6.30pm-8.30pm

Booking is now open - because of the unique performance space the director has chosen within the Cathedral, only 100 seats are available for each performance.
More details on the Cathedral's website

Picture shows Helen Clothier and Esme Hillier, two of the "Women of Chelmsford" in one of the musical numbers from the show.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


at St John Baptist, Danbury

An intriguingly eclectic programme for the keynote concert of this year's Festival, the fourth celebrating the work of this 20th Century Essex composer.
The central work is Armstrong Gibbs String Quartet in G Minor, known as Kenilworth. It dates from his wartime exile in the Lakes, and has a very English feel, especially in the folk-inspired Vivace. Echoes of Elgar in the Lento, shades of RVW in the finale, where the Maestoso theme is re-stated. Played with passion and insight by Robert Atchison and David Jones from the London Piano Trio [the go-to-guys for Gibbs chamber works], with Jacqueline Hartley, violin, and Bill Hawkes, viola.
The programme ended with an energetic reading of Dvorak's much-loved Second Piano Quintet [Olga Dudnik at the piano], but it began with something much more arcane – 1919, by Ryuichi Sakamoto: six movements from his album 1996, for Piano Trio. Pretty certain I wasn't alone in not knowing what to expect. Turned out to be very enjoyable versions of his melodious movie minimalist hits, including Oscar-winning Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, Rain, from The Last Emperor, and The Sheltering Sky, with haunting romantic lines for the strings.
This year's Festival has also featured Tea With Dr Gibbs [with soprano and pianoforte], a new eco-opera for children, a book launch and a Flute and Piano recital by Kia Bennett and Tim Carey, including a Suite by Armstrong Gibbs, two of his piano postcards from the Lake District, and a substantial sonata by the “English Rachmaninov”, Gibbs' contemporary Edwin York Bowen.

Two years to wait for the next Festival in Danbury, but you can hear Tim and Kia's programme again this Friday, 26 September, in a lunchtime concert at St Thomas, Brentwood.


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at The Old Court

Conor McPherson's bleak apocalyptic drama owes nothing to Hitchcock, and precious little to Du Maurier.
Diane, a writer, is holed up in a derelict cottage near the sea with a man. Each tide brings deadly waves of predatory birds. Civilization has ceased – think Day of the Triffids – with pockets of scavenging survivors battling to stay alive. A fugitive girl joins them, upsets the precarious balance, finds the diary to which the writer confides her thoughts.
McPherson has little gift for character, or for dialogue. The scenes are often short, punctuated by the tides and the birds.
Mike Nower, in the final production of his fine body of work for CTW, has included a prologue, in which researchers from the future explore the cottage and find the diary. And added visual representations of the gulls, crows, whatever, in descending order of effectiveness, as shadowy forms on the auditorium walls, as film, as endlessly revolving projections. They're much more menacing when they're unseen, attacking the boarded windows, flapping and fluttering around the shutters.
Nower has assembled an experienced company, not least Robin Winder in a nice cameo as the mysterious neighbour. Strong performances from Sara Nower and Greg Whitehead as the “couple”, barely communicating as they live in their own worlds, and from Kat Hempstead as fierce, vulnerable Julia.
The set is excellent – solid and convincing, wouldn't look out of place on a professional tour. The house is lit by candles, an open fire and pocket lamps. There's one very successful candlelit scene at the table; elsewhere contours and character tend to be lost in a flat, warm wash.
An interesting, if only patchily successful, take on a classic chiller to start the new season at The Old Court. Next at CTW, for Halloween, The Haunting of Hill House.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


at the Audrey Longman Studio, Brentwood Theatre

Everyone enjoys hearing tales out of school – from Greyfriars to Grange Hill, not to mention those all-seeing flies on the classroom wall.
Terry Burns' terrific one-man show has an impressively authentic ring. It follows naïve NQT Michael England, thrown in at the deep end trying to teach English to Year 11 Set 5 in “Landfill” Comprehensive.
The characters we meet are inspired by real-life staff and students from Burns' own time at the chalk-face.
In a brilliant tour-de-force, he takes us to Cougher's Corner, where colleagues share banter and a break-time fag. Key players in the story are John Cooper, the loud-mouthed bully who's Michael's mentor, shy Simone, who reads Yeats and idolizes her teacher, Wayne, rapper, boxer and troublemaker, and Parveet, troubled poet and class swot, who, like Posner in History Boys, sits at the back and takes notes, and whose rise to literary fame gives the piece its shape. There's even time to meet Michael's middle-class parents.
These very recognizable characters are beautifully realised in Clara Onyemere's economical production – Cooper, addicted to pickled eggs, is genuinely scary, appallingly unpleasant. Simone is touchingly emotional, Wayne is revealed as much more than his dickhead reputation – his rap is a highlight of the show.
Perhaps the “no smoke without fire” crisis is predictable, and plays out slightly improbably, but by that time we're so involved with mild-mannered Mr England and his inner-city class of “muppets” that we're more than happy to go along with it. Many questions are left unanswered, loose ends untied, but the dénouement, when it comes, is both unexpected and profoundly moving.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Jubilant Productions at the Mercury Studio, Colchester

A Mercury homecoming for this timely anthology; the director and the performers familiar faces in this house. Devised by the cast and directed by Ignatius Anthony and producer Jules Easlea, the show mingles great poetry with the voices of the lads on the front and, in voice over [Anthony], the carefully preserved diaries of Captain K C Buchanan, who records with a dry, laconic precision the minutiae and the horror of life in the trenches. “Dull day with showers,” he writes, and later, “Beautiful sunny day”. For the death, and burial, of a comrade.
The simple setting has a small space for Him [Tim Freeman], mess tin, kitbag, and a small space opposite for Her [Christine Absalom], one of Binyon's ”familiar tables of home”, with a brief candle burning in the sad shires. And, strewn across the floor, diary pages and letters from the trenches and the home front.
This was the first British army to be almost universally literate, thanks to our belated emulation of the Prussian education system. Hasty scribblings from front line or field hospital made these Tommies the bloggers of their day, Easlea claims, and it's easy to feel the intimate immediacy of their words, even across a hundred years.
Their thoughts are interspersed with contributions from the great and the good – Kitchener, Ataturk, an acerbic A P Herbert. The women, who found a new freedom in these dark days, are well represented here. Pacifist poet Margaret Postgate Cole - “The Veteran”, May Herschell Clark's pithy “Nothing to Report”, Rose Macaulay's “Many Sisters” and Sassoon's German mother dreaming by the fire ['While you are knitting socks to send your son / His face is trodden deeper in the mud.'] And 12-year-old Inez Quilter, remembering the fate of millions of horses caught up in mankind's conflict.
The show's title – from Wilfred Owen – suggests a lighter side, and there is a leavening of grim humour from the Tommies themselves – Mr Rat, Trench Pudding and Ragout Maconnochie, the London Skittish, and Madame la Somme, accompanied on teapot and tin plate percussion.
Rich pickings indeed from the pity of war, from Helen Mackay's troop train “Will the train never start? / God, make the train start!” to Robert Graves' Armistice Day “flappers gone drunk and indecent”.
No shortage of Great War entertainments this year. What makes this stand out is the superb sequencing of the extracts [all scrupulously listed in the programme] and the contribution of our two actors. Freeman proudly remembers his great-grandfather, who survived the war, awarded the VC on the same day, a week before the Armistice, which saw Wilfred Owen killed in action. Not readings but heartfelt performances, simply presented, with non-specific costumes, back projections, and a bonus collage in the interval - “Postcards Home” - a film by Dai Vaughan.

Merry it was to laugh there-
Where death becomes absurd and life absurder.
For power was on us as we slashed bones bare
Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews


Eastern Angles at the Hush House

To a remote site, born of the cold war, to witness the world's end. Ragnarok, the Norse Armageddon, with Giants, Dwarves and the Ancient Gods.
Eastern Angles feel some affinity with the region's early inhabitants. There were Viking re-enactors outside the Hush House for some pre-show rough stuff. Playwright Charles Way was specially commissioned to write this piece for this company and this space. 
It boldly embraces the old myths, with epic staging and poetical language, with colloquialisms and clichés for added grit.
Designer Sam Wyer has taken his cue from this utilitarian building – the towers are corrugated iron, the ox on the spit an oil drum.
Light, sound, smoke, wind and flame conjure up a spectacular world, and there are countless striking stage pictures, not least the Viking funeral boat in flames, disappearing into the sinister perspective of the Hush House's tunnel. Ben Hudson's evocative soundscape, too, echoes the deafening origins of this Cold War hangar.
There are superb puppets – the Giants, Idun the orchard goddess, and Fenrir the wolf, looking a little too cute, here, perhaps.
But strong meat, this. An eye is ripped out, and eaten. Loki, the shapeshifter, is tortured. And the very visceral, ungodly family feuds link Asgard with mortal Midgard.
Director Hal Chambers deploys his cast to great effect, filling the traverse stage with confrontation, conflict and occasional comedy. Theo Ogundipe makes an impressive Thor, wielding his hammer and leaping athletically around platform and causeway. Gracy Goldman has huge presence as Freya, goddess of fertility. Oliver Hoare is a mischievous rapscallion Loki – insouciant, insolent, he has most of the puns and the wordplay. And three amazing characters from Josh Elwell: the Mason who rebuilds the walls of Asgard, Thjazi the Giant, and Hod who shoots the mistletoe arrow to kill the invincible Baldr [Tom McCall]. Odin, the all-father, is an imposing Antony Gabriel, with Fiona Puttnam his Frigga. The ethereal Idun is voiced by Sarah Thom, who also plays the Seeress, foretelling the future and peering back into the past - “Burning ice, biting flame, that's how the world began …”
There are myths within myths here, as well as a wonderful shared storytelling moment – How Thor Won Back His Hammer. And a breathtaking finale, where the future is foretold and Baldr walks out into the twenty-first century.
These Norsemen and their Gods are not dead. Their bones lie under these Suffolk skies, their names live on in our language. They must surely rejoice to see their colourful stories brought to life in this thrilling triumph of theatricality.

production photograph: Mike Kwasniak

Saturday, September 13, 2014


at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford

It's a long way from The Quiet Man to Game of Thrones, but here we have the chiselled features and sexy tones of Connor Delaney playing amongst many other roles, Wee Mickey, the last surviving extra on that classic John Ford movie.
Director Ian MacIlhenny is a Game of Thrones veteran too, but more importantly was responsible for the first ever Stones in His Pockets, nearly twenty years ago.
Like Bouncers, or Woman in Black, it's become a classic, at least in part because of the virtuoso performances it demands of its two actors. Delaney, and Stephen Jones [yet to appear in Game of Thrones] are wonderfully contrasted, and bring us in quick succession, a gallery of memorable characters, brought together in County Kerry. They switch voice and physique in an instant, turning, one walking behind the other, nipping into the wings for a swift costume change.
A quiet backwater has been invaded by a Hollywood blockbuster, with its flaky star, phlegmatic director, security, dialogue coach, and intern. Not to mention the cast of thousands, including Jake and Charlie, the two extras at the heart of this hilarious, and sometimes heartbreaking, look at fame, fortune and the dream factory.
This is a warm, hugely enjoyable theatrical experience, easy to enjoy on many levels and on repeated viewings. Chelmsford was their first UK port of call – they're on the road now well into November !