Saturday, March 29, 2014

HISPANIC TREASURES

HISPANIC TREASURES

Writtle Singers at All Saints' Church
29.03.2014


Yair Avidor with theorbo



A glorious programme of music from the Golden Age in Spain and Portugal, and the Latin American liturgical works which drew their inspiration from it.

Beginning with the culture clash – Victoria from the Spanish counter-reformation followed by an anonymous piece performed, impressively, in the original Inca language.

It was the meeting and melding of these two traditions which spawned the rich legacy of South American Catholic settings. Padilla's Mass, written for the cathedral at Puebla in “Nueva Espana”, is one famous example, and it formed the backbone of the second part of this concert, enriched and illuminated by other works of the period, both choral and instrumental: a lovely performance of Serafin by Joan Cererols and a showy Improvisation on Follias.

Our enjoyment was immeasurably enhanced by players from the authentic instrument group the Amphion Consort – viols, lute, theorbo and an array of percussion.

The music, sung with an impeccable sense of style, and a feel for the idiom and the rhythms of this fascinating repertoire, also featured some secular pieces, including a sparkling sequence by Juan del Encina. The Singers were conducted by Christine Gwynn, who devised and introduced the programme.

L'ORMINDO

L'ORMINDO

Royal Opera and Shakespeare's Globe at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
28.03.2014




The latest show to road test the candelit intimacy of this new Jacobean space is a fresh new version of Cavalli's baroque panto. It boasts a new English libretto by Christopher Cowell – hard to see how surtitles could fit here – and in this ideal acoustic every syllable is clearly heard.
Every orifice of the theatre is used, including the trap and the fly-tower, from which Destiny and Music descend singing, the latter to give a witty new prologue to the piece.
Casper Holten's production has plenty of sight gags and slapstick, the Venetian period costumes are a feast for the eyes, but it's the glorious singing [though not much of the score is in the Monteverdi league] that make this such a memorable evening: the four young lovers – really young, not just in operatic terms – are outstanding.
In the musician's gallery, Christian Curnyn's period band add further authenticity, but if we're thinking original instruments, chief credit must surely go to the playhouse itself …


production photograph of Harry Nicoll as Eryka ©Alastair Muir

WOLF HALL / BRING UP THE BODIES

WOLF HALL / BRING UP THE BODIES

RSC at the Swan Theatre, Stratford
26.03.2014



This stunningly successful stage version of the Hilary Mantel novels has just played its last performances in the intimate Swan.
I'm glad I finally got to see it there – the modest thrust stage and the wrap-around seating seem ideally suited to the subject and the swift-paced dramatisation. But it's excellent news that it will be taking up residency at the Aldwych, including the original Cromwell and the original King, amongst others.

Devotees of Shakespeare's Globe will find much that is familiar, and not just familiar faces like John Ramm [Thomas More, Henry Norris] and Joshua James, an excellent Rafe Sadler. The first play starts with a sort of jig, with all those Tudor faces crowding the stage. And director Jeremy Herrin is no stranger to Bankside – Much Ado and The Tempest among his recent successes.
His Wolf Hall turns out quite witty and light-hearted, all things considered. Paul Jesson's superbly worldly Wolsey has an inexhaustible store of bons mots - “do they have lemons in Yorkshire ?”, and there's lightness of touch in the Cromwell household too. Tragedy is never far away, though, and the death of Lizzie, Cromwell's wife, is done with a masterly simplicity.
The wily fixer, the skilled arranger, later Master Secretary, is compelling played by Ben Miles. As in the book, though probably not in life, he is often likeable, his common roots making him a sympathetic character.
His King, a man with passions, fears and dreams as other men have, is commandingly played by Nathaniel Parker, with a hint of that heroic actorly voice that idols like Richard Todd used to have.
Two other memorable performances – Pierro Niel Mee's irrepressible servant Christophe, and Nicholas Day's outspoken Norfolk. But all the characters are given recognizable personalities; there are many delights, and much doubling, further down the cast list.

The staging is commendably simple – a row of flames to suggest a winter interior – but often spectacularly effective – the barge carrying the fallen Cardinal along the Thames, echoed in the second play by another barge carrying Anne Boleyn [a lively, feisty Lydia Leonard] … Two key characters are tellingly glimpsed throughout – Joey Batey's Mark Smeaton with his lute and Jane Seymour, played at the end of the run by Madeleine Hyland.
There's a dark, ominous ending to Wolf Hall, a mood which characterizes much of Bring Up The Bodies, which begins with the Hunt, and young men blooded. The king's jousting accident is strongly, very swiftly, depicted, and there are significant contributions from the afterlife. The fateful testimonies against Anne are played out in front of the witnesses; Anne's end has a heart-rendingly tender flashback at its heart.

Mike Poulton, who took on the seemingly impossible task of bringing these massive novels to the stage, says that it was like dismantling a Rolls-Royce and reassembling the parts to make a light aircraft. It is certainly fast-paced, and carries the audience along with it, whether they have read the novels or not.

It would be good to think that these two masterpieces might one day return to the Swan – maybe as a trilogy with The Mirror And The Light ...

Monday, March 24, 2014

FAIRE IS THE HEAVEN

FAIRE IS THE HEAVEN
The Stondon Singers at Brentwood Cathedral
22.03.2014

Forsaking the familiar Blackmore Priory for the resonant box of Brentwood Cathedral, the Stondon Singers, directed by Christopher Tinker, presented an impressive programme of English Church music.
Beginning and ending with two majestic Handel coronation anthems the substantial The King Shall Rejoice, and to start proceedings the ever-popular Zadok The Priest.
There was much intriguing cross-referencing: Parry's equally popular I Was Glad [glorious organ accompaniment from Stephen King] was contrasted with Purcell's more poignant setting, with the vocal parts blending beautifully in this acoustic. “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem” was also heard in Herbert Howells' wartime setting. And Purcell's contemplative Hear My Prayer was set against Mendelssohn's Victorian version of the supplication, with Annabel Malton's pure soprano ringing thrillingly around the architecture.
E W Naylor's dramatic motet Vox Dicentis Clama, from 1911, was sung with admirable precision, the various voices clear and distinct.
The concert took its title from W H Harris's Spenser setting, written in 1925. It was good to hear the works presented uninterrupted, though we did miss the scholarly introductions, especially as there was little help in the programme.

The Stondon Singers are back on their home ground [St Peter and St Paul Stondon Massey] on July 1, for the annual William Byrd anniversary concert.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

BETTY BLUE EYES

BETTY BLUE EYES
Made in Colchester at the Mercury Theatre
19.03.2014






Not since Babe has there been such a winsome pig to tug at the heart-strings.
Betty is the clandestine hog roast on the hoof in Alan Bennett's film A Private Function, now, thirty years on, setting out on an ambitious tour of the UK as Betty Blue Eyes.
No animatronics here, but a charming puppet, with a permanently puzzled, trusting expression and a lovely land-girl handler [Lauren Logan].
The Yorkshire humans whose lives are touched by the eponymous pig are led by the show's stars, Hadyn Oakley as mild-mannered chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers and his Lady Macbeth, Amy Booth-Steel. Both giving bold but nuanced musical comedy performances, with impressive vocal work – A Place on the Parade, for example.
But as is often the case with musicals, it is the supporting roles that have the most fun. Kit Benjamin, exactly capturing the period style in his florid villain Dr Swaby. Sally Mates as Mother Dear – a real treat, this: her histrionic reaction to a perceived death threat, emoting on the staircase whilst taming a wayward door [one of several technical gremlins plaguing this press night] amongst many memorable moments. And Tobias Beer's demoniacal Government Inspector, brandishing his green paintbrush. Beer manages to make his numbers sound like Sondheim or Weill, no mean achievement. Elsewhere the score is more like standard-issue Bricusse, and fares best in those numbers which are staged with a clear sense of style [choreography by Andrew Wright] – the Morris-men hankies and the DofE Maypole, the pissoir Since The War, the knives and forks for the Mock Pork, the baskets for the ration-book housewives, the chorus in hairnets and trilbys for Joyce's fantasy, the splendid curtain call with the pink wellies, the blitz ballroom flash-back [stunningly agile jiving] and the gloriously operatic Pig/No Pig.
It's always a joy to see actor/musicians, and the occasional appearance of a solo violin reminds us of the piece's Bennett roots, that and the Leeds butchers and the wry one-liners which survive from the original script.
Daniel Buckroyd's inventive, economical production is set on a utility-grey set [designed by Sara Perks]: loads of doors and an ingenious fold-out parlour. The show is lovingly staged, with a fine sense of period.
Occasionally, in the longer vocal numbers, one might muse on how much the music actually adds to the drama and the comedy, but it's impossible not to warm to this poignant pig-tale of austerity and ingenuity in those dark postwar days.

production photograph: Robert Day


this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

PALM WINE AND STOUT

PALM WINE AND STOUT
Eastern Angles at the Quay Theatre Sudbury
18.03.2014

for The Public Reviews




Segun Lee-French's fascinating play is embarking on a major regional tour, in a revised version, with a new cast.

First seen in 2010, it tells of a young British man of mixed race, who follows the voice of a child which leads him back to the land of his fathers.
Played by Ricci McLeod, Taiye comes across as impatient and intolerant at first, as he smells the air of home and encounters an alien culture with its unfamiliar customs and endemic corruption.
He's accompanied on his quest by his mother [Sioned Jones], generous to a fault, thrilled to be meeting Taiye's Nigerian father Abraham again.
There to meet them, and act as go-between, is half-brother Femi – very persuasively played by Itoya Osagiede, who was also a convincing paterfamilias – with further wives and blood relatives waiting in the village - Antoinette Marie Tagoe [a survivor from the 2010 tour] is Stella, and Aunt Cynthia, amongst other great characters.

Lee-French's writing is often poetical; the narrative is compelling, if occasionally slow. Ivan Cutting's production is gloriously theatrical, with the four actors playing a myriad of parts, plucking costume detail from four well-stocked hat-stands.
The travellers' luggage – almost lost to predatory taxi-drivers - becomes a car, a bus, a corpse and even the awkward bed that the “white boy” shares with his father. The show begins with a colourful carnivalesque procession, and ends with a curtain-call blessing for our journey home – the music, a key part of this immersive experience, is directed by Clement Ule.

We know little of Taiye's life in the UK – a middle class education, with cello lessons, and a good, if demanding job. But it is fascinating to share his encounter with the culture that is in his blood – the juju, the different concepts of time, and of money, and the powerful forces at work in the village and the extended family. It was Taiye's “shamanistic hypnotherapist” who set him off on his quest: his restless twin brother Kehinde, who died in infancy, begs to be taken back to be with his ancestors. It seems a pity that this plot strand is not more fully resolved, instead we “see” a mysterious third son whose appearance ends the play.

But the key moment – a phone call taken at a wedding back in the UK – is very effectively done; the mantle of his father the Chief falls on Taiye, and, in a marvellously dramatic moment, he dons the old man's spirit mask and robe.

An eventful, often humorous, personal journey to the heart of Africa and a sense of identity.

production photograph: Mike Kwasniak

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Friday, March 21, 2014

THE NUTCRACKER











THE NUTCRACKER
Chelmsford Ballet Company at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
20.03 2014

This most popular of classical ballets was a spectacular triumph for Chelmsford Ballet.
The traditional choreography, ingeniously adapted to the strengths of the company by Artistic Director Annette Potter, was danced with style and enthusiasm. The crowded stage, for the ball or the battle, a reminder of just how much talent is involved.
And not just teenage balletomanes – the character roles were done with relish by, amongst others, Chairman Marion Pettet as the stately Stahlbaum hostess, partnered by David Yetton, and Stan Rose and Elizabeth Baker as the grandparents, Stan drunkenly dancing till he dropped, to be helped off with a bath chair and a magic cane supplied by Drosselmeyer – a rock solid central performance from Andrew Potter.
There were three guest artistes – the excellent Emma Lister to give the Sugar Plum solo and a breathtaking pas de deux with Richard Bermange's Cavalier. And Michael Budd as a strong, scary Mouse King – his mice minions pitted against the half-masked Nutcracker and his corps of clones.
The title role was danced with considerable presence by Morgan Wren, who also gave us a charming Fritz and one of the principal clockwork Chinese in the Kingdom of the Sweets, partnered by Beth Oliver. The Divertissement gave opportunities to a myriad of accomplished young dancers, including whirling Russians and three pink-clad Mirlitons with their pill-box hats. In Act One, the gift-wrapped Pierrot dolls were elegantly danced by Jessica Wilson and Jasmine Bailey.
The hugely demanding role of Clara was beautifully danced, and acted, by Amelia Wallis, the expressive pas-de-deux with Drosselmeyer one of many magical moments.

The lighting [Andy Chafer], the scene cloths and the costumes [Ann Starling] added to the very professional feel of the production. This enterprising, ambitious company will have gained many more admirers this week, I'm sure.


Mary Redman joined an earlier capacity audience in the Civic Theatre ...

In its 65th year Chelmsford Ballet Company which is an amateur, not for profit organisation that "sets professional standards for all its work" chose the ever popular Nutcracker set to Tchaikovsky's wonderfully evocative music for its 2014 public production.
That this choice, choreographed and reworked to include the strengths of all dancing members by Annette Potter, was a good one was confirmed by a highly enthusiastic, packed Civic  crowd. Audience members included professional dancer Christopher Marney, creator of the role of the Lilac Fairy in the ground breaking New Adventures Sleeping Beauty, who is patron of this company and associate choreographer to the world famous, much admired Matthew Bourne.
The magical aspects of the Nutcracker began with the opening moments when Andrew Potter's imperious Herr Drosselmeyer set the story running at a Christmas party for Amelia Wallis's heroine Clare's parents and friends including Elizabeth Baker's nimble Grandmother and Stan Rose's giddy, knockabout performance as Grandfather.
It was interesting to see as the ballet progressed that this strong, calm and demure Clara showed signs of the woman she would grow into when dancing with Drosselmeyer. There were seemingly battalions of Morgan Wren's Nutcracker masked soldiers and Michael Budd's Mouse King's warrior mice. All of them very smartly uniformed. 
The real magic began with the visit to the Magical Forest when the costume making team's diaphanous Sylphide-style crystal white dresses for the Snowflakes with their glittering embellishments and tiaras.
And then on to Act 2 which showcases choreography and dancing for the sheer joy of it. When the performers can enjoy themselves showing off to their audience and each other. The showy highlight here of course is the technical work of the dazzling Sugar Plum Fairy (a strong, regal Emma Lister) well partnered by her very reliable Cavalier Richard Bermange. 
Then along came three scrumptious Mirlitons in bonbon pink; two Spanish dancers flaunting their frilled dresses; five sinuous Arabian dancers; a troupe of lively Russian Dancers; ten Chinese Dancers bouncing to the rhythm of the music; and the swaying, irresistible Waltz of the Flowers.
This was an enormously entertaining production and the lengthy applause at the curtain proved that it wasn't just me enthusing about it. The audience adored it!
Look forward to next year's Pineapple Poll and a new work created by Christopher Marney. Make sure it's in your diary now.  

THINGS TO COME - THE GREAT GATSBY

reunited in The Great Gatsby at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

Nine members of 'cut to the chase…', the Queen’s professional company of actors-musicians, reunite in The Great Gatsby – a glamorous, action-packed drama – from 11 April – 3 May.
The Queen’s is also excited to announce The Great Gatsby marks the directorial debut of the multi-talented Simon Jessop - Queen’s Associate Actor and cut to the chase… stalwart.
Amid the glitz of the roaring '20s, mysterious young millionaire Jay Gatsby moves into town, throwing luxurious parties at his waterside mansion. He arouses the suspicions of Tom Buchanan, a wealthy philanderer who lives across the bay with his beautiful but unhappy wife Daisy. But when Gatsby meets Daisy at her cousin's house one fateful afternoon, lives are changed forever…
Taking the title role of party boy Gatsby is dashing Sam Kordbacheh, last seen as wily Captain Segura in Our Man in Havana. Playing opposite him is debonair Sean Needham – formerly star of the West End’s Mamma Mia! - who swaps bumbling George in Two and Two Make Sex for menacing Tom Buchanan. Audiences will recognise Two and Two Make Sex stars blonde bombshell Ellie Rose Boswell playing Daisy, the ever-glamorous Georgina Field as Tom’s mistress Myrtle and charming Callum Hughes as Daisy’s cousin Nick.
We're also delighted to welcome back raven-haired Alison Thea-Skot, who delighted audiences as mischievous young Molly in Our Man in Havana, playing pretty Jordan, and long-standing cut to the chase… member Stuart Organ, who has recently appeared in hit TV show Law and Order and was last seen at the Queen’s in The Merchant of Venice.
This wonderful stage adaptation of the novel by celebrated author F. Scott Fitzgerald by Peter Joucla features a sparkling jazzy soundtrack – all played live on stage by the sensationally-talented cut to the chase… company.
The Great Gatsby is the work we most remember Fitzgerald by today – not least thanks to the decadent Baz Luhrmann movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The novel enjoyed warm critical success when it was first published – a ray of sunshine in Fitzgerald’s bittersweet life – but it was only really following his death that it became the modern classic it is today.
The Great Gatsby is designed by Rodney Ford, with lighting design by Christopher Howcroft and choreography by Donna Berlin. Tickets cost £12.50 - £26.50. Call the Box Office on 01708 443333 or book online.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

THE WIZARD OF OZ

THE WIZARD OF OZ
Offspringers at the Cramphorn Theatre
18.03.14
Alison Woollard was in the first night audience at the Cramphorn ...

The creative team at Offspringers and the large cast of youngsters filled the stage at the Cramphorn with colour, excitement and humour. Co-directors Melissa Smart and Mat Smith ensured all the performers, whether in a major role or in the back row of the chorus, were making a connection with the audience. The colourful and detailed costumes (from Leonie Rose and her team) also helped the young performers to feel at ease in their roles. Effective back projection, lighting and special effects took us quickly from rural Kansas to the fairytale landscapes of Oz.

Karisma Patel captured the cheeky confidence of Dorothy and displayed real stage presence, even when dealing with an enthusiastic Toto who knew she had dog treats in her pocket. Katie Forkings as Scarecrow and Daniel Hall as the Tin Man made an excellent contrast: their movement and voices showed us the droopy man of straw and the unfeeling man of metal with good clarity and timing. As the Lion Paul French created real comedy with his expressive voice. Abbie Gansbuehler relished her role as the Wicked Witch and, again, there was a good contrast with Gloria, played by Bethan Evans: both performers have confident voices which they used to engage the audience.

Ian Myers and his band provided strong musical support for the singers and the choreographer, Olivia Pearson, succeeded in creating effective dance routines for a large cast on a small stage.


Alison Woollard

TWO AND TWO MAKE SEX

TWO AND TWO MAKE SEX
Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch
10.03.2014

We're back in the Seventies – matador poster, inflatable chair, downlighters and eye-watering wallpaper. Harold Wilson in Westminster, Rodney Marsh at Wembley.
And how titillating this title seemed back then – hinting at swingers, free love and the permissive society. In fact, of course, there's no sex to be had, and the very British plot revolves around a classic midlife crisis.
George [a very sensitive human being] has ditched his vest and acquired a sports car, a yellow tracksuit and chest expanders. Out goes Oscar Hammerstein; in comes Alice Cooper and “The Spew”. And could he but find the courage, he would be unfaithful with Jane, a chance acquaintance young enough to be his daughter …
Factor in Jane's laid-back boyfriend, masquerading as a shrink, an actual agony aunt, George's tolerant wife and Jane's actual father and you have the makings of a farce in the tradition of Feydeau and Rix.
Cut to the Chase pull out all the stops to breathe life into a somewhat dated script by Richard Harris and Leslie Darbon.
Sean Needham is outstanding as the pathetic George – shades of that great comic actor Paul Eddington – working the inflatable chair, doing a heroic double-take in the doorway. Callum Hughes is amusing as Nick, seizing the opportunity for revenge by seducing his rival's wife Clare [Claire Storey] but ending up on the couch himself. His emancipated live-in girlfriend is played with gusto by Ellie Rose Boswell, making her first appearance at the Queen's. The sextet is completed by Georgina Field's Aunt Ruth [aka Madam Zenda] and Simon Jessop's nicely drawn dad in flares.
The superb split set [Claire Lyth] cleverly contrasts the bourgeois and the bohemian, but the farce only really takes off when the two settings begin to mirror each other and overlap, ending up with all six characters coming home to roost in Clare's lovely lounge. But despite the frantic scoffing of sandwiches and slamming of doors, there is too much talk, not enough manic action for a true farce. So while Matt Devitt's production successfully captures the style, it is somewhat let down by a lack of substance.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A DANCE DOUBLE BILL

A DANCE DOUBLE BILL
Havering College at Brentwood Theatre
11.03.2014


Havering College, with an established reputation for Dance and Drama, showcased two student pieces for a Brentwood audience.

First, Distraction Leads To Destruction, staged by the Horizons Group. A kaleidoscope of styles here, starting in Africa, and moving through a crowded tube train [nicely observed] to the women's movement, cyber-bullying and office wage-slaves. An impressive duo danced to “Ain't Nobody”, and a trio of red dresses performed to “Save You Tonight”. Other inspirational tracks included Mr Zip's “Where Me Phone” and Bill Withers' “Lonely Town”.


Behind Closed Doors, from the Interaction Performance Company, was a witty whodunnit set in the Diamond Hotel. The victim is diva Anna Star [Anna Dunk] - “when she's inoxicated she's actually very good”. Lots of lively character work: the feisty receptionist [Vicky Dordoy], the chambermaid [Della Smith]. Ryan Claydon was the token bloke – a very famous footballer. He made a good stab at a rather clich├ęd confessional monologue. A cleverly devised showcase for the varied talents of this A-level group.

THE MUSIC OF MOZART

THE MUSIC OF MOZART
The Waltham Singers at KEGS
15.03.2014

Mozart attracted a good crowd for four of his greatest hits; and what a bargain we had. Two superb choral works, with a full orchestra, and two piano concertos, with the legendary local pianist Tim Carey at the keyboard.


First the Loreto Litanies, written for Salzburg Cathedral and performed here with dramatic depth of expression by the choir, and featuring an extended solo [Sancta Maria] from soprano Kirsty Hopkins, whose crystalline contributions were a highlight of both choral works. The second of which was the Coronation Mass, also for Salzburg, with its briskly portentous opening, and superb choral dynamics from the choir, directed by the expressive [virtual] baton of Andrew Fardell – the Credo particularly colourful. A strong quartet of soloists – heard to advantage in the Benedictus, and another glorious solo from Hopkins in the Agnus Dei.

The Andante of the Piano Concerto in G could easily have been a similar sacred aria. Eloquently phrased by Tim Carey, bringing an expressive delicacy to the line; the sunny finale was impressively done, too, with an obvious rapport between soloist and conductor, and the talented musicians of the Covent Garden Chamber Orchestra.

We are used to hearing the Waltham Singers in their own parish church, or in Chelmsford Cathedral. The acoustic in KEGS is drier, less forgiving. But so often in this exceptionally fine programme, the balance between soloist, choir and orchestra, and the clarity of Mozart's writing, seemed near perfect. A venture worth repeating, I'd suggest.











Kirsty Hopkins, soprano, and, courtesy of The Waltham Singers
the view from the choir ...

Saturday, March 15, 2014

WELSH HAIR-BITS

WELSH 
HAIR-BITS

Writtle Cards at the Village Hall
14.03.2014






Two snippets from Wales's premier playwright, Frank Vickery, both featuring family life and false locks, both directed by Liz Curley.

The earlier piece, written in the 80s, when you could still get a shampoo and set for £8, takes place in a pigeon-fancier's front room, full of clutter and toot [set by Pete Goodwin].
Doreen [a convincing Jodee Goodwin] wants her folks out of the way for when her darling Lollipop [Chris Rogerson] calls for an evening of passion with his Dumpling, but the best-laid bath-night plans … Dai Pigeon was played by Nick Caton, his missus, twice taken by surprise, was amusingly done by Sharon Goodwin.

The later, shorter and much funnier “Split Ends” featured another Welsh matriarch, excellently portrayed, with killer comic timing, by Paulette Harris, with that seasoned farceur Daniel Curley strong in support as her flatulent, follically-challenged Cyril. Love's young dream this time played by Toby Harris and Louise Burtenshaw. It was clear from the opening tableau – ironing stage left, legs akimbo stage right, both sporting horrendous hairpieces – that we were in for a farcical ride. The audience loved it all, dead cats, cross-dressing, pickled onions, black-face and Ninja Turtle napkins.


The Welsh accents were assumed with varying success, but, as usual at CARDS productions, there was an impressive auditorium display [Clare Williams] and Welsh Cakes to scoff in the interval ...

THINGS TO COME - ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE

ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE 
at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford

Had he not been bludgeoned to death by his lover, Joe Orton would now be in his 80s - a grand old man of the stage, even, like Alan Bennett or Alan Ayckbourn. 
His early success, Entertaining Mr Sloane, is a unique blend of farce and black comedy that beautifully captures the suppressed desires of the 1960s. Kath and her elderly fathers drab existence is interrupted by the arrival of a new lodger, the enigmatic Mr Sloane. Provocative and sexually ambiguous, Sloane soon has both Kath and her brother Ed competing for his favours. But all is not as it seems. Behind Sloanes nonchalant demeanour lies a heart of violence with a dark and secretive past.

Entertaining Mr Sloane was first staged at the Arts Theatre, London in 1964, winning the London Critics Variety award for Best Play of the Year. This revival of London Classic Theatres 2003 production of the play celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Ortons classic black comedy.

To book tickets for this amazing show visit chelmsford.gov.uk/theatres or call the Box Office on 01245 606505.Tickets are £16.50 & £15.00, concessions £15.00 & £14.50 and Leisure Plus cardholders can enjoy £1 off full price and standard concessionary tickets.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
Immersion Theatre at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford
12.03.2014


Why can Colchester's theatre attract leading touring outfit Cheek By Jowl – their superb 'Tis Pity last month – and we in Chelmsford make do with this humdrum Midsummer Night's Dream from an unknown company ?

Immersion looked a little out of their element on the wide Civic stage, especially at the beginning, when there were some problems with audibility, too. It seems to have been much more at home in the 50-seater Brockley Jack.

That said, the smallish audience found the comedy to their taste, and the hard-working cast of nine included some amusing characters: James Clifford's irrepressible luvvie Bottom, the despair of his pretentious director, played by Rob Taylor-Hastings. The rest of the rude mechanicals made a good job of their comic tragedy – a squeaky-voiced Lion, a timid Moonshine.

The lovers, often tedious, were given some spirited sparring, encouraged by Ella Garland's enjoyably mischievous merry wanderer. And Nicola Dalziel spoke the verse with some style as Hippolyta and Titania.

This production – pared down to two hours, and allegedly set just before the Great War – was directed by James Tobias and Amy Gunn. It is in fact one of two versions they are touring. The other – the Nightmare – is apparently much darker. Fascinating to see both, of course, though few venues seem to have programmed this option, the Mumford in Cambridge an honourable exception.

and for The Public Reviews:


In a lifetime of Dreams, some stand out, subtitled like episodes of Friends.
The one with the pyjamas, the one set in World War II, the one evoking Hollywood's early years, the [operatic] one in an austere boys' school, the one lasting a bare twenty minutes …

This one is trailed as “set in Great Britain just before the start of the Great War … a time of unparalleled peace and prosperity”. Conjuring up a vision of Edwardian sunshine, a picnic with a gramophone, the lost generation obliviously partying … None of this, alas, in Immersion's tentative staging. Hard to date the costumes – the men's suits at the start look very modern, with Lysander, perhaps in anticipation of his nuptials, sporting morning dress. The set, with classical columns and a gauzy bower for Titania, gives few clues. And the music, though effective at enhancing a mood, is non-specific.

There are some good lighting effects – Puck the enchanter – but often key characters are stranded in darkness. The performances struggle to engage the audience, especially at the beginning.
Things look up when the Rude Mechanicals – stripped of their trades – come on, with jolly music and warm lighting.

And the evening includes some enjoyable characterizations. Rob Taylor-Hastings – an unfeasibly youthful Egeus – is amusing as the self-important Director Quince [though he makes a mess of his Prologue], impatient with his actors, joining the court in the audience, and then getting stuck in to save the day. All the time trying to repress his leading man, a wiry, pretentious Thesp – James Clifford's cat-tearing Bottom. As well as Hermia, Kristy Bruce gives us a nicely nervous Starveling, Moonshine in the play.

Ella Garland makes a nice adolescent Puck, especially good when bewitching the hempen homespuns, and in her final speech.
The verse-speaking is very patchy, with syllables maddeningly added or subtracted – the text itself is severely pruned to fit into two hours, interval included. Nicola Dalziel's Titania perhaps the most successful with the poetry – clear and stylish.

James Tobias's production has many strong moments – the fights especially, and of course Pyramus and Thisbe, much enjoyed by the rather sparse Civic audience. But it lacks a coherent style to carry it through, and seems a little lost on this wide stage – it would appear that most of their work is done in much more intimate venues.

The bare cast list gives no information at all about the company, or these nine actors. So we know nothing about where these voices were trained, or whether their work embraces Casualty as well as the classics, summer seasons as well as Shakespeare.

Nor does it mention the most intriguing aspect of this production. It is one of a pair – there exists also a darker, nightmare version, set a few years later during the 14-18 War, “where, in the dead of night, the dark, dangerous woods become the playground to the mourning spirits of those who have fallen before their time...” It would be good to have the chance to compare and contrast.


this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Monday, March 10, 2014

THINGS TO COME - BLOOD BROTHERS

From musical back to the basic play - The Full Monty in the West End, and now Blood Brothers at the Old Court.

Chelmsford Theatre Workshop are producing Blood Brothers the Play by Willy Russell May 14th - 17th and 21st to 24th at 19.45 with a charity night being given to Farleigh Hospice on Tuesday 20th. 

A Liverpudlian West Side Story – written by Willy Russell back in 1981 as a play, the legendary Blood Brothers tells the captivating and moving tale of twins who, separated at birth, grow up on opposite sides of the tracks, only to meet again with fateful consequences. CTW is taking it back to its roots for a two week run. Book your tickets early for this production as it will be very popular!
Tickets for this show are from The Civic Theatre Chelmsford 01245 606505 and for the charity night from The Farleigh Hospice and are £9 Cons £8 except Fri and Sat. 

Sunday, March 09, 2014

PARADE

PARADE
Billericay Operatic Society at Brentwood Theatre
08.03.14

Ethnic tensions, trial by media, a true story. Jason Robert Brown's first Broadway musical is richly, if unmemorably scored, with a compelling book by Alfred [Driving Miss Daisy] Uhry.
Wayne Carpenter directed a powerful production for Billericay, as well as giving a nuanced performance as Leo Franks, a Jew out of his element in the Deep South of a hundred years ago.
Using a multi-level setting, and a large cast, the story was tautly told, though there was still some tension lost in silent darkness.
Excellent work from the principal players. No mean feat to make the score – a patchwork of folk, anthem, vaudeville and more – sound better than it is. Under the Musical Direction of Ian Southgate, Nik Graham did, as the drunken janitor and star witness, and Bob Southgate as the smooth-talking prosecutor. Impressive work too from Peter Brown as the “Georgian” hack, Fiona Whittaker as Frank's wife, mousy at first, feisty in his defence, and Gail Carpenter as the Governor's Lady and Minnie, the family cook.
So encouraging to see so many talented young performers on stage; notably Nicole Clements as the young victim – she was the right age, and had a lovely pure voice, – and Simon Johnson as the young Confederate soldier who has to start the whole show with a demanding solo – The Old Red Hills of Home.
The staging set big production pieces – the mob, Memorial Day, broadsheets brilliantly used - against lonely protagonists – the fantasy picnic, Frank's soliloquies – nowhere more successfully than the ending, with Leo poignantly isolated in his office.
Had this been fiction, Franks would have been reprieved at the last moment, and the real murderer exposed - maybe rabid bigot Watson [Mark Clements]. But, tragically, real life is not so tidy, and although Franks was eventually pardoned, by that time he'd been dead 70 years, hanged by a lynch mob back in Marietta.











Mary Redman joined me on the Press Bench ...

Subtitling an off-Broadway show as An American Musical Masterpiece is giving a bit of a hostage to fortune as it were and challenging to boot. On the other hand with a book by the acclaimed Alfred Uhry it had a pretty good pedigree. The result, in the lively hands of Billericay Operatic, was a show that entertained while informing and moving its audiences.
It started with an equally big challenge for lanky teenager Simon Johnson, his build contrasting with his powerful, beautiful singing voice, and set the drama in motion.
It's century-old story of an outsider, hounded by the tabloid press, paying with his life for being an alien in a backward part of the Deep South of America. A story of trumped up murder charges and ignorance which, unfortunately, still exists world wide.
Wayne Carpenter carried off with panache the difficult, demanding roles of director of the very large cast and leading actor. As Leo Frank, mild mannered accountant his singing voice also stood him in good stead while his acting made him believable in his bewilderment. Fiona Whittaker as his initially meek yet later firecracker of a wife seeking justice for her husband, used her beautiful singing voice to add to the drama affecting them both.
With such a very large cast the excellent support given by many of the cast included Nik Graham as the lying factory worker framing Leo; Brian Plumb as the arrogant Governor; Bob Southgate using his powerful singing voice to advantage as the lawyer determined to convict and hang Leo; Peter Brown as the snake-like tabloid journalist; Cheryl Johnson as the grief-stricken mother of a murdered girl. We are accustomed to Gail Carpenter using her physical form to create showy roles but here as the shrunken, lying Minola McKnight she was virtually unrecognisable by contrast with her other role as the flamboyant Governor's wife.
A special word of praise for the other teenagers in the cast such as Matthew Carpenter's assured, well sung Frankie Epps and Nicolle Clements as the charming young victim Mary Phagan.
The set was a useful multilevel series of acting areas put to especially chilling use at the end of the show. There were drawbacks including the effective costuming being let down by a lack of period corsetry framing the dresses. The over enthusiastic use of unnecessary blackouts between many scenes slowed the action in a very long show.
Music, in the safe hands of Ian Southgate's band was not catchy, yet a pleasing, relevant use of traditional airs with dramatic, Sondheimesque chords creating dark atmosphere.

It was what the profession calls a big sing and I'm very pleased to have seen it.