Billericay Operatic Society at Brentwood Theatre
Tim Rice and ABBA are the brains behind this Cold War musical. A strong, political story, a challenging, often operatic, score, much of which sounds like Lloyd Webber treading water. “I know him so well” the exception in a string of unmemorable, if dramatic, numbers. Even the chorus sometimes struggle to recall the convoluted lyrics.
Musically, though, the standard is high [MD Andy Prideaux – his first outing with this group] with some excellent voices in the prologue ensemble and strong choral singing throughout, as well as powerful soliloquies and duets. A shame that, as so often, there wasn't always enough bridging music for the scene changes.
Sian Hopwood is outstanding both vocally and dramatically as Florence, the Hungarian/American whose loyalty is divided between East and West. Represented at the chess board by Wayne Carpenter's troubled Anatoly and Jon Hare's brash Freddie. Bob Southgate is the sinister KGB minder, and Fiona Whittaker Anatoly's Russian wife. Trevor Lowman plays the genial CIA man Walter, and our Arbiter and Master of Ceremonies is an imposing Gail Carpenter.
This production, directed by Wayne Carpenter, has a strong dynamic and striking staging. Giant chessmen, black and white design with splashes of local colour for Merano and Bangkok. A video screen, too. And impressive movement on this modest stage [choreography by Jane Granby]: the balletic confrontation of the two Blocs, the cheerleaders, the classy curtain calls and the priceless Vodka sequence, with drunken Soviets cavorting around the still figure of their new Red hope [Adam Popplewell] lost in his tiny chessboard.