Thursday, February 26, 2015


Writtle Cards at Writtle Village Hall

Three Jewish widows keep a regular rendez-vous at the cemetery. They support each other; they bring gossip and grand-children’s photos.
The Golden Girls theme – by that nice Jewish boy Andrew Gold, now in an L.A. cemetery himself – sets the sit-com tone. The “pals and confidantes” here are wise-cracking Ida, [beautifully done by Liz Curley] man-hungry Lucille in her thrift-shop mink [a bold and brassy performance from Steph Edwards] and devoted widow Doris [touchingly characterized by Sharon Goodwin].
Most of the “action” takes place in Ida's sitting room, nicely realised for this production with a set that is both stylish and lived-in. But we see the Forest Hills “Perpetual Care” plots, too, on a little apron in front of the stage.
Paulette Harris's production wisely lets Menchell's dialogue speak for itself, but there are many telling moments of truth – Ida looking longingly at the mink in the mirror, envying Lucille's way with men, the sozzled home-coming after what must have been a great Jewish wedding, the show-down when Ida learns of her friends' duplicity, Lucille's phonecall to Sam [Daniel Curley], the timid kosher butcher “playboy” reluctantly caught up in the widows' net. Dee Irons plays Mildred, his temporary fancy-woman defence.
It's a sweet comedy, with flashes of insight and plenty of laughs. A good choice for the Cards, whose next is Enchanted April – but you'll have to wait till June for that ...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


CAODS at the Civic Theatre

The low-lifes steal the show in Ray Jeffery's hugely enjoyable, perfectly paced Guys and Dolls.
The set is a faded Picture Post New York, with the Hot Box Tardis shoe-horned between the fire-hydrants and the news-stands. But the Damon Runyon denizens of the devil's own city are wonderfully colourful: Harry the Horse [Tony Catchpole] in a splendid check suit, hyperactive Benny Southstreet [David Gillett] spivvy Nathan Detroit [Kevin Richards in a terrible toupée] and a florid Nicely Nicely from the excellent David Slater, who also gets to gatecrash the Havana party as a stylish roué.
The male chorus from Blossom Time have the lion's share of the hoofing, with some challenging choreography impressively executed – those two-tone crap-game shoes.
The love interest is provided by Cassie Estall's Sarah with the 100% eyes and Ian Gilbert, cast against type as Sky, but bringing an engaging innocence and a quizzical, compelling stage presence to the role.
Nathan has dame trouble of his own, in the exemplary Adelaide of Robyn Gowers – a flawless performance from the nasal tones to the strategically placed kitchen shower.
A stylish show, with Bette Davis centre stage, cigarette holders, and silver lamé for the wedding. Musically polished, too, with Patrick Tucker's band on fine period form in, for instance, the backing for If I Were A Bell.

And the death throes of vaudeville are neatly captured, in the gorgeous Hot Box Girls, and in the delicious double act of Benny and Nicely for the title number.

production photograph by Christopher Yorke-Edwards

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Remembering Anne Frank in words and music

In a concert to commemorate the ending of World War II seventy years ago, (Chelmsford Cathedral, Saturday 28 March 7.30 pm), Chelmsford Singers will perform the rarely heard oratorio Annelies, by James Whitbourn – a versatile composer with an international reputation for choral music.

Anne (Annelies) Frank died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945, shortly before it was liberated. Her father, the only survivor of the family, later published her diary as The Diary of a Young Girl - since translated into many languages.
Taking words from Anne’s diary – by turns dramatic, mundane, optimistic, fearful - the composer paints a moving musical picture of the family’s life in hiding in an Amsterdam annexe up to the point of their betrayal and capture.

The concert will also feature excerpts from Quartet for the End of Time, by Olivier Messiaen, written while Messiaen was a prisoner of war in Germany, and first performed in January 1941 by the composer and fellow prisoners to an audience of prisoners and guards.

James Whitbourn will talk about Annelies in Chelmsford Cathedral at 6.45 pm on Saturday 28 March. On Friday 27 March at 2.00 pm Mala Tribich, a survivor of the Holocaust, will speak and answer questions about her experiences during World War II. Admission is free to both these events. Tickets for the concert are available from , choir members or James Dace and Son, 22 Broomfield Road, Chelmsford CM1 1SW Tel: 01245 352133.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Tomorrow's Talent

Drama groups across the land are preparing performances for the National Theatre's “connections” project. Tomorrow's Talent [like their counterparts in Southend and Colchester] have chosen Hospital Food, Eugene O'Hare's hard-hitting piece set in a teenage cancer unit.
Before the regional performance in Stratford East, it's previewing at TT's Danbury HQ.
Ten youngsters, in pajamas and lounge pants, hair loss concealed with bandanas and woolly hats. Sofas, Angry Birds, drip-stands, television.
In this production, directed by Gavin Wilkinson with Amy Trigg, there's a strong sense of shared experience, and a tremendous ensemble performance. Having all the actors present but immobile during the central duologue is especially effective.
But, inevitably, in the fifty minute piece, some characters are more developed than others. The dramatic core is the imminent departure of Gus, three Christmases, four birthdays in hospital. He longs not just to live, but to be alive. In desperation, his mother has arranged for “alternative healing” in the States. He must abscond. No-one must know. He tells his friends in their hang-out day-room. But the code decrees that anything shared in the Retreat stays in the Retreat …
Mark Ellis brings an intelligent self-awareness to the role, his doubts and fears etched on his face. He dreams of screaming out the tumours, and of soaring to freedom above the floor of clouds. Two friends are particularly affected by the news. Josh – his “brother” - a movingly honest performance by Danny McNamara – chides him, in a powerful duologue, for not confiding in him first. And, tragically, can't say the things he's going to wish he'd said... Layna [Hazel Ellender], who's painfully fond of Gus, is tempted to betray him.
Memorable contributions, too, from Alexander Bloom's Sol, a swot always stuck in a Revision Guide, who lends Gus the key which will enable his escape. From Scott Olley as not-the-sharpest Reece, who almost gives the game away. And from Erin Jacobs' Sadie, the baby of the family, who's lost a ring, and who movingly remembers the secret passing of her dog Reuben, and sees death as the deepest of deep sleeps.
The piece is full of telling detail: the Remembering Nights with movies chosen by the kids who've died, the other desperate parents, turning to the internet or exorcism.
The music is well chosen. “All Those Things” from the Killers: “when there's nowhere else to run, is there room for one more sun ? - I got soul, but I'm not a soldier”. And at the end, as Gus rips the cannula from his hand, vomits [my tears have this solemn rest] and slips away, leaving his woolly hat for Josh to find, we hear Benjamin Clementine's Cornerstone: Friends I have met, Lovers have slept and wept - I have been lonely, alone in a box of my own …

His friends file off in tearful despair, and it's a harrowing experience for the audience too, as these talented youngsters explore issues of family, friendship and death in their own wonderfully frank way. 

Hospital Food rehearsal images / NT Connections from Tomorrow's Talent on Vimeo.


Complicité at the Mercury Theatre Colchester

This is a big story – it needs to be savoured!”
Complicité's first show aimed at a younger audience, now revived and touring, makes a great half-term treat for the Mercury Theatre, directed by Clive Mendus and James Yeatman after the original by Annabel Arden.
It's the story of Charlie Ashanti, who knows the language of cats great and small. His parents are scientists, abducted by the megalithic Corporacy, a big pharma multinational who are keen to prevent the development of a cure for asthma.
Charlie's hectic quest to free them takes him from London to France to Morocco; on the way he joins a floating circus, whose pride of lions he vows to release back into their natural habitat.
Introductions over, Complicité dig deep into the theatrical toolbox in a dazzling display of the storyteller's art.
Shadowplay, sinister round video screens, a miniature hot air balloon, live percussion from composer Stephen Hiscock. But most of the effects are ingeniously simple: metal stepladders for the Corporacy HQ, a brilliant door-slam, wet inner tubing in a bucket for the eel-monger, splashing squealing youngsters in the front stalls.
He's just one of a gallery of boldly-drawn characters: the smooth-talking CEO, the multi-lingual chameleon, the bearded lady, the young villain Rafi and his invisible pit-bull, Maccomo the lion tamer, King Boris of Bulgaria, and audience favourite Sergei, the GM moggie from Wigan, played by Eric Mallett.
Martins Imhangbe makes an engaging Charlie, telling his life story and, magically, morphing into his friends the lions with a deft flick of his lithe frame.
All played out on the circular stage, redolent of the big top, with the faded floor scarred by hooves, feet and paws.
Like Zizou Corder's books, the piece is openly didactic, the chases, the juggling and the physical fireworks alternating with discussions about animal rights and morality. Culminating in a boxing bout – competitive point-scoring with Charlie in the stage left corner, and Rafi [Angel Lopez-Silva] representing the Corporacy stage right. But the youngsters in the audience seem rapt throughout, and are rewarded in the end by being actively involved in the story - roaring their heads off to defeat the big bad boss [Clive Mendus].
There are many ways to tell a story,” the cast admit as the play closes. And, commendably, we are encouraged to read the books for ourselves.
But all those who come aboard the show-boat Circe will have had a uniquely theatrical experience, impossible to replicate in any other medium, save perhaps in the unfettered imagination of a child lost in a storybook ...

production photograph by Mark Douet

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Tuesday, February 17, 2015



at the Public Hall, Witham


Oh what fun they had – and we did too – at this bizarre blend of morality play and Madness tunes.
Chief strength of Amy Trigg's lively production is the imaginative and challenging choreography by Louise Lachance. The schoolroom Baggy Trousers, the exercise yard, even the characterful curtain calls are all brilliantly conceived and executed by an energetic company.
A clutch of hugely enjoyable performances by WOW regulars includes the surefire comedy duos of Emmo and Lewis, the “gormless prats” brilliantly done by Jack Martyn and Max Lenoir, and the shallow girls Billie and Angie, Alice Tunningley and Ashton Reed.
Ben Huish brings presence and pathos to the two Joes, black and white, wrong and right, and is vocally very assured. His girl, Sarah, is excellently sung by Rosie Goddard – duetting with Joe in It Must Be Love, and with his dead Dad in NW5.
Mark Ellis, haunting his son like Hamlet's father on the battlements, guides Joe, and us, through the dual development – Simple Equation, books balanced, justice seen to be done.
Strong support in smaller roles from, amongst many others, Amy Seymour as Joe's Irish Mum, Ed Tunningley as the evil Reecey, Chris Tierney as the fat cat property tycoon, and Bella Tull as Julie on Reception.
Wings of a Dove might usefully be more kitsch, but there are many superb stage pictures on the bold geometric set – notably the fatal birthday party with the cake and balloons and the crazy joy ride in Joe's 80 quid car.
Emma Firth's punchy band – with the crucial saxes to the fore – provides great backing for those iconic numbers, which, lest we forget, charted years before these young actors were born ...

Friday, February 13, 2015



Shakespeare's Globe, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse


We meet the King first. He's Philip V of Spain, grandson of Louis Quatorze and embroiled in war.
Mark Rylance brilliantly suggests the delusional dreamer, prey to depression and sudden rages. He's alone on his divan bed, save for the goldfish in the bowl; a companion as well as a quarry …

The ailing king is stranded “at the end of the world”, in a place with no song. He seems beyond help. Metastasio, prolific librettist and business-man – a bluff Colin Hurley – despairs. Devious minister De la Cuadra [Edward Peel] plots and fumes. His physician – Huss Garbiya – is sympathetic and enlightened, but powerless to effect a cure.
It's left to Isabella Farnese – a wonderfully caring Melody Grove - to realise that the singer she heard in London - “ a long note, held ...” might hold the key to recovery.
And so the two men, both kings against their will, meet in a wary game of question and answer. “Are you famous ?” “Farinelli is famous.” And here is the key to the depiction of the superstar castrato. There's Carlo the man, [Sam Crane] unfailingly charming and courteous, modest despite his fame. And the world-famous opera singer, mobbed and cossetted wherever he goes. Sung, superbly, by Iestyn Davies [William Purefoy later in the run]. They appear together at key moments, the one the shadow of the other; at the end there is a touching moment of mutual acknowledgement, after Farinelli has been persuaded by Vincenzo, a humble tailor [no spoiler, please], to sing one last time – what else but “Lascia ch'io pianga”.
Monarch and musician can lay aside their crowns, escape into the forest and the music of the spheres.
Claire van Kampen's play is a potent blend of reminiscence – Farinelli's first opera, the fountains at Versailles – escapist fantasy – A Watteau woodland backdrop – and total theatre: the Wanamaker audience involved as witnesses of the freak show opera in the forest.

It's a bizarre story, surreal and slightly bonkers. All the more powerful for being, by and large, true to history. It is beautifully told here: the space is ideal for the drama and for the music [Handel and Porpora, impeccably performed, with Robert Howarth directing from the harpischord], and the creative team assembled in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is the stuff of dreams. As witness the enthusiastic reception given to the production on opening night – warm and vociferous even by Globe standards.

production photograph by Marc Brenner

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Time Zone Theatre at the Rose Theatre, Bankside

In a dank, chilly space beneath an office block – would make a useful car park – a City worker sleeps not at, but on, his desk. The weight of the faceless building seems to press down on him as he stirs restlessly.

This is Iago. In Pamela Schermann's new version of Shakespeare's tragedy, the jealousy is driven by raw ambition, the desire to supplant the “arithmetician” Cassio as the Moor's right-hand-man. Inspired, apparently, by the brutality and callousness of today's business world, she has moved her ruthlessly trimmed text from Venice to London, asking how much we should sacrifice to achieve our career goals.

It's a good question, and sits well here in the Rose, just over the river from the Square Mile. But in the end it's the workings of jealousy, the manipulation of motives, that fascinates most in this intimate space, thanks in great measure to the excellent Iago of Trevor Murphy. Genial, persuasive, but obviously driven by a thirst for power, coveting the executive chair, delighting at Othello's convulsions, revelling in the word-play and the point-scoring. His “I am a villain ?” is brilliantly done, and the closing moments, when the two men are locked into uncomprehending paralysis, are the strongest in the piece.
Just five actors here – Bianca [Charlie Blackwood] a presence on Skype only. James Barnes is physically imposing as Othello, but not especially convincing as military commander or captain of industry. His finest moments come with the fires of jealousy - “It is the cause” movingly done with a single flame. His Desdemona is Samantha Lock – tall, passionate, her best scene the morality banter with Emilia, the “simple bawd” engagingly played, with energy and passion, by Ella Duncan. The hapless Cassio is Denholm Spurr.
Some ingenious ideas - “take my office” as Iago hands back his ID badge, the night watch becomes a graveyard shift, Desdemona searches her diary for a window “on Wednesday morn”, the corporate catering at the start includes strawberries. Voice-over is used for some soliloquies, which accentuates the intimacy, but also amplifies vocal flaws. But the stop-motion effect is powerfully deployed. The space is sparingly used – the red lines in the floor for murderous thoughts, a laser-pen killing across the lake - “the vapour of a dungeon”. Gillian Steventon's design gives us black and white details – the designer twigs, the swivel chair – and gauze hangings which, in the absence of wedding sheets, become Desdemona's shroud.

A pacy, fascinating take on the tragedy, with a very strong ending. But only Iago really manages successfully to combine compelling characterization with mastery of the verse speaking.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews


Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

Not to be confused with Murder by Death, or Death by Fatal Murder, or even Murdered to Death.

This is the three-hander by Manhattan playwright David Foley, also known as If/Then or Deadly Game, in which a jewellery designer to the rich and famous foolishly invites a handsome young waiter up to her stylish Soho loft apartment.

Between curtain-up and climax there are enough twists, bluffs and blind alleys to satisfy the most demanding aficionado of the genre [think Sleuth or Deathtrap], all played with polished flair by the Cut to the Chase company, directed by Hornchurch associate Simon Jessop.

Jessop himself has a Hitchcock moment as the voice of radio DJ Jesse Redmayne, but the only familiar face on stage belongs to Sam Pay, giving a strong, credible performance as the increasingly desperate security man Ted.

The central role of Camille Dargus is played by Lucy Benjamin. As the night wears on, and the stakes are raised in the “games that bind us”, she grows weary and haggard before our eyes – a great performance, even though the hysterics, and the wise-cracks even at the most critical moments, outweigh the tender, touching moments like the emotionally charged lines about the Emerald Star.

Tom Cornish is Billy, the waiter who dreams of fame and riches. Not as young, or as handsome, as the text suggests, he is nonetheless a powerful, menacing figure, cleverly messing with the mind of his victim.

During the course of the night, power shifts, secrets are revealed and a life is lost before the enigmatic ending, when reality is left behind, the plot is twisted one last time and the curtain falls on a question mark.

To say more would be to spoil the fun. There are too many improbables, too much melodrama for a really first class psychological thriller, but it's done here with such style that it hardly seems to matter. The setting, the music, the sound effects – the voices amplified for immediacy, as in a film – all add to the atmosphere. The party – where Camille meets Billy – is evoked with smoke, bubbles and a mirror ball. The aquarium glows blood red as things take an unpleasantly gory turn – and the fish get a well-deserved curtain call of their own.

Rodney Ford's superbly realised apartment has bare brick, arches and windows, leather and chrome furniture, with the kitchen glimpsed off-stage. It's used effectively for the action – some impressively convincing violence – as well as for the intimate moments.

This is not Greek tragedy, Camille.” “This is not a Quentin Tarantino movie.” Indeed not, though we have a hint of incest, a Pulp Fiction poster prominently placed, and a props list that includes a large suitcase, plastic bags and a meat cleaver …

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews