Wednesday, April 19, 2017

THINGS TO COME - BALLET CENTRAL

Things to come
Ballet Central 2017 comes to the Civic Theatre

Always eagerly awaited, Central School of Ballet's renowned graduate performing company Ballet Central will call at Chelmsford's Civic Theatre on Tuesday 16th May as part of its 2017 national tour. 


Ballet Central gives audiences across the country the chance to see the company’s young and dynamic dancers who are on the cusp of their professional careers, showcasing newly-commissioned works and celebrated masterpieces by the dance industry’s top choreographers.  

The repertoire for this year’s tour features Act 2 of Highland Fling by Matthew Bourne, Indigo Children by Royal Ballet artist-in-residence Liam Scarlett, and a new version of the ballroom scene from Romeo & Juliet by former English National Ballet’s Jenna Lee. It also includes specially created works by Christopher Bruce and Malgorzata Dzierzon, as well as excerpts from Petipa’s La Bayadere.  The tour will also feature a scene from Dracula, choreographed by Michael Pink from the original production directed by Christopher Gable in 1996.

Christopher Marney, the new Artistic Director of Ballet Central said "This year’s performance showcases the best dance theatre from current industry professionals and gives you the chance to see newly-commissioned work and refreshed classics from the world’s top choreographers. This is an opportunity to see the future stars of dance as they launch their professional careers”.

Ballet Central’s dancers not only perform but also help with technical aspects including lighting, sound, staging and wardrobe.  Another highlight of Ballet Central is the music, much of which has been created by Central’s Composer-in-Residence Philip Feeney, who also performs live on the tour.

Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on Tuesday 16th May at 7.45 pm  

Thursday, April 13, 2017

HAIRSPRAY

HAIRSPRAY
BOSSY at Brentwood Theatre
13.04.17

A happy, homespun Hairspray from BOSSY, in fine Sixties style, musically and wardrobe-wise.
Gaynor Wilson's production keeps the setting simple – a nice vertical bed for Tracy's awakening – while Andy Prideaux's quartet sets the musical pace, with a prominent role for that essential sax. Some impressive ensemble numbers: the mother and daughter sextet, the Council members in the title number, the joyous Can't Stop the Beat finale.
And plenty of punchy performances from an energetic cast – I saw the Thursday company. An immensely likeable Tracy from Tia Stack, pint-sized rabble rouser and would-be teenage Jezebel. She has the character to perfection, and brings energy and elan to all her numbers. Michael Percival is her mother, feisty and voluminously dressed, with Adam Ellis as her dad, the extrovert joke store manager, and Dan Pugh as her love interest, the heart-throb Link Larkin. The bigoted baddies include Ellie Lovelace's Velma – a magnetic stage presence – and her daughter Amber [Grace Frost]. A lovely, gawky Penny Pingleton from Cloe Lee, and a great glib Corny from Joe Folley.
Jeremy Lawal-Champion impresses as Seaweed, son of Motormouth Maybelle, nicely done by Tomi Bello, especially in her act two anthem, and her “big, blonde and beautiful” act one finale.
Lots of fine character work in the cast, including doubles from Will Loader as Mr Pinky and Brad, and Owen Jackson as the penitentiary official and Mr Spritzer, President of Ultra Clutch, proud sponsor of the Corny Collins TV show.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

UNCLE VANYA

UNCLE VANYA
Marlborough Dramatic Club at the Memorial Hall, Brentwood School

08.04.17

Michael Frayn's neat English version – Gambon its first Vanya, I believe – fits four acts into an audience-friendly couple of hours; even slicker in William Wells' production, with all the action set in the garden of Serebryakov's dacha.
The sombre mood is set before lights down – the samovar, Jean Morgan's nanna Marina knitting, Astrov reading. And at the end, the final moments of tearful optimism, as those left behind prepare to live out their wretched lives.
A compelling Vanya from Darren Hannant, his untidy idler contrasting with his smartly suited friend Dr Astrov [Gavin Leary]. Sara Thompson is the plain, unloved Sonya, her clumsy attempt at seduction one of several moving moments. The elegant Yelena, the professor's young second wife, is stylishly done by Juliette Bird. Good support from an equally stylish Margaret Corry as Vanya's mother, and Harry Morrison as the pathetic, desiccated Telegin.
This polished production has many telling moments: an impressive entrance through the audience for the “great scholar” [Keith Morgan] and his party, the carefully plotted trio that begins Act Three, the dramatic impetus sustained right through to Yelena's soliloquy, Vanya's rant, and his desperate disillusionment in a speech which he starts slumped with his back to the audience.

HARVEY

HARVEY
Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court

07.04.17


Harvey first “appeared” on Broadway a lifetime ago, but this pooka pal has remained popular ever since, due in part to the Jimmy Stewart movie.
Now he's haunting the Old Court stage, in a gently amusing production by Jade Flack.
Elwood P Dowd, “the biggest screwball in town” and the rabbit's constant companion, is given a warmly absorbing performance by Dave Hawkes, perfectly capturing the sunny innocence of this harmless eccentric. Strong in support are Lynne Foster as his desperate sister, with some great moments of physical comedy, and Alec Clements as Sanderson, the callow, charismatic junior doctor at the sanatorium run by Dr Chumley [Jesse Powis in a memorable bow tie].
Not all the performances are quite as assured as Hawkes', but there are nice cameos from Stephanie Yorke-Edwards as Mrs Chumley, Fabienne Hanley as Aunt Ethel, and Ian Russell as the all-important cab driver.
Not many laughs on a thin Friday night, despite the sterling efforts of some experienced performers, but some excellent work in key scenes; Sanderson getting advice from Dowd, or left alone on stage with Ruth [Jade Flack].
And the scene changes from The Dowd Library to Chumley's Rest are very efficiently managed.

THE VICAR OF DIBLEY

THE VICAR OF DIBLEY
New Venture Players at Brentwood Theatre Chelmsford

06.04.17


It must be a bit like being in a tribute band, doing one of these sitcom spin-offs. Have they come to admire your performance, or to be reminded of the much-loved originals ?
They certainly pull in the punters – New Venture Players' pleasing production playing to very respectable houses.
The action takes place in the village hall and the vicarage, with a couple of jokes in the vestry and the climactic wedding in St Barnabas itself. As so often, the adaptation has lots of short scenes and set-pieces – twenty+ here – with the familiar pattern of punch-line [or not- “Let's go and have a cup of tea!” not the easiest exit line] and black-out for the scene change, accompanied by Howard Goodall's familiar psalm.
NVP have fielded an excellent cast of parishioners. All the dearly beloved “characters” are present – pedantic Frank Pickle [Melvyn Freake] taking the minutes, lusty lard-haired Farmer Hewitt [David Lintin], dim, dotty Jim Trott [Dicky P Stallard] and the toxic Mrs Cropley [Paula Harris Brett]. All given the full OTT broad farce treatment. Villain of the piece Chairman Horton is played with relish by Vernon Keeble-Watson, with Tim Murphy as his twittish son Hugo, and Lucy Mason as his prospective daughter-in-law, the cabbage-patch doll Alice. And there are a couple of appearances by some young guest stars: children of the parish and nuptial teletubbies !
The voice of reason and Christian charity amongst all the gurning grotesques is the Rev Grainger, back in the day when lady vicars were rare birds, the “babe with a bob-cut and a magnificent bosom”. She's played with wonderful warmth and perfect comic timing by Julia Stallard.
Though there are some slow patches, Joan Scarsbrook-Bird's production is a faithful recreation of a fondly remembered programme, much enjoyed by the audience, with some memorable comedy moments – chocolate for lent, the litre of gin and the kiss that lasts the whole interval ...

THE VERDICT

THE VERDICT
Middle Ground Theatre Company at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford
05.04.2017
for The Reviews Hub


Given the title, it's no surprise that this is a courtroom drama. A strong morality play too, which began as a novel, then became a film with Paul Newman.
Now, 35 years on, it's on stage for the first time, touring the country with Middle Ground. 
The usual issues with adaptations, of course. It needs a huge cast, many of them in supporting roles. To their credit, Middle Ground is fielding a company of fifteen, a remarkable achievement for a tour of this kind. And a string of short scenes, though here the scene changes are very smoothly done, with Lynette Webster's Irish-infused music to cover. The visit to the hospital is done very tellingly in about ten seconds, with the attorney isolated by a spotlight and life-support sound effects.
This is a medical negligence case, and the background leading up to the trial is done in Act One, with varying success dramatically. David Mamet did the screenplay for Sidney Lumet, and we can only dream of what he might have done in the theatre.
Nuala Walsh brings in an emotional perspective as the victim's mother; Richard Walsh as the Bishop represents the difficult position of the Catholic Church. The awkward job of filling in the prosecution attorney's back-story is brilliantly done by director Michael Lunney as the barman, the narrative punctuated by the clink and clatter of the bar being shut down for the night. Lunney also plays Crowley, the leading anaesthetist at the heart of the “act of God” which leaves a young mother a permanent vegetable in “chronic care”.
A strong moment, too, when the accomplished defence counsel (Peter Harding) coaches his witness in a dry run of the trial.
Despite a fine performance – in her professional debut – by Cassie Bancroft, the role of Donna, the “waitress” who befriends the prosecution counsel in his favourite bar, seems less convincing, though it does provide one of several plot twists in the second act.
Almost entirely set in the court-room (though even here, a cafe table has to be brought on for a key scene), this is the stronger half dramatically. Any court is inherently dramatic, especially in the American system – the play is set in Boston in 1980.
Two opposing lawyers – one smoothly successful, the other seeking to make a come-back in “the biggest case of (his) career” -  fight it out in the convincingly solid stage set. 
Frank Galvin, the washed-up, booze-sodden ambulance chaser who takes on the hospital and the Church, is brilliantly done by Clive Mantle; we see him first, in a prologue before the lights go down, stumbling into his office, sobering up before the day's work begins. Then in the courtroom, he assumes his old professionalism and charisma in a three-piece suit. The other “name” in this company is Jack Shepherd, excellent as Frank's mentor and “guardian angel” Moe Katz. Their scenes together crackle with energy and emotional impact, a very different kind of drama from the set-pieces in the trial. 

Friday, April 07, 2017

PRIMAVERA

PRIMAVERA
Kayleigh McEvoy and friends at Trinity Methodist Church Chelmsford

06.04.17

Aptly titled Primavera, Kayleigh McEvoy's springtime recital programme was an enjoyable collection of all kinds of song.
Kayleigh, in the final year of her BMus at Guildhall, is no stranger to Trinity and the Chelmsford stage. She has a rich, remarkably mature voice, heard to great effect in Dvorak [in the original Czech] and Quilter, amongst many others. She is an engaging performer, with flirting opportunities here in Satie's Diva, and dramatic petulance in Dove's Enchanted Pig – tiara-related wedding-day tantrums – and Schubert's Die Manner sind mechant.
She was joined by two excellent fellow-students. She duetted delightfully with baritone Adam Maxey in Don Giovanni – his seductive “Andiam” her downfall – and with Matthew Hamilton Healy as her Bocelli in that crossover favourite La Preghiera.
The young men shone in solos, too – Adam in Britten's tale tall of The Crocodile, and Matthew in Cole Porter's camp fable of The Oyster.
At the piano throughout – coping splendidly with the tricky Britten and the lovely Schubert – was Joseph Cummings.
The introductions were done with the lightest of touches, brief and to the point. And the three singers joined, as we hoped they would, in an encore, I Bought Me A Cat, from Copland's Old American Songs.

picture courtesy of Val Scott

Sunday, April 02, 2017

SPRING CONCERT

SPRING CONCERT
Chelmsford Singers at St Luke's Tiptree

01.04.17


In the Victorian church at Tiptree, a fascinating evening of unaccompanied song settings, inspired in part by the earliest days of the Chelmsford Singers, ninety years ago.
James Davy and the Singers began with an early Weelkes madrigal, but from then on it was music from the twentieth century: folk song settings from Vaughan Williams, including a powerful Lover's Ghost, and the well-known, if unseasonal, Wassail Song. Another folk song enthusiast, who also drew inspiration from the Essex countryside, was Gustav Holst, contributing six settings, including an intricate There Was a Tree, an energetic Blacksmith and, before the rollicking sea shanty, a moving I Love My Love, with a tellingly fragmented refrain.
Huddersfield-born Robert Cockcroft, newspaperman, organist and composer, was represented by Three Yorkshire Folk Songs, culminating in a toe-tapping, nonsensical Acre of Land.
Frank Bridge's Five Part Songs set poems, including Shelley's Autumn. The same poet's Music When Soft Voices Die was beautifully sung here, as was the Tennyson's whimsical Bee.
The acoustic here is bright and supportive, ideally suited to a programme where words are important, and the interweaving of the parts needs to be clearly defined.

The choir's 90th Anniversary celebrations continue with a Gala Concert in Chelmsford Cathedral on July 1st, with two crowd-pleasers, Britten's Saint Nicolas and Orff's Carmina Burana.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HART

THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HART
Eastern Angles at the Public Hall, Witham
31.03.2017



Eastern Angles are venturing further afield again. Last year's Cornish excursion was something of a disappointment, but this Scottish piece is a much more satisfying entertainment.
It has all the elements of an Eastern Angles production: a small company of actor-musicians, and a story firmly rooted in the region. Which in this case is the Scottish borders. A Kelso pub hosts a folk night, with four musicians – fiddles and guitars – warming us up with Rabbie Burns. Then the lights go down, and the story-telling starts, with the four performers changing character and swapping rhyming couplets, with some deliciously ingenious rhymes. The ballad form is central here. Our heroine [Hanna Howie] is an academic, specialising in “folk studies” and “the topography of Hell” - not so much Dante as Dennis Wheatley.
There's fun to be had as she speaks at a pretentious conference. Her nemesis, Colin [Robin Hemmings] first appears on his motor-bike, brilliantly brought to life with lights, a helmet and a noisy kazoo. Then it's off to the pub, the Devil's ceilidh, a snow-bound lock-in on Midwinter Eve, an encounter with a woman [Elspeth Turner] and her children under a sodium street-lamp, and Prudencia's first meeting with Nick [Simon Donaldson] from Goodman's Field, who has a warm fire waiting for her …
After a cliff-hanging interval the darker second half is mostly a two hander, set in Nick's B&B, where Prudencia spends an eternity cataloguing his library and watching the weeds grow in the Asda car park outside. The other two actors providing the atmospheric underscore.
There is a happy ending, though; redemption in rhyme, love requited, the damsel rescued by Colin, who's been holding a torch for her all along.
David Greig's piece is certainly strange, veering from satire to suspense to sentiment. Despite the occasional longueur – the grotesque karaoke - Hal Chambers' direction keeps us enthralled: the puppet children, the dream dance, the many mutations of tug-of-war Prudencia.
The original National Theatre of Scotland production was designed to be performed in pubs. The folk club intimacy was sometimes hard to re-create in the Public Hall, despite their excellent bar and some cabaret-style tables. But the music is excellent - not just folk, but Katy Perry for the karaoke, the Devil's Kylie [“Can't Get You Out Of My Head”] for the finale.

The production tours round the region's village halls until the end of May; if I could choose, I'd probably plump for Isaac's on the Quay back in Ipswich, a genuine music venue with just the right ambience.

production photograph by Mike Kwasniak

Friday, March 24, 2017

ALICE'S ADVENTURES

Chelmsford Ballet Company at the Civic Theatre
23.03.17

Lewis Carroll's fantasy begs to be given the dance treatment. Recently we've seen Christopher Wheeldon's hit show for the Royal Ballet, and before that there was the English National Ballet's version, with music arranged by Carl Davis.
Annette Potter has taken this hooked-on-Tchaikovsky score, but otherwise this beautiful ballet is all her own work. And full of colourful detail and imaginative, inventive ideas.
Not least the ingenious prologue, set in a park, where, in the waking world, we meet the characters who will be transformed in Alice's fevered dreams. In Hatter's café, [muffins and sorbets], the proprietor wields his huge red tea-pot – he'll be the Mad Hatter. A tail-coated white-faced mime [a businessman, according to the cast list] is running late, but filches carrots from a street trader – he'll be back as the White Rabbit. A sleepy urchin curls up on a bench – the Dormouse. And Alice and her sister give a glimpse of the impressive dancing to come.
A stunning digital animation takes Alice down the rabbit hole, to grow and shrink, back-stroke through the pool of tears and organize the caucus race.
This is a ballet crammed with memorable characters: Andrew Potter's mercurial, mischievous Mad Hatter, Isabelle Fellows' delightful Dormouse, an evil Queen from Samantha Ellis, and great character dancing from Megan Roberts and Alice Brecknell as the Tweedle twins. Darci Willsher makes a very human Alice, often sad, frequently frustrated; her dancing is enchanting – there are no extended romantic pas-de-deux here, but she does have some lovely moments with her White Rabbit [a riveting Andrei Teodor Iliescu], who loyally supports her through her trials.
There is plenty to please the fan of classical dance: the six Tears, the Bluebells and the Roses in the Garden of Living Flowers, and in the courtroom scene, a traditional sequence of divertissements featuring all the characters Alice meets on her progress through Wonderland and the Looking-Glass World. And plenty of scope for the corps de ballet to shine: schoolgirls, playing cards, hedgehogs and flamingos, not to mention the many-legged shimmering caterpillar, fronted by a sinuous Lucy Abbott.

All these fantastical flora and fauna need costumes, of course, and the clever, stylish designs [Ann Starling] make a huge contribution to the success of this ambitious new ballet.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

THE MUSIC MAN

THE MUSIC MAN


Billericay Operatic Society at Brentwood Theatre
21.03.17


Meredith Willson's old-fashioned family musical comedy is given an enjoyably old-fashioned family production by Billericay Operatic.
Directed and produced by Wayne Carpenter, who modestly takes his place as the assorted Iowans oompah up and down the Brentwood stage. He's very watchable as the charismatic shyster “Professor” Harold Hill – confidently talking the talk, eyeing up the folk of River City from front stage, enjoying a great vaudeville duet with Matthew Carpenter as his old mate Marcellus, flirting suavely with his Librarian Marian – an excellent performance from Anna Green, even if it's hard to see her as an old maid …
A lively Tommy from Harry Reeves, Tia Warboys is the Mayor's daughter who's his love interest. Mayor - “watch your phraseology” - Shinn is strongly played by Mark Clements, with Jane Granby as his pretentious wife Eulalie. And there's a very promising performance from young James Nash as the 10-year-old problem child Winthrop, matching the Professor in panache and stage presence.
Well done, lads !” whispers one of the ensemble as they troop off after the hugely challenging railroad number that opens the show. Well done, indeed, damn near faultlessly delivered, and nicely staged with luggage, newspapers, hats and loud check suits.
The ensemble work maintains this high standard; gossiping ladies, kids, townsfolk, and a very polished Barbershop quartet, delivering numbers like Lida Rose with just enough tongue in cheek. Shipoopi is an impressive production number, and the finale – the triumph of the “think system” - is suitably spectacular.
It is a long show, and a little dated in places. The scene changes, in varying degrees of darkness, are swiftly done, but none-the-less cause the action to drag, especially in the dénouement.
But it's a great evening out, a reminder of how good the old shows can still be. The music is in the capable hands of Gerald Hindes; his little band, hiding stage left, includes trombonist Mark Vokes – one man doing the work of seventy-six ...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

MUSIC FOR LENT

MUSIC FOR LENT
Waltham Singers at King Edward VI School Chelmsford
18.03.17

Fauré's wondrous Requiem was the climax of this concert of music for the Lenten Period. Despite the secular surroundings, this was one of the most enthralling performances I've heard of this familiar work, with superb solos from baritone Adam Maxey and treble Angus Benton, and beautiful choral singing – the O Domine in the Offertory, the sensitively shaped Requiem Aeternam in the Agnus Dei and the diminuendo at the end of In Paradisum. In a performance close to what the composer himself might have known, the Singers were accompanied by Ensemble OrQuesta – two horns, harp and strings, with an eloquent solo violin for the Sanctus.
Laurence Lyndon-Jones at the organ accompanied the works in the first part, which included Allegri's Miserere, in a new version by Harry Christophers which aims to trace the evolution of the work from its simple origins to the form we know today. Some spectacular ornamentation from Choir II, in the furthest reaches of the balcony. Two Essex composers were featured: William Byrd with a setting of the Ash Wednesday motet Emendemus in Melius, and Alan Bullard with a new piece, the Penitential Psalms, based around the Ubi Caritas for Maundy Thursday. Impressively sung under the exacting direction of Andrew Fardell: dramatic lower voices for De Profundis, a telling repetition for “in generationem” and a sensitively sustained Amen at the close.

This work was commissioned by the Waltham Singers, using a bequest from my predecessor on the Chelmsford Weekly News, Peter Andrews. It will be heard again later this month in Belgium, as part of the choir's tour of Bruges and beyond.














Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

Offspringers at the Cramphorn Theatre
14.03.17


Shakespeare 4 Kidz has been sugar-coating the Bard for years, and their shows have become increasingly popular with youth groups like Offspringers.
As recent Dreams go, Sarah Dodsworth's production is agreeably traditional in tone. Pretty fairies, Athenian columns, stylish white trees. Excellent costumes, and some striking stage pictures: the back-lit bubbles, the top-lit quartet with the fairies thronging round their feet. The band – in a bower of their own – accompanies the Disney-ish songs [MD Kate Gowen]. The plot – arranged marriage and all – survives more or less intact, and the Indian Boy [Dominic Bushell] is given a whole production number for his back-story. Some of the “rhymes from yesterday” are preserved too, and the original verse for the scene and the song for Bluebell [Charlotte Golden] and Rose Gowen's pert Puck is one of the best moments.
A huge cast – some of them very small sprites – includes the Tipsy Bacchanals and the [thrice] three Muses, and some very promising performances. Ore Kane is an imposing Duke Theseus, Jack Funnell a mischievous Lysander, with Charlotte Podd his Hermia. The mechanicals, with their “tacky play”, all give splendidly engaging performances – Matt Scott is the wittiest weaver in town, Max Eagle a bossy Quince, with Esther Hemmings a lovely Lion, Abbie Gansbuehler the tinker, Amy Smethurst the tailor and James Birchmore doing some serious breast-imbruing as Thisbe.
Lively movement, impressive ensemble work, and a shared sense of fun for this, the most accessible of Shakepeare's comedies. Very much enjoyed by the first- night audience. But, if the work is to appeal to a public beyond friends and family, every one of these enthusiastic actors needs to remember the importance of concentration and staying in character.