Monday, December 22, 1986

Civic Theatre

The Civic crammed with senior citizens, the Chelmsford Silver Band on stage - it must be the Chelmsford Borough Council's annual command performance, always one of the friendliest occasions in the theatre.
The entertainment this year was as generous as ever, with some of the finest variety artistes in the area giving up their Sunday to entertain this most appreciative of audiences.
Compering the show was Frank Western, better known in Christmases past as Johnny Pedlar, the Norfolk comedian. Arthur Hull, Chelmsford's Cheeky Chappie, wheeled out some veteran gags, mostly pale blue, and three young musicians from King Edward VI School busked through a sprightly set of Dixieland numbers.
Chelmsford Ballet Company's Company B tapped their way through Happy Feet; one of their new numbers this year had a troupe of Mrs Mopps dancing to Hooked-on Mozart.
Springers transferred their Cabaret Spectacular with considerable success from the Cramphorn to the Civic - big brassy numbers like Rhythm of Life and Follow the Band had added breadth and lost nothing of their attack.
CAODS did a very polished sequence of American numbers from the Black Hills of Dakota to Oklahoma, and Young Gen, not for the first time the hit of the show, included this year two dance routines as well as a [?final] look back at Annie, and the Happy Wanderer from their new production of Hansel and Gretel, now running in the Cramphorn.

Friday, November 14, 1986

One Thing More - Caedmon Construed

Memorable moments at the Cathedral
14 November 1986

Christopher Fry’s new play – jointly commissioned by Radio 4 and Chelmsford Cathedral – is One Thing More … Caedmon Construed.

The Venerable Bede tells the story – a speculation, he confesses – of the stranger, a stuttering stableman, who seems reluctant to be part of the community, to be close to God.
The drama treats the miracle of inspiration, “ a nightingale in a thornbush”, as Caedmon finds his voice to sing the beginnings of created beings.
Bernard Hepton, as Bede, lent authority to the story, though his performance was somewhat book-bound. The device of his continued presence, ex cathedra, was very effective.
Terrance Hardiman gave a quietly powerful performance as Caedmon, and the cast also included Barbara Leigh Hunt as Hilda, and superb support from Norman Jones as the Overman and Geraldine Alexander as the Novice.
The huge screen could have been better used, but there were many memorable moents, such of the sound of the choir [an excellent recording of Graham Elliott’s music] and the sea with the night sky.
And despite some sightline problems, the Cathedral building itself added a further dimension to the drama.
The play was directed by Michael Bakewell and Jane Morgan; you can hear the radio version, with the same cast, this Sunday, November 16.

Friday, June 20, 1986

Full of sparkle

Die Fledermaus 
Chelmsford Opera Group
Civic Theatre

Nicolette Molnar’s Die Fledermaus, like the best champagne, kept its sparkle right to the end. Sponsored by Lloyd’s Bank, Chelmsford Opera Group’s production at the Civic last week had a predominantly youthful cast who made the most of the lively humour and the frothy plot.
Martin Spencer was an elegantly effete Eisenstein, flirting expertly at the masked ball with his own wife [Patricia Cameron, who sang beautifully as the fun-loving Rosalinde].
It was a real pleasure to be able to take the excellence of the singing for granted, and sit back and enjoy the performances, such as David Flint’s, as the shameless tenor Alfred. He didn’t look much like a ladykiller, but he was ideally suited to the gentle comedy the part demands.
Familiar faces in some of the crucial smaller roles – Michael Bagnall as the tongue-tied lawyer Blind, Ken Rolf as Frank, the prison governor, and Bernard White, successfully following Fulton Mackay and a long line of jolly gaolers. 
Unfairly upstaged by a pair of pampered bitches, Ann Davey wore the dress-trousers as young Prince Orlofsky, whose bal masqué gave the Opera Group chorus to shine in some nicely libidinous goings-on.
Birgitta Angsmyr gave a delightful performance as Adele, the real parlour maid, and Peter Crowe cut a dapper figure as Falke, the false friend whose Bat’s revenge gives the piece its title and its plot-line.
The Chelmsford Sinfonietta, organised by Brian Brown, made up in authentic Viennese sound what it lacked in body – the celebrated overture was enjoyed in rapt silence by the first night audience. The conductor was Anthony Trodd.

Friday, May 30, 1986

An enterprising Nutcracker

The Nutcracker
Chelmsford Ballet Company at the Civic Theatre
May 30 1986

An impressively lavish production of The Nutcracker at the Civic last week. The enterprising Chelmsford Ballet Company – unique of its kind – has built an enviable reputation for full-scale shows, and this was a worthy successor to Tales of Beatrix Potter and last year’s Coppelia.
I saw the matinée, at which Clara was danced by Rosina Baker [Gemma Beesley danced at other performances]. Rosina cleverly caught the innocent delight of the child whose party ends in a colourful dream. Caroline Clark made an impact, too, in the smaller role of Franz, her brother.
The Nutcracker soldier himself was Jason Wild, who also danced the Grandfather and the Arabian. John Richardson, sporting a raffish eye-patch, was excellent as the ever-present Drosselmeyer, and David Slade made an imposing King Rat.
Stephen Ayres danced the Prince, and guest artiste Amanda Graham gave a delightful Sugar Plum Fairy.
The ensemble work was imaginative and polished, especially the Snowflakes [led by Rachel Ashcroft as the Snow Queen] and the national dances. This ballet makes good use of the talented Junior Company, particularly good in the Battle and in the sequence with Mere Gigogne [Kathleen Mardell].
The scenery was mostly rented cloths, but the furniture was splendid, and costumes – even the removal men’s – exquisite.
The Nutcracker was choreographed by Rose Kinsey and the Company’s director, Elisabeth Swan.

Friday, May 09, 1986

Road Testing The Yeomen

The Yeomen of the Guard – Ingatestone and Witham
May 9  1986

The other week I had the rare pleasure of watching two productions of the same show on successive nights. Both Ingatestone and Witham had chosen Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic Yeomen of the Guard. Difficult not to make comparisons, but like those glossy automobile advertisements, we’ll try to stick to the facts,
Ingatestone had the better acceleration – Overture to Beginners in 5m 16s, but Witham clocked the faster journey time, even including the traditional encore for the Cock and Bull duet, and with more leg-room too !
Ingatestone’s road-holding was questionable at times, with prompts, hesitations and false starts, but their documentation was impeccable, with a beautiful programme designed by Haydn Davies, their Sergeant Merryl.
Visibility was good in both, though Ingatestone’s lights had a tendency to dip unexpectedly. I liked the distant view of the Globe, though.
Witham’s open-top design was striking, featuring a Pierrot/Headsman mascot.
Finish and trim excellent in either model, though Witham’s spinning wheel worked, and all their Yeomen wore beards.
Witham’s long pedigree [they first had this show on the road sixty years ago] told in a touch more polish and style, plus a higher octane all-round performance.
Ingatestone won on Jack Points, though – their Merryman had the pathos Gilbert intended.
Apologies to both companies for this unorthodox review – space is at at premium. And I wonder how many other people road-tested both versions ?

Friday, April 11, 1986

Two excellent exhibitions

Chelmsford Then and Now 
The World of Fred Spalding

The face of Chelmsford is changing faster than most.
Salutary, then, to take stock of two excellent exhibitions that chart some of the developments of the last hundred years.
At the Museum, until May 11, “Chelmsford Then and Now”, paintings by members of the Chelmsford Art Society, inspired by Bennett Bamford’s watercolours of a century ago.
Some locations are still recognizable – the Stone Bridge, caught nicely by Phil Kyffin, Springfield Wharf, atmospherically captured by Bob Vasey, whose Mildmay Almshouses [just down the road from the Museum in Oaklands Park] featured a prominent yellow van instead of Bamford’s distant pony trap.
New Street has altered more than most – who now remembers Eli Bacon’s store where the police station now stands ? - and Charlie Tait’s recent study is already out of date, the Snip’s weather-boards replaced by the new Crown Court. There was a lively collage of the Wheatsheaf, which happily still survives.
Although there was some beautiful work inspired by the obviously picturesque, I suspect that a hundred years hence the transient town centre will be of more interest, like Ann Snow’s view of soul-less Tindal Street, with ghostly motorbikes in the foreground.

In the Cathedral until April 30, an equally intriguing glimpse into the world of Fred Spalding, alderman and photographer extraordinaire, whose studio can be seen in his 1860 study of Tindal Square. Hylands House stands “smart and self-confident” in the Edwardian sunshine, a charabanc leaves the Griffin in 1906, Marconi meets the Mayor in 1912, and the Cathedral interior looks very Victorian in 1905.
Both these exhibitions are free. Do try to see them; you cannot fail to be fascinated.

Friday, April 04, 1986

Agreeable evening down at the Mill

The Vanbrugh Quartet – The Mill at Roxwell

A uniquely agreeable evening at the Mill in Roxwell last week: the Vanbrugh Quartet playing to raise funds for the new Essex Chamber Orchestra.
Jim and Pat Smith have a lovely house, with the new “barn” attached – in fact a tiny concert hall, with a good acoustic and a view of the garden. It is a rare pleasure to hear chamber music in such an ideal setting.
Violinist Gregory Ellis – who played the Brahms concerto with the ESO last month – met Elizabeth Charleson [violin] and Simon Aspell [viola] when they were all studying at the Royal Academy. Cellist Christopher Marwood joined them last November.
They have just secured a two-year contract with RTE [the equivalent of the BBC in Eire], before they go off to Canada for an international competition. The tape they submitted to qualify included the three works that made up the substantial but well-balanced programme we heard at the Mill.
Mozart’s Quartet in C [K465], with its beautiful Andante Cantabile and exhilrating Allegro Molto finale, is often dubbed the Dissonance Quartet, since its opening sounded harsh to eighteenth-century ears. What would they have made of the Prokofiev which followed ? Rhythmically exciting, including references to many Russian Jewish themes.
To conclude, the Vanbrughs gave us a fresh, enthusiastic account of one of the peaks of the repertoire – Beethoven’s B flat Quartet opus 130.

Friday, March 07, 1986

Stylish Coward

Present Laughter
Chelmsford Theatre Workshop

Martin Walsh gave one of his best performances last week, as the ageing matinée idol in Coward’s Present Laughter.
Gary Essendine, always acting, posturing in a succession of dressing gowns, is a gift of a part [Sir Noel wrote it for himself], and Martin grasped the opportunities with both hands. Wisely avoiding the Master’s mannerisms, he created a polished but believable character, who sparkled brilliantly without eclipsing the rest of the cast.
Margaret Simmonds was excellent as the great man’s ex-wife, and Judith Robinson and Helen Wilson gushed nicely as two young admirers. Joanna’s Act II duet with Gary was one of many classic moments in Jane Valentine’s stylish production for Chelmsford Theatre Workshop.
The long-suffering household was Sheila Lauder as Miss Erikson, Dot Linney as the capable all-seeing Monica and Neil Arbon as a perky Fred.
David Madams and Wally Greaves looked suitably glum and uncomfortable as a pair of business associates, while Patricia Lee contributed a telling cameo as a pushy upper-class Mrs Worthington.
And Nick Wickenden gave a hilarious performance as the raving high-brow Roland Maule.
John Bush had designed an elegant art deco set, faultlessly furnished, though a carpet would have been nice, especially on the curving staircase for Mr Essendine’s grand entrance.

Friday, January 24, 1986

Snow White

Little Waltham’s pantomime is always worth waiting for – this year’s is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, written and produced by David Madams.
David confesses that he’s not really a panto fan, but he tells me that he’s tried to write something he wouldn’t mind seeing himself.
It did have the awful jokes, the Oh No He Isn’t routines, and Heigh-Ho, but this Snow White was no ordinary pantomime.
Writer/director David Madams cleverly blended the traditional story with an approach equally palatable to the grown-ups in the audience.
The literary references ranged from the Goons and ITMA to Dylan Thomas. Among the less orthodox characters were Marcel the axe-man [Wally Greaves] and the Queen’s daily mirror [Glyn Jones]. Samantha Brannon made a dashing prince in a white tuxedo, Christine Moor was a deliciously evil Isolda, and Rachel Whitely managed to look just right as the heroine whilst coping very professionally as the tongue-in-cheek Seven Go Mad In Waltham dialogue.
The famed Little Waltham chorus line were most amusing as terminally bored Ladies in Waiting.
The ticklish problem of the dwarfs was ingeniously solved by having the little fellows eat Marmite sarnies – the growing-up spread – and turning into a very polished comedy team. The children were led by Matthew Newman as Bossy, who turned into Alastair Irving, an entirely incredible hulk.
“They don’t call this amateur for nothing,” muttered Ringo when the Heath Robinson lights went out. Most unfair – the cast and audience rallied in impromptu community singing, so enjoyable that Eliot and Snow White’s babe in arms were quite sorry when power was restored, thanks to the valiant efforts of Edwin Leach and Ron Hancock, the unflappable stage manager.

Tuesday, January 14, 1986

One of the best in twenty years

Troupe – Mercury Studio

Troupe is an amateur theatre company formed to present small-scale plays of merit. It draws its members from a wide area; all of them work for other local groups.
Eddie Mackay, the group’s inspiration, has directed many successful productions for Chelmsford Theatre Workshop and Braintree Opera.
Troupe’s second production, David Storey’s Home, was presented recently in the Mercury Studio.
It was one of the best amateur productions I have seen in twenty years.
Under Eddie Mackay’s direction, the excellent cast achieved a level of ensemble playing that many regional repertory companies might envy.
Set in the grounds of a mental hospital, the play is a formidable undertaking, The meaning and the mood are buried beneath superficially banal exchanges between a quartet of patients.
Robin Warnes, well known for his work with Latchingdon and Little Baddow amongst others, played Jack. It was a moving performance, the tragedy thinly disguised beneath the suave exterior. His friend Narry was Tony Saitta, who made a totally convincing old gentleman.
The loud ladies who interrupt their elegy for the old England were imaginatively interprested by Sara Green as Kathleen and Barbara Pears as Marjoie, who gave a performance that was a masterpiece of observation – every gesture, every expression contributing to this sympathetic study of mental disorder. The cast was completed by Rupert Jones as a monosyllabic youth.
Troupe are fortunate to have such a showcase for their talents, especially in this piece, where the mood could easily be broken by insensitive lighting or a tacky set.

Monday, January 06, 1986

Challenging year for Workshop

Chelmsford Theatre Workshope goes into 1986

1986 will be a challenging year for Chelmsford Theatre Workshop. Now the facelift is practically finished, they can channel their energy into productions.
The season to come includes the long-awaited Amadeus, Ibsen’s Ghosts and Coward’s Present Laughter. And regular workshop sessions [currently on Shakespeare’s Othello] youth group and members’ evenings.
A convivial group of members whiled away the waiting for the turn of the year with a neat little review called Odds and Ends ‘85.
Much of the material dated from the heyday of the genre, when Alan Melville was the last word in satire and the Lord Chamberlain’s Office rules the West End.
The watershed Beyond the Fringe was represented by The End of the World and Alan Bennett’s classic Take a Pew. Mr Bennett also contributed The English Way of Death, a no-nonsense Northern look at cremation, faithfully rendered by Mona Wright.
Tom Morris did Brian Thompson’s wicked fantasy about pot-smoking at a Silver Wedding, as well as a naughtly monologue, with mime, called Benjy the Robot Wire-Walker. Amongst other rare delights were David Madams in drag, courageously recalling Coward’s Waiting in the Wings, Sheila Lauder in the Loo at the Ritz and Alan Maryon as a lubricious old lawyer in Jealous Judge.
If you’re thinking of joining CTW at the Old Court, either as a member or as a member of the audience, ring Secretary Barbara Newton on Chelmsford ****** - you’ll be made very welcome.

Friday, January 03, 1986

Follow the Star

Follow the Star – Young Gen at the Cramphorn Theatre

Ray Jeffery’s Follow The Star ends it sell-out run at the Cramphorn tomorrow [Saturday].
An enthusiastic young cast made the most of the big production numbers: every Time You’re Good You Grow A Bit, Clap Your Hands And Be Cheery, and the frenetic Tension, but in the small theatre the more intimate numbers, too, achieved their true significance in this light-hearted look at the Nativity.
Jeremy Cowell made a benevolent old Olly, served by assorted angels, including Paul Dicker as the lovable Gabby, Stephen Emery as Chicago, the hood with the heart of gold, with Emma Watts, Helen Weatherly and Tim Clements as Angy, Jelly and Lofty.
Herod, the demon king, was bloodcurdlingly brought to life by Lee Threadgold; alexiaa Burland and Nick Ross played Mary and Joseph.
The Wise Men were nicely characterised, and beautifully dressed, but almost upstaged by their cuddly camels.
The imaginatively conceived costumes, with lots of changes for everyone, made the angels look like kids from Fame, with leg-warmers, headbands and mittens.
Ray’s star-shaped set was ingenious, with spiral stairs and a slide linking the levels. My only reservation was that the band, excellent musicians, were too prominent visually right behind the acting area.

The Regent Panto

Pro Panto’s 
Puss in Boots 
at the Regent Theatre

I bet the Regent thought it would never see another panto – it’s the Coral Social Club now, but the original boxes and the ornate mouldings are still there behind the fruit machines and the bingo tables in the orchestra stalls.
Pro Panto brought their pocket Puss in Boots there last Sunday afternoon, woriking wonders with the mantelpiece stage and a lively audience. The whole show was lit by a single float, which brought an air of Victorian melodrama to the proceedings.
The style was Play School rather than Palladium, with no jokes for the grown-ups, and songs kept to a merciful minimum.
Chirpy performances from a small cast [six, I think – there was no programme and some deft doubling]. The Queen of Cat Fairyland, with her fishbone wand, Puss and her friend Jack-In-A-Box, Ginger the Magic Rabbit, Thunderbolt the Demon King in a horned half-mask, in cahoots with the evil Baron Hardnose, Busy Lizzie, the maid of all work, Princess Laura and Tom, the Marquis of Carabas.
I hadn’t set foot in the Regent since The Towering Inferno. It was good to have a last look inside the town’s oldest surviving theatre – thanks to Coral and the enterprising Pro Panto company.