Monday, June 30, 2008


Tomorrow's Talent at the Civic Theatre


The ever enthusiastic Gavin Wilkinson brought his troupe of young hopefuls to the awesome vastness of the Civic stage for the first time this year.

A good-natured audience enjoyed a mixture of show hits and front-cloth sketches: chatroom, chat show and chavettes.

Some of the performers were very young indeed – the aah-factor to the fore in Little People from Les Mis, and especially in I'd Do Anything, with a tough little Dodger and a tiny, tiny Oliver who gave a very assured performance.

Many of our favourite musicals were there – beginning and ending with Hairspray, and stopping off in Chicago, Rydell High and Old Siam. The ensemble was sometimes free-form rather than sharp, but there was often palpable energy in the routines. Among the many promising soloists was Billy Elliott – who gave us the show-stopper Electricity, and also proved a capable dancer in the finale.

But everyone got a chance to shine, and the cross-over curtain calls were a good idea, but would have needed a little more rehearsal to be collision-free.

The show was directed by Gavin Wilkinson with Emma Tapley, and guest artiste Corrie Mac brought some West End pizazz to the Civic Stage.


Cramphorn Theatre


A bookshelf with those seven books, a pointy hat, a school desk, and the very talented Dan and Jeff.

As they reminded us, it's not the stage that matters, it's those 300 or more characters. We didn't see all of them, but these manic, and very silly, young men kept their promise and whisked us through the Rowling oeuvre in a wizard 70 minutes.

Dobby the house-elf was a glove puppet, Book Three was a PowerPoint presentation. We played Quidditch – our side lost by 160 points – and laughed at the Smurf poo, the cat food, the desperate magic, the only Wizard in the village and the final duet between Voldemort and Harry – what else but I Will Survive.

As with the best comedy, it was hard to see what was genuinely fresh, improvised or unexpected. Were we really the first audience to score in the World Cup ? Is it that rare for the Golden Snitch to be rugby tackled by a determined ten-year-old ? Did Harry really get wetter than usual rescuing Ron from the lake ?

The audience included a lot of fans of the books, some quite young, but no-one was patronised, and everybody left the Cramphorn happier, if none the wiser. The show goes back to its Edinburgh Fringe roots this summer – let's hope these busy lads find time to devise another potted parody for next year.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jim Hutchon was at the Old Court ...

The Last Days of Don Juan.

Chelmsford Theatre Workshop.

26th June

Alison Woollard’s impressive and explosive version of the Don Juan legend is a not very well written modern adaptation of the 17th C original by Molina. There are massive slabs of dialogue among the large cast that could have been excised to impart more pace and action.

Lionel Bishop is very smooth as the hero who “does what and who he wants”, as he cynically loves and leaves a number of Spanish virgins with the promise of marriage. For the play, four women represent the legendary countless ones. Kelly McGibney is a ruined noblewoman who does a very convincing seduction scene with the naked Don Juan in an eyebrow-raising opening scene.

An innocent fisher girl played with impressive range by Kat Tokely is next for the treatment, followed by Victoria Costa, truly the most ruined of the quartet (despite colluding in a sexual jape with Don Juan’s friend – Robert Bastian) The fourth is Anna Tilmouth, an innocent bride, tricked away from her new bridegroom with the promise of riches and station.

In the end, the hero gets consigned to Hell in a finale that is amongst the most powerful I have seen at the Old Court . A special mention for the murdered Martin Final who makes a comeback as a statue thudding about the stage. This could have been comic but he had the gravitas to pull it off with real panache.

James Bowman's voice opened the show

and Robert Tear's heralded its close

Saturday, June 21, 2008


The Waltham Singers in Chelmsford Cathedral


We are the music makers -” sang the impressive combined choirs of the Waltham Singers and the Schlosskirchenkantorei Weilburg.

Their joint concert in Chelmsford Cathedral followed a successful event in Germany last month.

It was a model cultural collaboration. Mendelssohn and Elgar, two late flowerings of the European Choral tradition. And to begin, a celebratory blast of Brahms: the Academic Festival Overture, a heady blend of fun and formality, played with powerful panache by the Salomon Orchestra under the precise baton of Andrew Fardell.

Andrew had conducted the Mendelssohn Psalm 95 back in Weilburg, but it was their director, Doris Hagel, in charge in Chelmsford. This was a rich, tuneful performance, with a soprano soloist from each choir, and tenor Andrew Wicks, especially eloquent in the Seine Stimme, the voice of Our Lord crying in the wilderness.

Elgar's Music Makers is a very different piece. Andrew Fardell saw it safely from the sweeping orchestral opening to the dying dreams of the final bars. Some of the detail was lost in the soaring sound, but quieter passages, such as the Breath of Our Inspiration, were impeccably phrased. As in the Mendelssohn, the choirs merged beautifully to form a wonderfully satisfying sound. Mezzo Margaret McDonald has a voice well suited to Elgar, especially effective in the No Vision Amazing sequence.

The Cathedral was, rightly, packed for this unique event, the brainchild of Sabine Nussey, who started her singing career in her home town of Weilburg before moving to Essex and the Waltham Singers.

This was the review of the Weilburg concert which appeared in their German newspaper - with thanks to Sabine Nussey for the translation

Music Unites the Incompatible

Symphonic Concert of the ‘Alte Musik’ is a German/English co-production

The regional administration of the protestant church celebrated its 50th birthday in style; with a great symphonic concert in the series ‘Alte Musik im Weilburger Schloss’. There were only two items on the programme, but they were quite something.

One reason for that was the two choirs: the Kantorei of the Schlosskirche Weilburg and The Waltham Singers from Chelmsford in England, one of the best mixed choirs in Great Britain. Their musical directors, Andrew Fardell and Doris Hagel, took turns in conducting a large choir of about 90 singers.

The other reason was the two pieces, which couldn’t have been more different. On the programme were Psalm 95 by Mendelssohn and Elgar’s The Music Makers. These two very diverse pieces were united not only through soloists, choir and orchestra, but mainly through their subject matter: the praise of the creator. In Mendelssohn it is the praise of God, in Elgar’s Ode the praise of the creative spirit, the Music Makers. [….]

And thirdly, the diverse voices of the soloists and the brilliant playing of the orchestra made the concert a lasting experience. […..]

The evening began with Mendelssohn’s psalm, conducted by Andrew Fardell. Heiko Börner´s pleasant voice was convincing in the tenor part of the first movement, and the collaboration between choir and orchestra was faultless. In the third movement, the soprano duet by Doris Hagel and Dorothee Zimmermann produced an enjoyable sound.

The choir’s precise diction – the German singers had to sing in English, the English ones in German – their sound full of nuances and differentiated phrases was very much appreciated. The singers mastered the fugue in movement four with bravura, and tenor Heiko Börner shone in movement five with his expressive interpretation.

The highlight of the evening was Elgar´s difficult, but wonderful piece The Music Makers, which demanded the highest standards from choir, orchestra and soloist. It demonstrated that this composer should not be known by his Pomp and Circumstance alone.

This was the moment of truth, not only for the combined choirs, but also for the orchestra. Here woodwind and brass united with the strings to produce a balanced sound. On the whole, Elgar´s piece was characterised by changes of tone and dynamics, and alternating piano and forte passages for the choir as well as the orchestra. Very bright here the voice of Ralph Mangelsdorff, whose interpretation of the dramatic as well as the lyrical passages left nothing to be desired.

The German-English choir were worthy partners and mastered the difficult piece convincingly. There was long applause for all the participants, who are going to repeat this concert in Chelmsford in a few weeks.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Ian Dickens Productions at the Civic Theatre

Philip King's trusty wartime farce is a classic of its kind. Tea with the vicar, men without trousers, drunken spinster, a web of improbable coincidences.

Ian Marston's workmanlike production had an excellent Humphrey in Jeffrey Holland, whose precise timing and facial expressions kept the audience laughing. Guy Siner, the other sitcom star on stage in this experienced cast, was merely required to reheat his Gruber. Dale Meeks failed to convince me that he was a Coward actor - working class boys just didn't, not in those days, dear boy ...

Kathryn Dimmory was engagingly daffy as the hyperactive Mrs Vicar, but the star of the show for me was Rachel Izen as Miss Skillon - a brillant physical performance, fainting, collapsing, subsiding, crawling all over the furniture and Alan Miller Bunford's solidly traditional stage set.


Chelmsford and District Welsh Society at the Cathedral

Our Cathedral was packed with ex-pat Celts for the Chelmsford and District Welsh Society's concert last Saturday.

It was their first time in this glorious choral acoustic, and the guests were the excellent Cor Meibion Llanelli, accompanied by Helen Roberts.

Under their inspiring director, Eifion Thomas, they brought us a selection from their wide and varied repertoire, including hymn tunes, opera, and the “greatest love song of all time”, Myfanwy.

I especially appreciated their American Trilogy, Mozart's Chorus of the Priests, and Mansions of the Lord, from the Vietnam movie We Were Soldiers.

As the Mayor pointed out, the concert was a potent reminder of the beauty of the Welsh tongue, and the wealth of repertoire written for these marvellous choirs.

The guest soloist was the young Welsh baritone Gary Griffiths. Sensitively accompanied at the piano by Nico de Villiers, he sang traditional Welsh airs, oratorio, Strauss, Don Giovanni and that sentimental ballad beloved of the diaspora, My Little Welsh Home. His encore was a beautifully phrased Some Enchanted Evening.

Memorably, choir and audience joined together in community singing, culminating, of course, in Land of My Fathers.


Springers at the Civic

I struggle to be inspired by Jekyll and Hyde, the Musical. Frank Wildhorn's meandering melodies. Leslie Bricusse's limp lyrics. The anachronistic book.

But Springers clearly have no such problems, and gave the show a brilliant production at the Civic Theatre.

Eric Smart used his chorus effectively: grouping and singing were dramatically powerful. The scenery was well designed and evocative; Phill Knight's lighting design was superb. The wigs and costumes were less impressive, but the stage pictures were frequently arresting – the duet In His Eyes, the Prologue, the Façade street scene, the melodramatic wedding.

I liked the Goth bookends – the Sinister Assistants – and masks were used to good effect. Sax and sex in the Red Rat [just down the road from The Three Cripples] introduced Deborah Anderson's impeccable Lucy, the good-time girl who tempts both Jekyll and Hyde.

The tormented doctor, given a stag night and a motive for murder in this version, was played by Simon Brett – a once in a lifetime opportunity he seized with enthusiasm. His final confrontation was a tour-de-force, and he made the most of the one memorable number in the show. His intended was Olivia Gooding, with Andy Hall as her father.

The assistant director was Steve Holding, choreography was by Jacqui Tear, and the MD was Ian Myers.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Duggie Chapman's wartime show at the Civic


Delayed by the blackout, We'll Meet Again brought wartime nostalgia to the Civic once more last week. They are one of the last Concert Parties in captivity, working like Trojans to keep the audience entertained.

These time travellers were here at Easter last year, with an almost identical show: full marks to cheeky chappy Steve Barclay for freshening his act with some new material, including a topical pot shot at Fern Britton.

Fair enough – you can't rewrite the war – Lili Marlene was the only German number, and only in its English version.

The fans – war babies, veterans, spivs and evacuees – loved every minute: Shelley James, Forces Sweetheart, Andy Eastwood, with his little ukelele in his hand, not to mention the fiddle and the banjo, and Tony Layton, recalling the vocal refrains of the Dance Band days.

Rear Gunner Martyn St James, MD and keyboards, kept the whole thing moving, and lighting and staging were slick and smooth.

Seeing the show again so soon, we noticed the tricks and the wrinkles: the voice with no power left at the bottom, the fixed grin and the Archie Rice eyes, the resolutely un-PC gags just the right shade of blue, as the comic worked the mature crowd with consummate skill.

This was the same show as last year - have a look at that review in the archive !

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Lunchtime music at the Cathedral


The Three Tenors are the stuff of legend. Last year our Cathedral hosted the three counter-tenors. Last week it was the turn of the Three Sopranos, with an operatic miscellany of myth and legend.

From Richard Strauss's Nymphs [Ariadne auf Naxos] to Richard Wagner's Rhine Maidens, joined by token baritone Gary Griffiths as Alberich [a powerful performance, this].

Two favourite solos, too. Elizabeth Kent chose Purcell – Dido's Lament [When I Am Laid In Earth] – and Susanna Heard sang Dvorak, in Czech – Russalka's Song to the Moon.

At the heart of this well constructed programme was a generous slice of Handel's Semele, with Susanna performing a lively duo with Beverley Lockyer, Gary as Somnus raised from his slumbers, and Beverley giving us Endless Pleasure.

The hard-working accompanist was Peter Dollimore.

It's over two years since these performers entertained in the Cathedral; we look forward to another themed dip into the operatic repertoire.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Kelvedon Players

Not many actors have their own dresser these days, but only two generations ago wartime privations still did not mean that Sir had to launder his own smalls.

Norman - sensitively played by Andy Perrin - is the devoted servant of the title. We could he believe that he survived Colwyn Bay, or that he might end his days as a ship's steward once his master's voice finally fell silent. He was at his best in the final maudlin moments, and in his cutting confrontation with the ambitious young Irene - a promising performance from Cristina d'Andrea.

Annette Williams looked every inch the part of the long-suffering leading lady [all the costumes were carefully chosen], though she would have had a much posher voice, tobacco stained with cut-glass vowels.

Mike Nower held the stage effortlessly as Sir; a riveting performance from the broken, tearful start to the triumph in his farewell Lear. His voice and his stature changed impressively as the greasepaint and the promise of a Full House worked their healing magic.

Jan Holton was the harrowed SM, and the pathetic touring company, decimated by war, was represented by Peter Russell and Peter Redman, with assorted Knights and Voices Off.

The Dresser, dedicated to the memory of Bill Saffell, was directed by Rosemary Townsend, in an evocative set which fitted comfortably into the fading splendour of Kelvedon's Institute.

JR wrote:

Just back from my evening out watching Kelvedon Players perform 'The Dresser', the same play in which I appeared as Norman, the theatre dresser of the title, for Little Baddow Drama a good few years ago. The film starred Albert Finney and Tom Courteney.

For me it was an 'OK' evening, though I'm not raving about it. This might be because my 'appreciation' was coloured by our own production of the play - I know that we had a very good cast at all levels, whereas I was not exactly 'fussed' for those playing some of the smaller roles over at Kelvedon.

Mike Nower played 'Sir', the actor-manager of a third rate touring company during WW2 (based on the last of the actor-managers, Sir Donald Wolfit). For me he had too light a voice - I would have preferred booming 'nobody sleeps while I'm on stage' tones, the same timbred voice that Albert Finney in the film used to excellent effect to stop the departing train ! However, Mike gave an intelligent and wholly believable performance as the man who had led his third rate troupe of players round the Provinces for many years. His wig did him no favours, but then wasn't that in itself a subtle way of underlining the tattiness of his motley crew ?

Andy Perrin as Sir's dresser, Norman, quickly warmed to his part and did not overdo the camper side of the character. He was particularly 'at home' in the 2nd Act dramatic moments. Perhaps he could have pointed the subtler moments slightly better, such as the story of 'his friend' in Colwyn Bay .. or his barbed comments at Madge.

In her two main dialogues Annette Williams as 'Her Ladyship' was not entirely 'at home' .. should she not have been more sharp-tongued and venomous in her 'interval' scene with 'Sir' ?

The bustling efficiency and bristly edge of stage manager Madge was not fully captured, though her final triumphal moment when she 'appropriated' Sir's ring was well done.

The wanna-be-Cordelia-by-hook-or-by-crook Irene was given an intelligentreading by young Cristina D'Andrea. It certainly made her two friends inthe row in front of me stop their texting !