Monday, June 29, 2009


Young Expressions at Ingatestone


Parr and Gardiner's spooky Dracula Spectacula has been around for years on the school and youth group circuit.

Ingatestone's Young Expressions brought it up to date with airport security, and blatant product placement in the vampire's lab.

The key to this jokey show is to send up the story and the colourful cliché characters. Oscars for over-acting, then, to the elegant, dark-eyed Wraith [Sophie Brown] and the undead Count himself [Alec Stevens]. They made the most of their top hat and tails number with Genghis [Rebecca Craythorne].
I liked the sinister Landau [Jared Bates] and Booze, the leading Glublick addict [Bethan Williams]. Promising in smaller roles, the tiny, tipsy pilot [Ralph Stevens] and Farquarson [Grant Clark].
Love interest - “sloppy stuff” - was down to Indiana-Jones-style adventurer Nick Heartstopper [didn't he used to be Nick Necrophiliac ?], suavely played by Harry Kemp, and innocent schoolteacher Nadia Naïve [Sophie Chick], and of course Herr Hans and Frau Gretel [Laura Maze and Lucy Slater].

This staging, directed by Liz Gibson and Allen Clark, started impressively with a forest of hands, and included a lively Lubbly Glublick, with Lederhosen slapping and cheerleaders, and the zombies and brides of Dracula routine at the top of Act Two.
The gags and puns [Hans and Hers hotties, say] should have got more laughs, and some of these young performers are still learning the skills of timing and delivery, but this was nonetheless a welcome revival of an old favourite.

Musical Director Cathy Edkins led an accomplished band of young musicians.


Caprice at Hylands


Caprice have yet to play Glastonbury, but our own Essex Wind Orchestra came one step closer last Sunday with a charity concert at Hylands, the last of the British Armed Forces and Veterans Weekend events.

Only four trombones, but 76 more musicians on an impressive sound stage on the back lawn, with sensitively amplified sound – the Count Basie tribute came over particularly well.

Appropriately, much of the music had a forces theme.

The concert opened with the impertinent Colonel Bogey, and included Major Glenn Miller's greatest hits, a Home Front selection – White Cliffs, I'll Be Seeing You, Thanks for the Memory, And The Band Played On – as well as the RAF March Past, with one tiny aircraft passing overhead on its way home.

The Dam Busters March would have had a special resonance for one man in the crowd of picnicking Prommers – as a boy he saw the whole operation from his home in the hills above the Ruhr.

Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory made a fittingly jingoistic finale.

As compère Jon Vaughan said, this was music to conjure up memories and stir the senses, with David Bome and the splendid Caprice musicians giving of their best on a beautiful midsummer night – Chelmsford's own Proms in the Park.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Colchester Mercury

this piece also appeared as an Essex Chronicle Reader Review[!] this byline revived after all these years ...

Four strings good, six strings bad. That’s the mantra of the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britian, who played a sell-out gig in Colchester ahead of a German tour and a late-night BBC Prom in August.

Hardly an orchestra, though this was a big sound, helped by some nifty mixing. Just seven musicians this time out, each with a different “bonsai guitar”.

Their musicianship is amazing. Jonty, on bass, whistled through Bach’s Badinerie, we heard a jaunty Dambusters March, an amazing a capella Pinball Wizard, and several perverse arrangements, including The Sex Pistols as the Spinners might have covered them. Cecil Sharp was royally Shafted, and the Ukes treated us to two of their “simultaneous segue” medleys – Fly Me To The Moon, Theme From "Love Story", Killing Me Softly, Hotel California, I Will Survive over a common chord sequence.

But what really makes their concerts a joy is the self-deprecating

dead-pan wit behind everything they do, from Dave with his “stage presents” to daddy of them all George Hinchcliffe, who looks as if he might be a loss adjuster or a benign gynaecologist. Until he sings Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights …

Their last gasp at the Mercury was an unbelievable arrangement of that erotic hit from the decadent 60s – Je T’Aime, Moi Non Plus.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court
19th June 2009

Jim Hutchon was at the first night:

This lengthy and complex ‘play within a play’ doesn’t roll easily off the stage, but does reward concentration. De Sade, an inmate of the enlightened asylum at Charenton, stages a play by the inmates about the murder of one of the French revolution’s key ‘citizens’, Jean-Paul Marat.
The actor playing Marat, Richard Dawes, was quickest to grasp his dual role as inmate and Marat, and kept a secure grip on his mental state while taking a good stab at the working class rhetoric of his character. Equally at home with the dual role was a droopy Catherine Bailey as a patient with sleeping sickness and Charlotte Corday, Marat’s murderer. Robert Bastian was perfectly overbearing as the Deus ex machina Herald, who helped to guide the audience through the complications of the plot.
Michael Gray as the liberated director of the asylum, Coulmier, was impressively outraged at the liberties de Sade took with his politic ‘editorial cuts’. Key to the play (and the asylum production) was Mike Gordon as de Sade, who maintained an over-arching nihilistic joy as his over-excited cast and production descended into chaos.
The simple music was a very important element of the production with excellent singing that added to the sense of occasion. The deranged antics of a very convincing gang of inmates added an evocative moving background to the practical set, though I would have preferred the echoing bath-house atmosphere of the original. John Kyte-Hunt's multi-layered production of this Peter Weiss classic has a second week’s run on the 25, 26 and 27 June.

Yvonne Gordon - freelance journalist and reviewer [Guardian series, TES, London Paper] has a review on the Essex Chronicle website

Mary Redman [Essex Chronicle, The Stage] has this review:

Having previously seen Peter Weiss's astonishing, coruscating play which dissects the French Revolution, its aftermath, the nature of incarceration and whether an action is for the greater good or not, and thus knowing (and hoping) what to expect, I was immediately drawn into the mad, mad world of Charenton as seen through the eyes and minds of John Kyte-Hunt and his tightly-bonded cast.
Although I missed Peter Brook's controversial 1960s' production, when I did at last see this play it was at E15 Theatre School as a final year production on a much wider and deeper stage than CTW's one. This production however was no less powerful on the smaller stage - in fact its size worked to its advantage by packing all the emotions in and not allowing anything to escape.
Having now looked at Weiss's script it is easy to see where the power drive comes from. Every word is packed with energy, strength and indignation which transfers itself to the cast, who only have to have the bravery and lack of inhibition to run with it. The director described the cast as suddenly coming together about a week or so ahead of the production and this is the result of their hard work and responses to the script.
Weiss uses Brechtian alienation and Artaudian theatricality to examine revolution, sexuality, psychological freedom and social inequality in the framework of a madhouse, according to one authority. It's also interesting that the Age of Enlightenment was examining so-called 'humanitarian' ways of incarceration including prisons where warders could look 360 degrees around them at the inmates.
John picked up on all these aspects and inspired his cast to give of the very best. It was so good to go back to the glory days, seeing and enjoy CTW putting on an intellectually and emotionally demanding production.
Highlights include Mike Gordon's Marquis de Sade and his description of the tearing to death of a character. His controlled voice dispassionately and in measured fashion savouring every syllable with the surgical precision of an Olivier. Telling us in exact and exquisite detail how the man was torn apart by amateur murderers.
This powerful performance was equalled in theatrical strength by that of Richard Dawes's tortured Marat, steaming with anger in his bath. His skin condition only hinted at but highlighted by a red spotlight. Equally eyecatching was Robert Bastian's The Herald, a part surely written for his talents. The Herald's lascivious
authority directing the action of the play with the famous French trois coups of his staff and his theatrical demeanour. Robert was surely revelling in this opportunity to be thoroughly wicked and Bad, wearing the Pierrot cum Revolutionary-style multicoloured outfit created for him. And to add to this character his makeup deconstructed as the evening wore on. Very reminiscent of Anthony Sher's Fool who died upside down in a dustbin in an RSC King Lear with Michael Gambon in the early 1980s.
Other glimpses I'll remember - Ben Fraser's evil pointing finger jabbing at the inmates, Sere Ogunsaya never still as Marat's nurse, Catherine Bailey sleepwalking through Charlotte Corday's life.
With the titles of scenes projected above the stage the production was steeped in Brechtian impulses. The theatrical alienation counteracted by Jane Kyte-Hunt's detailed costuming including the beautifully crafted tailcoat for Michael Gray's M. Coulmier.
The all white set worked beautifully both as bathhouse and in Brechtian terms. The cast were never out of character even during the interval the madhouse action continued so much I enjoyed myself interacting with the inmates and found it easy...
John's music and soundscape put the final icing on the theatrical cake.
Coming out of the theatre I was exhilarated at having seen something so powerful. It was as if the Revolution's nigh - and its headquarters are in Chelmsford.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Concert
Waltham Singers
20th June 2009

Jim Hutchon went to Great Waltham Parish Church

The Waltham Singers Summer concert programme consisted of two major works, Mozart’s Solemn Vespers and Handel’s Dixit Dominus. The 60-strong choir performed to a packed Great Waltham Church, accompanied by Camerata of London, an orchestra of younger musicians performing on modern instruments.
The choir’s trademark is a strong, rounded chorus with a wide tonal range, which Conductor Andrew Fardell brought out in both of these demanding works. Soloists were Stefanie Kemball-Reid (soprano), Aurore Lacabe (mezzo-sprano), Peter Wilman (tenor) and Samuel Queen(Baritone). Stefanie Kemball-Reid especially excelled with a clear striking tone in the key soprano solo in Mozart’s setting of Psalm 116, the Laudate Dominum.
Andrew Fardell also brought an extra resonance and relaxing voicing to Handel’s Dixit Dominus which, the programme notes tell us, were written when the composer was on a three-year visit to Rome in 1707, and shows his virtuosity writing in the Italian style. High spot of this work for me was a beautifully balanced voice/cello duet featuring Aurore Lacabe. The conductor kept great control over the exuberant choir, and allowed the work to grow to a glorious climax in the concluding Gloria Patri.
This was an evening of superb voices and great music of which the choir can be justly proud.

Opus Anglicanum

An overcast, increasingly chilly First Day of Summer, but there were strawberries and wine still at the Festival Club over the road in Clarance House, and a predictably wonderful programme from Opus Anglicanum.

LoveSong, their new anthology, devised by John Rowlands-Pritchard , began with The Song of Songs, included a look back to The Seeds of Love, as well as Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee's evocation of summer love in the country followed by The Honeysuckle and the Bee, with a clever botanical link to Marie de France's Chevrefoil. All the readings by the inimitable John Touhey.

Lots of early music – a lovely Rosa Bella by John Bedyngham – and two tombs: Larkin's Arundel reflection, and Catherine Dyer's My Dearest Dust. Ted Hughes rubbed shoulders with a dodgy American joke and Norfolk poacher Frederick Rolfe. Musically there was Holst, of course, and Vaughan Williams, and finally a heady blend of Burns and Shakespeare.

On Midsummer Day
500 years ago Henry VIII was crowned.
A nod to this anniversary, perhaps, in the encore, the greatest hit he never wrote, Greensleeves.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Can it be true that, following a complaint from one audience member, Springers were ordered to remove the Inn Sign for the Three Cripples ?
Certainly it had gone when I saw the show. Is the novel to be censored, too ? The Guardian, not the least politically correct of the dailies, didn't turn a hair at Drury Lane. Alas, no-one has the right never to be offended, and the Local Authority should only be intervening if laws are broken or regulations breached. I suspect they might have hesitated to browbeat more powerful performing groups.
I might have called their bluff, I think...

Friday, June 12, 2009


Shenfield Operatic Society


A deck chair with G&S balanced on the side where the G&T should be. The Major General's local, the Tremorden Arms, complete with ancient mariners and much reduced pit orchestra. A bracing dip in the briny for Stanley, and all before the opening number.

Herbie Hobbs's brisk, witty production was full of fun. You wouldn't go here for a definitive reading of the score. Lynne Barry's Ruth had the most operatic voice, and also gave a lovely character. David Ward was a fetching Frederic, apprentice to the bunch of brigands, led by David Pridige's Depp-curled Pirate King, very athletic and a strong presence, though we feared his voice might not make it to the end of the run. Louise Byrne was a feisty Mabel, and Percy Cutler was the Sergeant heading an amusing Dads' Army of constables.

The above-mentioned military man was played by Rick McGeough, his model song crystal clear, with a bonus encore on topical themes. Another Wilde card was the appearance of Miss Prism, Georgie Godbold, quoting Thespis [the first ever G&S collaboration, surviving only in one number adapted for Pirates] and bearing a tea cosy and French fancies. She was governess to the gels, all beautifully dressed [by Tony Brett] and making good use of the stage space.

The musical director was Richard Wade.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Springers & Offspringers
Civic Theatre
10th June

Jim Hutchon was at the Civic for the opening night ...

Fiona Lipscombe’s production of Oliver is arguably the best the group has ever done. The action was non-stop and expert, the singing rich and varied, the sets breathtaking and the costumes a feast for the eyes. Real West End standard. This was a demanding collaboration between Springers and Offspringers with a cast of 70 – many of them children - who were expertly choreographed and didn’t put a foot wrong.
The main chorus children’s songs – ‘Food’ and ‘Consider Yourself’ - were handled with cheerful enthusiasm and discipline, along with some confident acting and timing – especially from Callum Bates as Oliver and James Raynal as the Dodger. Melissa Smart as Nancy put forward a superb music hall act, with a great voice and stagecraft without ever stepping out of character, while Simon Brett and Deborah Anderson completed a well judged duo ensemble as the Bumbles. Michael Dunion as Fagin was first class, with a brilliant take on this complex character and beautifully modulated voicing.
As always, Springers and Offspringers chorus work is their main strength, and they excelled in the rounded, rich, tones of Bart’s work with an equally rich orchestral accompaniment under the control of MD Ian Myers. I guess my favourite of the evening though, was a perfectly balanced rendition of the ‘Who Will Buy’ quartet of street sellers, Olivia Gooding, Barry Miles, Natalie Shultz and Sharon Gardner, with Callum Bates’ Oliver .

photograph: Aaron T Crowe photography

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Back to Akenfield – last performance of the tour at the incredibly evocative Grange Barn in Coggeshall. This structure has stood for seven centuries, a witness to countless changes in society and agriculture.
The production was as moving as ever, enhanced by the shadowy farm equipment, the wooden walls and the evening birdsong vying with the FX track.

Saturday, June 06, 2009


Chelmsford Cathedral


To celebrate Purcell's 350th birthday – still three months away – and to raise funds for the Choral Foundation, Director of Music Peter Nardone had assembled a stellar cast. Not even in the glory days of the much missed Cathedral Festival would we expect to see all these great names on the same stage.

And it was appropriate that the excellent Music Department of Chelmsford Cathedral should play a central part, too. The choir, echoing the forces Purcell himself had at his disposal, were on superb form, and the anthem O God, Thou Art My God, with its glorious Hallelujah, was entirely sung by the home team, including five soloists from the Choir.

In the opening Te Deum, Rebecca Outram's soprano was unusually, but highly effectively, matched with the strong, true treble of chorister Henry Allen. James Bowman's counter-tenor was movingly eloquent in the final verse.

Bowman's solo moment, accompanied by Tom Wilkinson at the continuo organ, was the poignant Evening Hymn, and he joined Timothy Travers-Brown, one of the most promising counter-tenors of the current generation, to spar jovially through the duet Sound the Trumpet, in the climax of the concert, Come Ye Sons of Art.

The instrumental accompaniment included the Fitzwilliam Quartet and trumpeter Crispian Steele-Perkins, who also shone in the Ayre from The Indian Queen.

For there were instrumental interludes, too, as well as the Bell Anthem and the Birthday Ode, amply demonstrating the breadth of Purcell's genius in a varied programme, memorably performed. He is often dubbed England's finest native composer, and I'm sure that the soloists in the Cathedral, whose discographies have Purcell at their heart, would not disagree.