Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Playhouse Theatre


La Cage has come a long way from the Boulevard comedy of 1973.
The people's cross-dressed nightclub now boasts a team of Cagelles that could rival the Tiller Girls or the Ballet Boyz, and its numbers have a gloss which Paul Raymond might have envied.

But in this revival the sentimental social comedy quite properly remains at the heart of the show.
Roger Allam is back behind the feathers as a magnificent Zaza, touchingly vulnerable in late middle age, reminiscent of the late LaRue in his priceless routines. Perfect comic timing, and the ability to sell his songs, stagey and simple alike. He's well matched by Philip Quast as Georges, these two memorable Javerts holding the stage and plucking the heartstrings.
Strong support not only from the frighteningly lithe chorus boys, but also from Jason Pennycooke as a pocket-sized Jacob, and Abigail McKern and Iain Mitchell, cyphers as the café patrons, but wonderful as the stage-struck mouse and the angry bigot, who end up dragged into the closing chorus.

Direction by Terry Johnson, choreography by Lynne Page, with Musical Direction by Michael Haslam. The production, originally at the Menier Chocolate Factory, transferred to the West End in October 2008 – booking into 2010, with John Barrowman taking over from Roger Allam in Autumn 2009.

Previously as Albin/Zaza - Douglas Hodge and Graham Norton, seen at the Royal Variety Performance 2008.

and by way of comparison, Denis Quilley at the 1987 Olivier awards

Monday, July 27, 2009


Royal Albert Hall


We saw Mohican boy crossing the street in front of the Royal College of Music at least 90 minutes before the Prom.
Turns out he was featured on bongo and vibraphone.
Percussion was prominent in this new collaborative work – A Rough Guide to the Proms Family Orchestra – based loosely on the concept of Britten's guide, with which it shared the programme.

No narration in either, unfortunately, though the new piece, conducted by Lincoln Abbotts, did have Ian McMillan's verse: The night is salted with stars …

It was a varied ten minutes, influenced by folk music from England and Algeria, and featuring a wide array of instruments and talents, with a few BBCPO hands in there as mentors. Probably more fun to do than to hear.

Elsewhere, though, this was no dumbed-down kids' concert. Young Generation Artist Jennifer Pike gave us a rare Holst – A Song of the Night – and there was a world premiere of Richard Rodney Bennett's orchestral version of his Lilliburlero Variations. All played very stylishly by the BBC Phil, on early duty after their wonderful Prom of the night before.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court


This formidable directing team had got career-best performances from their actors, in a pitch-perfect production in which every pause, every gesture, every turn of the head was significant.

Jim Crozier led the team with a towering performance as Turing, a man for whom the porridge was always cold, and for whom numbers were the only reliable friends …

Jim Hutchon was at the first night:

Mike & Sara Nower’s epic production of Breaking the Code outlines the hapless life and loves of Alan Turing, the wartime code-breaker and the father of British computing. On a commendably bare stage of a few black boxes, with a ‘groups-of-five’ backdrop, they succeeding in creating convincing depictions of time and space despite a fractured timeline after, before and during the war.

Jim Crozier was awesome as the stammering, mathematical genius, homosexual Turing trying to function in a world which tragically didn’t understand him or his work. Steve Holding was perfectly underplayed as the imperturbable policeman plodding his way to the truth of Turing’s illegal sexuality. Ivor Jevons used a well-developed sense of comic timing as the establishment ‘foil’ to Turing , and Catherine Kenton employed a delicious sense of a 40’s paramour to add a welcome, if ill-starred, love interest. Liam Collins as a casual pick-up, was the barb that eventually caught Turing, and Beth Walters played the baffled mother with great feeling.

Some of Jim Crozier’s long but key speeches were gripping for aficionados of code-breaking, but perhaps a trifle tedious – especially with the stammer - for the others. For me, the key scene was a truly explosive exchange between Turing and David Chilvers as a Greek pick-up where Turing poured out his secrets to the uncomprehending Greek, countered by a torrent of Greek, to the equally uncomprehending Turing.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


War and lechery at Shakespeare's Globe


A late brooding blackbird feeds her young in the eaves. And below, the Trojan war is played out on stage in Matthew Dunster's inventive production at Shakespeare's Globe.
The place is packed, punters attracted perhaps by Matthew Kelly's Pandarua. It is an arresting performance, holding the stage while preening, plotting, pleading and leading a rousing “Love, love, nothing but love!”
His niece Cressida is a watchable, elfin Laura Pyper, with Paul Stocker, perm and pecs, as her Troilus.
Elsewhere in a large, energetic and sometimes confusing cast of characters there was much muscle, and a little Greek love. The other clown was Paul Hunter's misshapen Thersites.
The Globe stage was clad in sunbaked clay colours, with a strange ramo around the front, and at the death of Hector, black banners tumble down from the roof.
At the end, Pandarus' mad recapitulation is drowned out by drums, and rhythmic percussion from the whole company replaces the traditional jig.

Photo of Chinna Wodu as Ajax by John Tramper

Monday, July 20, 2009


Ingatestone and Fryerning Dramatic Club


“Short as any dream.” David Proudlock's abridged comedy has been touring the Ingatestone area, dodging the showers and adapting to various venues.
I caught up with it in the dry but dull Community Club, set on a three-quarter stage with just a couple of sun-loungers: I was so close I could have applied sun oil to the Athenians without moving from my front row seat.
This accessible production by Mel Hastings for the Ingatestone and Fryerning Dramatic Club boasted some fine performances – Laura Bradley's tall and petulant Helena, Ben Salmon's mercurial Lysander, an effective foil to Matt Jones's boy-next-door Demetrius.
The rude Mechanicals included Stuart Hull as a nubile Flute, and Martin Reynolds as a convincing tailor, complete with tape measure and toy poodle.

But the fairy folk had the best of it, with Nick Lupton an outstanding Puck, voice and body equally expressive, and Mel Hastings himself as a commanding King of Shadows.

Though I did wish the cast had shown more confidence in interacting with the close-up and personal audience, this was a charming, lively take on this seasonal favourite.


Pete Long and his Band at the Civic


Pete Long brought his GoodMen to the Civic Stage, recreating the immortal moment when Benny Goodman dragged jazz out of the dance halls and the bordellos and onto the prestigious platform of the Carnegie Hall.

A more-or-less note for note reconstruction, starting with Don't Be That Way, and ending with the charming encore If Dreams Came True, bringing the sadly under-used vocalist [Joan Viskant] to the microphone one last time.

Some of the musicians Long had assembled could well have witnessed that classic concert, if only as babes in arms. Swing survivors included the amazing Alan Grahame on vibraphone, and the legendary Tommy Whittle on tenor sax, who actually worked with Goodman for a while. The sax quartet made some lovely joint contributions, too.
Other star instrumentalists included Tony Fisher and Alan Berlyn on trumpet, Richard Pite on the two drum kits, and Bunny Thompson at the piano. Long himself made a fine job of impersonating Benny's clarinet style.

It was wonderful to hear the sound without any amplification – other nostalgic big band tributes please take note !

But on that original evening in 1938, there was an informative printed programme, and only one brief announcement from the stage. They had no front man rabbiting on like David Brent's jazz-anorak brother, no ladies in the audience chatting away as if they were still in the day room at the care home. But that would obviously be taking authenticity too far ...

no video footage from Carnegie Hall, this the next best thing ...

Friday, July 17, 2009


Little Waltham Drama Group


Milton Keynes' answer to Hull Truck, Louise Roche's Girls' Night is a love letter to the girlie good times, dancing round the handbags and letting it all hang out in the world of Bouncer and Shakers.

The bouncers, the red plush, the tinsel curtain and the glitter ball all set the scene for the rather shallow plot and characterization, with the karaoke disco trash hits from the 70's an evocative soundtrack.

Julie Cole played angel Sharon, life and soul of the party till she fell off the back of a moped, but twenty years on still remembered by friends and enemies alike, but left drinking alone at the end. Lisa – I Will Survive - was feistily played by Kim Travell, and boring Kate, with her pearls and her handy car, was nicely observed by Jenny Broadway, who really came into her own with her drunken rendition of Cry Me A River: the best number of the evening.

Lovely comedy work from Susan Butler as flaky Anita, worrying about the rats in the cash chutes at work and behaving badly in the pizza parlour, and Jackie Crane as “up for it” Carol.

There was a mini chorus to help the party along, but the men were strictly confined to the wings and the doors.

Karen Wray and Kathy
Jiggins encouraged the cast to big up the girl talk and give their all in the karaoke; the set used detail effectively to set the scene: the bus, the pizza parlour and the inevitable ladies' room …

Monday, July 13, 2009


Shakespeare's Globe on Tour

A fresh, irreverent Dream from Raz Shaw at Shakespeare's Globe, just one stop on its international tour.

Working on an Elizabethan booth stage, such as Shakespeare would have seen in Stratford's Market Place, but with costumes and music from the 1930s, eight actors changed character in a moment. A hat, an apron, a mechanical. Shades, fairies.

The packed yard on Bankside loved it. Bottom [Will Mannering ], often played as a pompous incompetent, here gave a delicious masterclass in overacting, Nicholas Craig style. He and Quince [ Chris McGill] had director's chairs with their names boldly on the back. Other stand-out performances from Sally Tatum as a gawky Helena [and a stroppy Starveling] and Bethan Walker as Puck, moonlighting from Berlin's Kit Kat Club, in top hat and black sequinned hotpants.

The Pyramus and Thisbe production, reliably hilarious, was given against a makeshift Globe backdrop – which will be even more amusing on the tour, I guess.

Against the Norman keep of Hedingham Castle, the cast were struggling to engage the audience, especially leeward of the constant wind. Not so much warm laughter here, but the physical comedy, the music and the props - puppet Indian Boy and teddy bear Lovers - helped get the story across, and the closing moments were delightful in the gathering darkness.

Two hours of magic and fun, suitable for all ages and levels of scholarship !

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Writtle Singers


The County connection was the cement holding this concert together. As we have come to expect from Christine Gwynn and the Writtle Singers, we were educated as well as entertained.

All the music had a specific link to Essex. The choir processed to the transept with Ward Swingle's take on Henry VIII: Pastime With Good Company, recalling not so much Beaulieu as clandestine trysts with Bessie Blount at Blackmore.

More secrecy at Stondon Massey, just up the road, where William Byrd wrote his setting of the Latin Mass, first sung in the safe seclusion of Ingatestone Hall. The Singers' Gloria grew in stature towards the end, while the Credo swelled to a wonderful affirmation of faith. The mass ended with an affecting, and beautifully judged, plea for peace.

Ralph Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor for double choir was clearly influenced by Tudor church music, and it was lovely to hear it so soon after the Byrd. Some warm tones in the Gloria and Credo especially, with impressive solo work from within the choir.

Another obvious influence was folk music, and we heard Bushes and Briars, collected early in RVW's career, in the rural backwater of Brentwood.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Stondon Singers


Ranged behind the 16th century screen, the twenty-four Stondon Singers filled the tiny church of St Peter and St Paul with the music of William Byrd, as they do every year on the anniversary of his death in 1623.
He has no gravestone, but almost certainly lies within earshot of the sublime music drifting out into the twilight.

Under their new conductor, Christopher Tinker, they began with the Mass for Four Voices – with a resonance the composer would certainly recognise.

After a brief diversion to San Marco in Venice – Croce’s jubilant Incipite Domino, and the rich harmonies of his Holy Week motet O Triste Spectaculum – it was back to Byrd, a contrasting group of three, ending with the apposite Sing Joyfully, beautifully articulated, like all the Stondon’s work.

In an illuminating juxtaposition, the closing work was Vaughan Williams G minor Mass of 1921 – the first English setting since Byrd’s time. The end of the Gloria made an impressively splendid effect; the sound world of the 16th century, the old liturgical spirit, was especially obvious in this place.

In each of the Masses, the Credo was replaced by a reading – the first performance of the Vaughan Williams by the Whitsuntide singers [ “fierce intensity made the music glow …”] and Byrd’s own creed, the merits of singing [“There is not any musicke of instruments whatsoever, comparable to that which is made of the voices of men, where the voices are good, and the same well sorted and ordered …”] His Stondon soul would surely rejoice to hear his words proved so true by this excellent choir.

And the weather proved just kind enough for us all to join him in the churchyard for a convivial interval drink ...

Monday, July 06, 2009



Wherry Quay, in the bustling heart of Ipswich's regeneration waterfront.

In the 17th century Sale Room, thirty travellers, “mostly elderly”, are herded, held and harangued by a mysterious cabin crew. “You are saved !” cries Captain John, the puppet master – a warm but powerful performance from Adé Sapera.

The image of the flight, the baggage we need to shed, recurs with variations throughout the seventy minutes of this ingenious theatrical event, as we traipse from one room to another in the historic Isaac Lord Quarter.
We share the hopes and ambitions of José and Catarina [Pedro Reichert and Chara Jackson] echoed in the Fado music of their native Portugal.

In this dream-space reality, it is no surprise that the air hostess and the stowaway are both Polish. Beata Majka – herself of Polish origin – gives a wonderfully enigmatic performance, with Noeleen Comiskey as the girl from Danzig, “ a sliver of someone's memory”.

Ivan Cutting's thought-provoking site-responsive work was inspired in part by the Isaac Lord building, and in part by the burgeoning Polish, Portuguese and West Indian communities in Ipswich.

As Captain John says at the close, if we stay in our own world we will never live together. All the “old stuff”, the Benfica lunchbox, the millstone of language, the crutch of culture, may need to be jettisoned over the ocean.

Five strong yet intimate performances, impressive audio-visual support, and the solid symbolism of the luggage and the journey, made this a memorable, not to say unique, drama.

Other “non-velvet spaces” for this flight of fancy include Wivenhoe, Maldon Town Hall and the Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth. Tour dates here; catch it if you can !

Amália Rodrigues sings Fado ...

Saturday, July 04, 2009


Writtle Cards


“I wish you'd stop remembering things that didn't actually happen ...”

Shelagh Stephenson's poignant comedy touches on Alzheimer's and identity, the family and its failings, and of course the unreliability of our childhood reminiscences.

In Nick Caton's assured production, the dead mother returns as an elegant wraith, nicely suggested by Shirley Piggott. The “three pelican children” had all turned out very differently, far removed from the good Catholic daughters who shared the odd girls' night in with their mother and Nat King Cole.

I struggled to believe in Sharon Goodwin's Mary – a successful and ambitious medic, specializing, ironically, in post-traumatic amnesia. Hazel Reilly was a very watchable nervous mess as the youngest, still a truculent teenager at 33, with a chip on her shoulder and a high metabolism. Jean Speller was reliably amusing as the health food entrepreneur reciting recipes as an aid to sleep, and sending her husband [Boot Banes, looking as if he'd much rather be running a pub outside Ripon] off to far-flung trade fairs. Neil Smith completed the cast as Mary's lover.

There was lots of smoking, not always tobacco, many telling moments as the three sisters fail to bond over the bin bags, and plenty of laughs from the non-sequiturs of the script: allotments, Shreddies, esperanto, Toffees from Torquay.

The design – subsidence crack, cardboard coffin – and the lighting were excellent, and the company pulled off the near-impossible challenge of convincing us that this was a snowy winter's evening by the Yorkshire coast.

Producer for Writtle Cards was Laura Bennett.