Saturday, February 27, 2010


Eastern Angles at Brentwood Theatre


Mika Handley's compact set – all woodland shapes and tree-derived dyes – fits snugly into the intimate Brentwood auditorium.

On it, four players act out an oft-told story; the two narrators [James Bolt and Jumaan Short]assuming almost god-like powers as they intervene to move the action on, providing key props and all the supporting characters.

Charles Way's enthralling drama tells of Old Mother [Susan McGoun], black clad and wise, “coming down the other side of the hill of life”, who sets off through woods and mountains to her shoreland home. Just outside her village, she adopts a handsome enfant sauvage [Theo Devaney], tends and tames him, and takes him with her on the journey. She gives him the gift of language {“What have I let myself in for ?”] and a name, Andreas.

They meet a carpenter and his wife, sick with grief for their boy, lost in the forest. But they fail to wrest Andreas from her. Later, freedom fighters in the mountains. They too want her boy for their own. At last they find her village by the sea, and she is able to take her last walk along the shore.

The folk-poetical language of the story is enhanced by Naomi Jones's magical staging. The toy village – wooden houses and towers – is all the furniture. The lighting is simple but evocative. The snatches of music – the sausage lullaby, the drunken dance – help the atmosphere. And there are puppets [Polly Beestone]. Especially telling are the “bones and dust” of Old Mother's late husband [ Old Father ? ], with a wine jar for a head, and the little wooden ghost of a boy, the carpenter's son Petrus.

Occasionally in the second half, the narrative threatened to get bogged down in theology and philosophy, but the mythic intensity of the story was so powerful that it carried us through to the inevitable end. Like all the best tales, it will resonate long after the storytellers have moved on.

Eastern Angles are taking The Long Way Home around the region until May 22. It comes to Chelmsford's Cramphorn Theatre on April 29.

Jim Hutchon saw the show for the Brentwood Weekly News...

Charles Way wrote Eastern Angles’ latest rural touring production, involving a simple rites of passage story which packs a powerful universal punch. An old Greek widow seeks to return from her forest home to her seashore family village across the mountains. She picks up an injured boy-dog in the forest, and bathes his wounds to start a lasting friendship. They support each other and bicker their way over fields and mountain passes to reach the sea and the strange adventures they encounter en-route strengthen their bond while he develops into manhood under her guidance.
Theo Devaney is the boy-dog who pulled off a perfect parabola of a transition from animal to human, wholly believable as both, and able to communicate without speech. The Old Mother was Susan McGoun, who was convincing as the patient, uncomplaining old widow. A pair of storytellers/puppet masters, James Bolt and Jumaan Short play, in turn, a forest worker and his childless wife, a chauvinist farmer and his seductress wife, and a pair of bandits in their mountain hideaway, all intent on exploiting the boy for their own ends.
The whole Greek island of forests, villages, fields, mountains and seashore is convincingly contained on a 4 metre diameter circle, so that it will fit all the varied rural venues of a typical Eastern Angles’ tour. And the players are backed up by Polly Beestone’s superb, simple puppets, principally the ghost of the old mother’s husband – made of a wine jug and some old tatters - who continues to harass her from beyond the grave.
This is an evening of superb theatre, and will continue to play across East Anglia until 22nd May. Check out their website for locations and dates.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court


An exciting and imaginative production from Beth Walters and her company.

What a triumph to get so many talented youngsters onto the Old Court stage.

Graffiti over the auditorium, Prokofiev fighting a losing battle with Punk on the soundtrack.

The paparazzo prologue [Barry Taylor] captures it all on camera, the first kiss, the brawls and the ball – he's even flashing away behind the Queen Mab speech [Charles Allenby a physically impressive Mercutio].

Paris has an elegant PA for a page [Kelly McGibney, also assaulted, not for the first time, at the top of the show in a messily violent rumble], Stanley knives and chains are the weapons of choice, Lady Capulet, the excellent Emma Moriaty, is always elegant, and uses her daughter's wedding as an excuse to shop …

Lois Jeary, in a welcome return to CTW, is a teenage Juliet, giggly, flirty, moody - “sixteen”, for some reason in this reading. She also masters the sound and the sense of Shakespeare's verse, not always a strong point of this production. Dave Hawkes [another welcome comeback] also speaks Montague with real style and understanding. Harry Sabbarton is a cherubic Romeo, red of hose and hair, and makes another convincing teen, but tended to lose some of his words upstage or to the floor.
I was also impressed with Tony Ellis's Tybalt, and Dan Ford, touching in the last Act as Romeo's man, Balthasar.

The small stage is effectively used - I liked the bed/bier, the use of the gauze. The “death” of Juliet is very skilfully done.

A pacy, robust production, confident in its own style. You should see it if you can – still tickets left, from the Civic Theatre Box Office.

Jim Hutchon was there on the first night for the Chelmsford Weekly News:

For her début as a director, Beth Walters could have chosen a less demanding project. That she pulled it off in spades is a testament to her imagination, along with her assistant director Sara Nower, and the skill, commitment and sheer hard work of a large and predominantly young cast. Although the costumes were a weird modern mix of punk and rock and Italian suits, the language was wisely maintained in the original.
Billed with the announcement that “This is not a love story” – which it is – the director managed to achieve a better balance between the antics of the star-crossed lovers and the rest of the action, which made for a more rounded and satisfying performance.
Key plaudits must go to Lois Jeary as a school-girly Juliet, who made the part her own and used the archaic language as if it were normal speech. Harry Sabberton as a punk Romeo was equally articulate and highly energetic, though some of his inward-looking soliloquies were barely audible. Simon Thomas as Lord Capulet was impressive, especially when angered, and Lynne Foster as Juliet’s nurse and confidant kept up a supportive and entertaining presence throughout. In fact, there were few weaknesses other than a certain loss of language rhythm among any of the cast, and the characters were all solidly introduced and maintained.
A small caveat was the lack of much sense of time or location. To fit in all the action, the author sets scenes at strange times of day, night and dawn, and emphasising them with appropriate lighting would have helped the story along. Equally, the commendably minimal set had to double for a number of locations, and, I felt, lost some of the atmosphere in the process.
This production runs into a second week, from 3rd to 6th March, and is one of CTW’s must-see productions.

photo by Tony Ellis

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Duchess Theatre


Rain on the windows of the Alving house – a coldly elegant anteroom, conservatory behind. Little hint of the fjords beyond, and a feeble fire at the orphanage.

Captain Alving's ill-fated memorial takes centre stage, though, in the form of a detailed scale model, sitting between Mrs Alving and Pastor Manders in the opening scene.

She was Lesley Sharp, an intense, haunted performance, but often with a wry, weary smile. He was Iain Glen, also making his début as a director here. A strong presence, almost Paisleyan in his religious ranting, except that the accent was hard to pin down, and he did rather too much striding and prowling.

Excellent support from the two youngsters: Jessica Raine as the maid, and Harry Treadaway as the doomed bohemian who returns to the family home, his mind broken by the sins of his father.

Malcolm Storry was a fine Engstrand, the manipulative artisan who flatters, cajoles and threatens to manipulate the Pastor and the girl who called him father.

Ibsen's tragedy leaves the truth half-spoken, Oswald's end unclear. Frank McGuinness, now as well known for his versions of the classics as for his own work [Someone Who'll Watch Over Me] uses a modern vernacular, with hints of poetry, and of anachronism. Sharp, at any rate, manages to make her lines sound natural and spontaneous, until finally words fail her, and she sinks to the floor with a bestial moan.

Glen's is a worthy revival of a play which speaks differently to each successive generation, though not I think an historic production: Glen is too shallow, and Sharp, though a fine actress, lacks the tragic depth that Dench or Ashcroft could bring to the role.


Tomorrow's Talent in Little Waltham


A Chorus Line was the affectionately cynical backstage musical for the Seventies. But as Gavin Wilkinson's company showed, it has lost none of its power to move and amuse.

It's a challenge for these kids to regress to a problem childhood, but the audition and the disappointment will already be familiar territory for some.

There were too many outstanding performances to mention here.
Assistant Director Joe Toland was the mostly disembodied Zach, with a sassy Laura Baylis as Jerry, the choreographer. Among the hopefuls, George Horscraft's Mike, with an impressive dance routine, Dom Sayer-Jones as a kooky Judy, Matthew Bonner, affecting as the depressive Paul, Deanna Byron powerful as the surgically enhanced Val, and Tara Divina as Diana Morales, who has two of the best numbers and excelled in both.

I liked the At The Ballet trio, and the vaudeville shtick of Sing !

But as someone says in the show, they are all special. And, incredibly, achieved a remarkably professional standard in just five and a half days. No mics, no lights, just good old-fashioned hard work. And only rehearsal gear for costume, except of course for the gloriously ironic “One”, which ends the show. For that they had the sparkly hats and tails, teamed proudly with the company tee-shirt: “I Stood on the Line 2010”.

This condensed Chorus Line was directed by Gavin Wilkinson, with Liz Pilgrim [an excellent Cassie] as Dance Captain and Kris Rawlinson as Musical Director.

photos: Erika Patterson


Hull Truck at the Civic Theatre


As the recession continues to bite, holidays by coach [as advertised in this very paper] have widened their appeal. Four days to Heidelberg, with fireworks, £159. What's not to like ?

Well, plenty, according to the cynical and morose trio who have to do the driving for their OAP passengers.

John Godber's Men of the World, first seen in 2002, follows the winning formula of Bouncers and Teechers. Three actors, loads of characters. It lacks the pace and punch of those early classics, but is still a great show.

The set is a wrap-around map, with assorted suitcases the only furniture. Robert Angell is Stick, who hates the crinkly trips and would happily shoot his punters. Dicken Ashworth is Happy Larry, nearing retirement, a fan of Mario Lanza. And Sarah Parks is Frank, five years in the navy and more than a match for her male colleagues.

But of course they play all the other parts too, beautifully capturing the tics and ailments of old age without ever being cruel or condescending. They're all given nick-names – the posh pair, the middle-aged homeboy, the ailing, nervous couple. Parks especially was wonderfully versatile, her turns ranging from the cheesy cabaret in a Folkestone hotel to Len, one of the “Marx Brothers”, a laconic, asthmatic ex-miner.

Godber's direction is simple, but I admired the way they handled the gear changes, as the holiday atmosphere, the community singing and the caricatures gave way to tragedy – the death of one of the “Beverley Sisters”, a fatal accident on the motorway ...

St Andrew's Youth Fellowship

Sandon Village Hall


Close behind Waltham's Frankenstein in the preposterous panto stakes, comes SAYF's Hunchback, a very long way after Hugo and Disney.

Produced and directed by Peter Ellis, it featured ultra-violet dancing skeletons in the Catacombs, talking gargoyles, as well as valued traditions like the competitive singalong and the flying sweets, and the best panto exit line this season: “See you later, boys and girls, I've got to get ready for the hanging ...”

The original music had been replaced with bankers from Broadway – Avenue Q, Oliver, Fame, Hairspray, and a little more appropriately, Les Misérables.

Sophie Cooper had a lively personality as Gringore, and Laurence Green was the dame again, this time busty patronne Fe Fe La Large. Katherine McKeon looked great as the gypsy Esmerelda, and sang and danced well, too. My favourite number, though, was the duet by Molly Harris's Yvette and Jessica Moore's Quasimodo.

The beautiful set - Notre Dame in grisaille – was by Adam Delf, and the Musical Director was James Tovey.

This annual fund-raising panto is a welcome reminder of the days when all youth groups – and many others – would work for months to put on a show. Long may it thrive, but could we have something a little more traditional next year ?

District 1240 in Chelmsford Cathedral


This is the fifth time the District Final has come to the Cathedral, and the standard continues to be remarkably high.

The seven contestants gave us – and the judges – a varied programme, making the inevitable decision all the more difficult.

I was impressed with 14-year-old Leonid Plashinov-Johnson, who played the last movement of the Bruch Violin Concerto, from memory, with his mother at the piano. And with Sasha Millwood, who won the Chelmsford Area competition last month with Beethoven and Butler. Flautist Carina Gascoine, runner-up on the night, gave a very musical account of Louis Ganne's sunny Andante and Scherzo.

But it was the violinist from the southeast of the district who won, with her well-chosen programme of Gershwin – the jazzy Heifetz arrangement of It Ain't Necessarily So – followed by the ever-popular salon showpiece, Monti's Czardas.

Now Sophie-Anne Chaplin will go on to the regional competition in Watford, and, who knows, maybe to the national final in Brentwood Cathedral.

photo: Rotary District Governor John Banks with winner for 2010 Sophie-Anne Chapman 2nd placed Carina Gascoine and 3rd Placed Leonid Plashinov-Johnson.

Improbable Fiction
Marlborough Theatre Group
Jim Hutchon was at Brentwood School
20thFebruary 2010

This latest Ayckbourn play is curious piece of work as there is little internal logic to the narrative. That said, coming from such a master pen, the result is a very funny and enjoyable scrutiny of personalities. The theme is a writer’s circle for writers who haven’t, and probably never will, finish their works. Chairman of the group (because he has the biggest house) is Arnold, played with slightly bemused efficiency by Martin Goldstone. Jess Bales is a forceful failed period romantic writer and farmer lesbian who gets some of the best of Ayckbourn’s acerbic humour, which she delivers with great comic timing. Children’s stories are the province of Grace Sims (Sheila Boar), and detective novels, the expertise of Vivvi, played with ebullience by Jackie Young. A withdrawn and hooded Clem is the sci-fi conspiracy expert, brought out in a darkly secret way by Graham Poultney. Brevis Winterton (Duncan Hopgood) is a blustering song writer with no lyrics and a weak bladder, and – sanest and most normal of all is the mother’s help, Ilsa, play by Louise Bridgeman.
After a typical Ayckbourn committee meeting of no consequence, but during which each of the authors gives an idea of their work in progress, the meeting breaks up. Then things kick off. For no apparent reason, the authors return as their inventions, and act out parts of their stories to the mystified Arnold. Ilsa becomes a murdering Victorian, Jess, a Jane Austen narrator, Brevis, an alien eliminator and – best transformation of all, Clem becomes an Edgar Wallace detective, with Vivvi as his ultra-sensitive bag carrier. There is further interchanging of roles, and it is clear that all the cast had a hugely enjoyable time chopping and changing. But all stayed strictly as convincing characters within whatever role they were playing, and despite lack of such things as plot or narrative drive, this was an evening of theatre to savour.

Alice in Wonderland
Acting Up Theatre
Brentwood Theatre
19th February 2010

Jim Hutchon went through the looking glass ...

Taking an untried adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic into a new and strange venue was possibly an ambitious step too far for an amateur group trying to find its feet. The individual scenes were clearly delineated, but there was no sense of continuity between them. In fact, to anyone who hadn’t read the books, and there must be many such nowadays, the scenes and sequences would have been mystifying.
It gives me no pleasure to write this, as the talented and committed cast put in a lot of hard work to make the show work. And there were some good points, the clever idea of a book as a backdrop from whose pages the stories sprang, using a video wall to take the action outside and some superb costumes and beautifully made animal masks all helped.
It would be invidious to pick out individual performances, because some were good in one part and less so in another, though Holly Morrison, as Alice, was on stage throughout and didn’t put a foot wrong. I just wish she and the whole cast had shown more enjoyment in their roles. It is an axiom that if the cast is enjoying itself on stage, this is usually transmitted to the audience. For the future, and I hope the company Acting Up continues, I would recommend first, a good, well-known and well-written script, and a director who can focus the undoubted energies and talents of the company.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


WOW at the Public Hall, Witham


It really shouldn't work. Sullivan's tunes squeezed into swingtime, Gilbert's plot [and wit] left to fend for itself. But the Hot Mikado manages to appeal to the purists and the populists alike, and the talented young people of WOW, for whom the original must be as alien as Arne's Artaxerxes, had great fun with the song and dance numbers.

Against a strikingly simple oriental setting, the chorus routines were inventive and varied, invoking the Jitterbug and the Lindy Hop, as well as featuring a tap routine backing the Mikado's big number. The Act One finale was especially impressive.

WOW fielded a strong team of principals. Jake Davis, all-American boy-next-door, slender in denim, was an appealing Nanki Poo, with Zoe Rogers as his bobby-soxer Yum Yum: her vocal styling was spot on for The Sun Whose Rays. The other great vocalist was Tilda Bourne, as Katisha. She has a remarkable voice, and I especially liked what she did with her Hour of Gladness in Act One. Faith Rogers' Pitti Sing was very watchable, too. The Madrigal Quartet was very slickly done.

Ben Herman was a silly Koko, physically very expressive, with Chris Adair as the pompous Pooh Bah. The eponymous Mikado – the J Edgar Hoover of Japan – was confidently played by Mark Ellis, arriving in Titipu on a Vespa and commanding the stage as a diminutive Elvis.

This is sophisticated stuff. The three little maids – the right age for once – come on like the Andrews Sisters; the singers have to master jazz, blues and Hot Gospel, as well as Gilbert's tricky lyrics. They were brilliantly supported here by some nicely authentic sounds from the band. Even at Monday's public preview, it was clear this was a great success, a worthy follow-up to last year's Les Mis, and an auspicious omen for next year's West Side Story.

The directors were Nicola Mundell-Poole and David Slater, with Susannah Edom looking after the music. Choreography was by Julie Slater; the Dance Captain was Rachel Ellis.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Opera della Luna at the Civic Theatre


No-one could accuse Opera della Luna of playing a straight Bat. This hot-off-the-press re-write, by Jeff Clarke, who also directed and played piano in the pit, bigs up the filthy language, soft-pedals the frocks and frou-frou.

Alfie, the heart-throb tenor [Gareth Dafydd Morris] spends much of his time in his boxer shorts, and wows his married lover [Mrs E from Down Under, brilliantly played, and sung, by Lisa Anne Robinson] with that other lyric populist, Andrew Lloyd Webber. And a laddish Eisenstein [Andy Morton] goes into rehab instead of jail.

The production was fresh and funny. There was furniture flying from the ceiling, there were polar bears at Orlofsky's. A constant stream of in-jokes, especially in the audition scene, kept us amused. And most importantly, Strauss's music was lovingly respected by the superb singers. In addition to those I've named already, we had that supreme Savoyard Simon Butteriss as an outrageous Prince, Helen Massey as a no-nonsense Northern Adele, and Philip Cox as Frank. His French double act with Morton was priceless, especially the Crazy Gang audience invasion which replaced the usual Frosch fun and games at the top of the Third Act.

Just the thing to bring new audiences to operetta, you might think. But at the Civic, at least, Opera della Luna, seemed to be playing to Fledermaus fans …
Dangerous Corner
Destiny of Theatre
Brentwood Theatre
12thFebruary 2010

Jim Hutchon was at the Brentwood Theatre

In this lesser-known Priestley classic, director Jennifer McGregor chose to push the middle-class characters ‘in the publishing trade’ upmarket into an upper class 30s set à la Noel Coward. This was a successful transition, and added an exotic air to the production. The characterisation was uniformly solid and the pace modulated and well maintained.
The story is a simple one of peeling away layers of the truth to get at increasingly dangerous and uncomfortable deeper truths. Julia Curle is Freda Caplan, the hostess presiding over a dinner party and growing more nervous as the play proceeds. Andrew Lindfield is her urbane husband not content to let sleeping dogs lie, and his exchanges with Colin Reed as Gordon Whitehouse over his deceased brother are truly dramatic and memorable. Penelope Lambton is the quiet one in the background who actually presided over the death of the brother.
Most astonishing revelation of the night is Gordon’s airhead wife, played by Louisa-Marie Hunt, who, in a superb bravura performance, reveals her marriage as a sham. Presiding over the whole affair is the main culprit of the plot, Charles Stanton, played with a great deal of avuncular humour by Tom Reah, who only took on the role at the last minute and made it his own.
Destiny of Theatre is a recently formed professional group with the Brentwood Theatre as its spiritual home, and is to be congratulated for creating a play with very different characters for an excellent evening’s entertainment.


Phoenix Theatre Company at Christ Church


Chekhov very much the man of the moment – we celebrated his 150th birthday just the other week.

And it was his “Celebration”, a Joke in One Act, which was top of the bill in this pick'n'mix programme.

Successful banker Shipuchin [Neil Smith] is a stickler for style, but his world crashes round his ears, thanks to the interventions of his clerk – Andy Millward, holding our attention with his grumpy misogyny – and two women, his larger than life windbag wife [ a nice character study by Joan Lanario ] and a hilariously determined Irish suppliant [Faye Armstrong]. Michael Lewis's production convincingly charted Shipuchin's descent into weary, nervous collapse.

Hamlet's famous question is referenced in the Chekhov. We were up to speed with it, since we'd just seen Stoppard's brilliantly filleted Shakespeare, in which Millward played a surly Dane, supported by a hard-working cast including Leila Francis as both Gertrude and Ophelia, Reg Peters as a tragic Laertes, and Chris Wright as practically everyone else. No attempt at the world record here, with a deliberate pace marked by the slow change of scene, and a surreal trumpeter playing random hits from the repertoire. I liked the chairs for the encore, though here, I think, a manic pace is de rigueur.

The great Russian master of the 19th Century. The greatest dramatist ever, through the eyes of one of the 20th century finest dramatist. And Jim Sperinck. His Cobblers' Ball was a lame look at the melodrama, only partly redeemed by Rob Francis's laconic simpleton and Angela Gee's man-eating aristocrat.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Noel Coward Theatre

It's Monopoly money – trading in a virtual realm far removed from reality, until the house of cards collapses and ordinary people, loyal employees, lose everything.
The Enron affair should have been a wake-up call. But this revival serves to remind us that this year's crunch, today's collapses, are nothing new.

Lucy Prebble's ground-breaking piece, premièred in Chichester last year, coming to the West End via The Royal Court, shortly to cross to Broadway, is a triumph to compare with Enron's own soaraway success.

It makes its points with a heady mixture of didacticism, metaphor and Greek Tragedy. Sometimes we are just told stuff – we are the innocent child in the play. Dollars become seconds; Enron is “worth” $60 billion dollars; each billion is 32 years.
The metaphors – the light sabres and raptors of Fastow's geeky imagination – become real on stage. And the familiar characters, father figure, younger brother, hubristic ruler, play out their tragic fate. There is song and dance, music, lighting and a break-neck pace – you dimly understand just how thrilling handling all this money can be. And slapstick, too, with the Lehman brothers conjoined in a vast overcoat.

Sam West is rivetting as the arrogant Skilling, physically changing from nerd to hero to paranoid failure. The real Skilling got 24 years, we should remember. These guys are not fictions. Amanda Drew is Claudia Roe, the female rival in a macho world. And Tim Piggott-Smith is totally convincing as the old-school CEO. One of the most effective scenes was also the simplest - “two guys in a room” as the financial alchemist Fastow [Tom Goodman-Hill] tempts Skilling down the slippery slope of fraudulent trading.
And I did wonder to what extent Rupert Goold's imaginative set-pieces – the trading floor, for instance – are essential to the success of the drama. I can imagine the whole thing as a more intimate, Arthur Miller-ish tragedy.

Nonetheless, an informative as well as entertaining piece, a roller-coaster ride through an alien world of cash and capital, and a lesson to us all. I wonder how it will go down on Broadway ….

Friday, February 12, 2010

[reviewed for The Public Reviews]

Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch


by Giles Havergal
adapted from the novel by Graham Greene

Graham Greene's glorious picaresque adventure – the only book he wrote for fun – is brilliantly brought to life at the Queen's by Cut to the Chase, their resourceful resident company.

Half the fun here is watching necessity become the mother of invention. Just three chaps, all of them playing Henry Pulling, the suburban Candide at the heart of the story, plus the Stage Manager [Simon Jessop], who provides props, costume, scene changes and sound effects. The fifteen men and nine women of the dramatis personae are almost all done by the talented trio, sharing the narration, sometimes in unison, and swapping characters, sometimes in mid-sentence. A tour-de-force indeed.

Sam Pay narrates too, but is usually to be found inhabiting the formidable Aunt Augusta, deaconess of the Doggies' Church, fox furs and veils doing little to mask his banker's moustache. The colourful supporting cast, then, is usually shared between the two remaining Henrys – Marcus Webb, whose Zachary Wordsworth is one of the most memorable creations, and Elliot Harper. 14-year-old Yolanda, mini-skirted Tooley, her CIA father, Mr Visconti the war criminal, the shy Miss Keane … all come to vivid life in a moment. Not to mention the three caricature policemen.

This silly trio gave the Stage Manager a chance to shine. Usually he's making the onstage noises off: coconut shells, a microphone and a reel-to-reel tape machine. I liked the first car effect, complete with road-kill, and his Wolfie in another motor, but his finest hour was surely the goodbye from the Orient Express as it pulls out of Paris.

Rodney Ford's wonderful set is filled with little doors, like a giant Advent calendar. Behind them, props, paraphernalia and a series of beds. For the second act, the calendar opens out, pinstripes are changed for tropical suits and panama hats, and, as the illuminated route map shows us, we are in South America.

Here, the plot thickens a little too much, slowing the action, but we are compensated by the ingenious doubling when the story demands more actors, by inspired flights of fancy, like the suitcase washroom, and by the unexpectedly moving moment after the death of Wordsworth, when the characters are confused in a shadowy Latin waltz, and Aunt Augusta's true identity is revealed.

Liz Marsh has form at the Queen's as actor and choreographer, but this was the first time she's directed in the main-house. What an impressive début.

photo: Nobby Clark
this review first appeared on The Public Reviews

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


National Theatre at the Olivier


It's a year since I last saw this inventive revival. I gave it five stars then, and it seems even better now.
There's not a word or a movement wasted.

Julian Bleach gives a superbly physical performance as Ivanov – the one who is actually mad, and has an orchestra in his head – strutting, capering, conducting in a wildly manic parody. Jonathan Aris is the doctor who seems eccentric, to say the least, and Adrian Schiller is the political dissident whose son – played much more convincingly this year, by Shea Davis when we saw it, by Wesley Nelson for other performances – is used as a lever by the brutally repressive authorities.

Orchestra and ensemble are all on top form, and the production continues to gather plaudits from critics and audiences …