Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jesus Christ Superstar
Springers at the Cramphorn Theatre
18th November 2010
Jim Hutchon was in the Cramphorn ...
This was Director James French’s up-beat disco version of Lloyd Webber’s biblical classic, with disco lighting, disco tempo and, most of all disco volume, all played out in front of giant screens. For the many youngsters it was clearly adrenalin-pumping and they responded enthusiastically, though more than a few of the grey power brigade leaving the theatre, looked a little shell-shocked.
But it was an innovative, imaginative staging, complete with amplified voices for the main characters (not really necessary in the Cramphorn). Opening with a stageful of boots, the cast came on in sombre mood – then the show burst into life with Simon Brett as Judas giving a high-energy performance of 'Heaven on their Minds' which set the standard.
As always with Springers, the ensemble singing was rich and impressive, though all of the principals gave full value too. Jon Newman was a young Jesus supported by a moving performance from Sharon Gardner as Mary Magdalen – especially in the complex ‘Everything’s Alright’.
Special mention has to go to an outrageously camp King Herod, played with sumptuous grace by Barry Miles complete with a set of flowered pyjamas. With a cast of more than 40, the choreography was outstanding, with smooth weaving and well drilled movements between the crowd, the Apostles and the scheming officials such as John Escott out to crucify the man.
Electric sound and thudding beats came from an electric band led by Ian Myers as MD. This was a truly stunning evening, and a brave leap in imagination for Springers.

photograph: Peter Langman

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Young Gen at the Civic Theatre

Jim Hutchon was at the Saturday matinée:

This was another near faultless production from CYGAMS, one of the most ‘professional’ amateur groups in the town, the fourth time they have revisited West Side since 1978.
Lead male, Tony, was played with an effortless voice and great presence by Sam Toland, with terrific support from his Maria, Emma Bennett –especially in their duets, such as ‘One Hand, one heart’. Bart Lambert and Henri de Lausun, as gang leaders, exuded testosterone all over each other and really gave the action muscle. It would be invidious to pick out other parts; the strength of the production is in the depth of talent they can call on, and all performed with distinction.
I felt the costumes made the actors more clean-cut grammar school than hopeless drop-outs, which jarred with the superbly run-down sets. And the choreography, by ex-Young Gen Gavin Wilkinson, though commendably high energy and with immaculate discipline, was a little stereotyped. Musical Direction was by Bryan Cass.
In a throwaway line in the programme the President Peter Smith called this group “the class of 2010”, and it is a sort of Fame Academy. These blockbuster productions are the graduation ceremony, presided over by the benevolent presence of Ray Jeffery pulling the strings. Afterwards, graduates will disperse, some to other groups, but many will never go on stage again. But they will never lose the sense of confidence and self-assurance they have gained.

Photograph by Christopher Yorke-Edwards

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Little Baddow Drama Club
November 20 2010

Jim Hutchon was at the opening night for the Chelmsford Weekly News:

Ken Rolf’s moving production of Katherine Howard’s eventful two-year royal career succeeding Anne of Cleves was shot through with real scholarship and drama, the well-dressed cast working seamlessly to recreate the dangerous path of Royal entanglements.
Katherine Howard was played with a nice mix of modesty and honesty by Sara Thompson, the devious Cranmer by Paul Randall as a satisfyingly slimy schemer, and Norfolk by John Peregrine, able to turn his coat with the speed of light when necks were on the line. Dan Ford was convincing as Katherine’s previous lover Culpeper to whom she lost her heart then her head.
Memorable moments included the anatomy lesson from a tactful Lady Jane Rochford (played with style and drama by Vicki Tropman) to the naïve dumpling Anne of Cleves (Catherine Bailey), where she likens little boys’ tassels to a seed drill… “When they can become very fierce!”
In a series of beautifully-modulated soliloquies, Michael Gray gradually unpeeled the human being in love behind the picture we have of the spiteful, bad-tempered, tyrant Henry VIII.
The set was dominated by an enormous curtained box taking up most of the stage, which doubled as a chapel, wedding four-poster and execution chamber, and was simply in the way for the rest of the play. The action, which should have taken place in spacious and sumptuous state rooms, seemed confined to surreptitious meetings in dark corridors in the spaces round the box.

Mary Redman was at the last night:

William Nicholson's play about the April-September marriage of both convenience and love between the oh-so-honest Katherine Howard and King Henry VIII came to me as a big surprise in many senses.
First I was surprised by the black and bleak humour of the piece as well as the tragedy of this hastily arranged marriage propelled forward by Katherine's weaselly uncle Thomas and his cohorts of plotters for control of the King/state religion. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...
Then there was the honesty. From Sara Thompson's utterly delightful Kate whose truth both captivated the King and condemned her to the lonely executioner's block. Honesty too, from the playwright and Michael Gray as a Henry revealing the extent of his mortality and humanity combined with the burdens of state. The wedding night scene between the grumpy Henry and Catherine Bailey's dimly stolid Anne of Cleves with her cackling sense of humour, was a prizewinner for the tongue-in-cheek comedy of its direction and acting. I shan't easily forget the image of the two of them sitting bolt upright and poker faced in bed as the officials fussed around them.
Honesty also tore Katherine and Dan Ford's Thomas Culpeper apart and the scene when the two physically tortured characters appeared was moving and a sharp reminder that some things never change in many hundreds of years. We are constantly shown things in the news nowadays that speak of unchanging brutality and violence against the person, by using "instruments" as William, Cranmer's secretary, describes them and Henry bitterly spits out.
John Peregrine's Duke of Norfolk, Paul Randall's oily Cranmer and Trevor Edwards' cowardly Wriothesley made a fine trio of baddies. Life on stage for the other cast members would have been very much easier if Cranmer hadn't needed so many prompts. It really does put a strain on the others when they cannot rely on someone else's being strong on the words.
Vicky Tropman was smoothly splendid as the self-serving Lady Jane Rochford, easily used by Cranmer and co for their own ends, and shown up by her cry of desperation at her sentence of death.
Brian Greatrex's team including the highly-experienced Pam Brider came up with a splendid piece of ultra-heavyweight, oat-coloured cloth (normally used as an altar cloth I would have thought) to surround the bed of state. The executioner's block was a masterpiece of lighting and impact. Tony Brett's costumes, especially for Henry, could not be faulted for their magnificent impression, but in the small hall and with bright lighting some gaudy thin modern fabrics were all too obvious. We all know the economic reasons for this.
As to the whole of Ken's production it was the second highly impressive show I've seen this week. To combine seeing 84 Charing Cross Road [Hutton Players at Brentwood Theatre] and Katherine Howard was too much to expect. As critics we often sit through non-professional productions where good enough is good enough. To be privileged to sit through a production which has unfathomable depths of integrity, thought, careful attention to details including background music, and above all tender loving care is something rare.

Thank you Ken, cast and crew.

production photographs by Trevor Edwards and Matthew Adams
The Hutton Players, Brentwood Theatre
November 19 2010

Mary Redman was at the opening night:

The unmistakeably riotous, raucous, wake-up and look at me opening clarinet swoops of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue shook the audience to attention for Act I of Roy Howes' production of James Roose-Evans's adaptation of the true life, transatlantic relationship by letter between two people who never actually met. Act II opened with an equally brash excerpt from Bernstein's On The Town.
Multi talented director Roy Howes was responsible for the soundtrack which played an important role in adding appropriate atmosphere such as NYPD sirens and barrel organs. Also for the spacious but cluttered set with the London and New York areas clearly defined yet hugger mugger and cheek by jowl with each other.
Period details and props for the austerity period immediately following World War II when second hand booksellers shops dominated Charing Cross Road were edited by Sue Grandison.
For those unfamiliar with this soothingly quiet, introspective story Helene Hanff was a New Yorker who by chance contacted Frank Doel's employers to supply much-wanted books. Author and playwright Hanff finds she can obtain the rare books that she adores direct by post from Marks and Doel in particular is the employee who deals with her requests and finds her treasures. Their unique friendship survived across the decades to 1971.
Two of arguably Brentwood's best non-professional actors occupied the contrasting characters of sharply-edged Helene and mild mannered Frank. William Wells utterly at home in his totally unflashy role and Lindsey Crutchett edgily nestled up in her American hidey holes, a fine critic of other writers.
Everyone of the supporting roles played by Claire Hilder, Chrissie O'Connor, Martin Goldstone, Andrew Lee, Margaret Goldstone and Margaret Corry added to the believable bookshop routines as warm characters in their own right. My only quibble - Andrew desperately needed a short back and sides haircut for authenticity.
Cast, backstage team and director made us care about every one of the onstage characters as the years did their best and worst with them from 1947-1971.
I cried like a baby all through the second act of Shadowlands at Chelmsford Theatre Workshop some years ago. Equally, for the first time in 15 years' reviewing and adjudicating at Brentwood Theatre I couldn't hold back the tears at the quiet dignity and anguish of the writing and acting at the end of this beautifully detailed and controlled production. I know I wasn't alone.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ingatestone and Fryerning Dramatic Club

For authenticity's sake, I arrived by rail. Ingatestone Station, Grade II listed, is every bit as interesting as the fictional Fal Vale Junction, though its waiting room is less palatial.
Mel Hastings' delightful production boasted several impressive period characterizations: Ben Salmon's Charlie Murdock, Duncan Hopgood's rustic stationmaster, Emma Moriaty's troubled Julia, wearing the loveliest frock amongst some excellent costumes. Boorish “caveman” Winthrop was well sustained by Gary Catlin, with Chrissie Mallett equally good as the wife he's about to leave.
Nick Lupton, as silly-ass-in-spats Teddie Deakin was a constant delight, every chortle, every utterance, every move absolutely in character, though as the last few minutes reveal, not as asinine as he appears … And Pam Hemming was magnificent as Miss Bourne, the formidable maiden lady who's unused to brandy. I treasure the meal she made of the word “linoleum”.
Sound, light and special effects all conspired to make a stylish production, though polythene in the windows did not seem an ideal solution.
Arnold Ridley's remote, underused Cornish halt, immortalized on stage in the early 20s, seems to have survived the Beeching Axe and the demise of Bradshaw; Ingatestone's enjoyable revival reminds us why it's still scheduled by theatre companies of all kinds.


BOSSY at the Brentwood Theatre


The Madness Musical, all urban malice and bouncy beats, is a challenge to any group. Bossy brought to it their trademark enthusiasm, a great backing band and a large cast of suitably youthful spivs and scallies.
Oh What Fun We Had ...”, the big ensembles came off best, especially the carnival Wings of A Dove, and the old school desks whizzing round on castors, though the vocal energy didn't always match the physical, and even that sometimes waned before the final chords. I liked the parody Who Will Buy, with newspapers, the Act One finale, and the duet It Must Be Love. The car sequence was less successful – it needed more acting and not so much cardboard car and pointless back projection.
These catchy Madness numbers are not an easy sing, and we do need to hear all the words if we are to follow the clever duality of the plot.
Perry Hughes had the demanding role of Joe, whose life divides into Good and Bad, with Livvie Milne as his girl. A strong performance from Josh Bishop as the absent Dad, watching the action from underneath the streetlamp, and excellent comedy work from the OMG Whatever Girls [Chloe Rickenbach and Laura Wood] and the gormless Emmo and Lewis [James Wilson and Ross Llewellyn].
Our House was directed for BOSSY by Gaynor Wilson, with Andy Prideaux in charge of the music. And respect to Barnett, for putting a full page ad in the programme, despite the less than glowing endorsement for property developers in the show ...

Friday, November 12, 2010

CAODS at the Civic Theatre

CAODS' first “Songs from the Shows” presentation was in '96, and this special 90th Anniversary Concert compilation included many of their own favourites from the past, plus some novelties currently wowing them in the West End.
Becky Martin, partnered by Joe Toland, gave us one of the most dramatic performances in “Legally Blonde”, and Sarah Barton sang a virtuosic “Love Never Dies”, as well as Deloris in “Take Me to Heaven” – “Bless Our Show”, also from Sister Act, was very engagingly done, too.
Sometimes, it has to be said, the performances were a triumph of salesmanship: “Only the Good Die Young”, part of a lengthy sequence from juke box musicals, was given 110% by Rachael Brown.
Among the golden oldies, Gareth Barton did a brilliant job on the anthem from Chess, there was a nicely staged “Ragtime” and Joe Toland led the men in “Bui Doi” from Miss Saigon.
The barricades were kept till last – Kim Anderson as Fantine, Richard Harrison as Javert, both outstanding in an impressive octet of principals.

And a nice surprise to start: doyen of the musicals Peter Smith as Lumière, with Diana Baker reprising her Mrs Potts, in what else but “Be Our Guest”, from this year's sell-out success Beauty and the Beast.
The show was directed by Cheryl Jennings, with Patrick Tucker the hard-working MD.
photograph by Christopher Yorke-Edwards

Birmingham Stage Company at the Civic Theatre


Did you know, bacteria divide and conquer – start with one, and overnight you've 16 million.
Horrible Science took over the Civic last week, and I joined six excited schools to see science come alive on stage.
Based on the best-selling books by Nick Arnold, Mark Williams's adaptation takes us through theme park zones. Our guides are boffins, plus EveryBoy Billy Miller and the unseen and sinister Intelligent Machine - “you must understand,” he intones.
The ghoulish Blood, Bones and Body Bits zone was received with noisy enthusiasm; it featured the first sequence in Bogglevision [TM], the 3D effect first seen in the Horrible Histories franchise.
Back projection means that lighting is side-on and subdued, so even with all the gung-ho overacting, it's not easy to build your rapport with the audience.
Gareth Warren was Billy, Neal Foster the voice of T.I.M., leaving Laura Dalgleish, Sarah Nightingale and Benedict Martin to play the scientists, the Germs, Frankenstein and all the rest. The Stunning Science of Everything was directed by Phil Clark, with music by Matthew Scott and design by Jackie Trousdale.
For all the bangs and whizzes and pantomime antics, this is really a Junior School science lesson, complete with revision and a test at the end …

Thursday, November 11, 2010

at the New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich

Here's Viv, blowing her own trumpet, working as a stylist in Salon Mystique, raising the steel shutters to turn back the clock, roll back the years, to the days before the Big Win, when she was still a simple lass, selling Kia-Ora in the cinema.
Spend, Spend, Spend is a musical based loosely on the rise and fall of Viv Nicholson, the coal miner's wife from Castleton who scooped a record pools jackpot in 1961.
We're in Blood Brothers country here, musically and dramatically, Billy Elliott territory, something of Sondheim too, in one or two clever lyrics. It's gritty, hard-hitting and very funny.
The story is a powerful one. The message is clear, and certainly bears repeating fifty years on: money does not always bring happiness. This version has all the more impact, is all the more enjoyable, for having a company of twelve actor/musicians who play all the parts and all the instruments too: Viv's trumpet, accordion, flute, sax, pub piano, and a drum kit tucked tidily into the snug behind the bar.
The miners' local, and various bedrooms, in posh Garforth, in New York, see most of the action, and the two dozen musical numbers keep the pace lively. No real showstoppers in Steve Brown's serviceable score, but many delights, including the hint of calypso in Ice Cream Girl, the touching Canary in a Cage, the glorious title song. with almost everyone tarted up as bunny girls, the big emotional duet Who's Gonna Love Me, and the dance of love with a “complete total stranger” stripped of his fireman's uniform. One of the more surreal scenes has Keith, the boy next door, playing his cello under the undies on the washing line.
Karen Mann was a gutsy Viv, still ready to raise two fingers to the world, ruefully looking back in amazement at the naivety and the excesses of her life, but never complaining, never excusing. She shared the role with Kirsty Hoiles, outstanding as her younger alter ego – a neat trick which afforded many poignant moments. Greg Barnett was Keith, her second husband who helps her drink her winnings away and dies on the road to the races, with Graham Kent a strong Yorkshire presence as her abusive Dad.
Tom Gearing was the show MD [and Viv's grown-up son], and it was all directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood. The ingenious and evocative design, neatly combining the pub, the bedroom and the salon, was by Diego Pitarch.
The moving ending – before the reprises – is Viv's visit to their old terrace house, where she watches the Viv and Keith who might have been waltz gently out of her life.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

at the Mercury Theatre Colchester

The ending was so obvious, I thought ...” - “They're not normal people are they ?” - “The worst play I ever saw was called Waiting for Godot.” - “It's all about truth and trust.”

When it comes to Pinter, we're all critics. The Mercury's contrasting double bill, directed by Gari Jones who worked closely with the playwright for some years, gave us two early plays, the first, written for radio in 1958, was A Slight Ache. Not the most satisfying stage play, it begins in Ayckbourn territory, in a country garden with breakfast and the Daily Telegraph. But already the silent, sinister Match Seller is lurking at the gate, turning the drama dark with frustration, jealousy and fear of growing old.

Sara Perks gave the couple a lovely garden, study and scullery, and they were played with some feeling by Dee Evans, very touching when she tenderly takes the stranger's arm, and Andrew Neil, who reminded me more than once of Richardson in the much later No Man's Land. Graeme Brookes was the old, deaf, half-blind tramp who becomes Flora's surrogate child and lover.

In the second play, The Lover, Brookes was another figure now vanished from our streets, the milkman. I found this piece, which also deals with fear and jealousy, much more successful dramatically, with its double dealing and fantasy role plays. Another super set, more Venetian blinds, and two very impressive performances from Gina Isaac and Gus Gallagher. The dialogue, often wryly amusing, was played with wit and precision, and all the movements and gestures were telling.
Written after Pinter's first great hit with The Caretaker, it is nonetheless fifty years old, so playing it in such a strikingly contemporary setting is going to set up tensions: these are people who worry about sharpening shears, talk of cocoa and the wireless, and clearly live in a cottage in the country where the neighbours might gossip. And we see them in a swish flat, with designer wardrobes and furniture...

Like many of Pinter's plays, The Lover can be a comedy or a dark drama – Gari Jones's sparky production successfully managed elements of both.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Writtle Singers at All Saints' Church

As the nation celebrated Diwali – festival of lights – and the thwarting of the 5/11 terrorist plot, Writtle Singers presented a typically thought-provoking programme of choral music centred around that first Guy Fawkes Night.
Hundreds of flames burned in the church, which boasts a real chandelier, and more candles lit the way from the lych gate.
The music, structured around the perfect 4 part mass of William Byrd, Catholic survivor and protégé of the Petre family, also included Dowland and Peter Philips – a song of rejoicing for the accession of James I.
The mass, first sung by the Petre household in Ingatestone Hall, was sensitively interpreted here by the Writtle Singers under Christine Gwynn; I particularly admired the Credo, the carefully crafted power of the Benedictus, and the final Agnus Dei, sung in darkness before the altar rail.
Other of Byrd's works included here were Rejoice, Rejoice, with a fine solo alto, and Why Do I Use My Paper, Ink and Pen, inspired by the martyrdom of Thomas Campion.
The historical background, including Fawkes's own verbatim confession, was read by Martyn Richards. He reminded us that we do well to reflect, as the barrage of explosives echoes around us, how quickly the fear of difference turns into oppression and terror …

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Kytes Theatre Group at Brentwood Theatre

Ford's Cockpit play of 1633 has all the hallmarks of a Revenge Tragedy, not forgetting the bloodbath finale. Notoriously, it portrays a man destroyed by [mutual] love for his sister. Alan Ablewhite's impressive production was all the more powerful for being in modern dress.
The text was trimmed and tweaked for the modern audience too, and we were left with a very strong piece of theatre that retains all of its power to shock.
Excellent use was made of an upper level, for the king-size incestuous sheets, and I liked the screen and the red walls and carpet.
Lionel Bishop was Giovanni – My Fate Is My God – and he gave a subtle, layered performance, with superb soliloquies. His Annabella was Hayley Joanne Bacon, especially impressive in the long scene at the start of the second part, where she is bullied by Soranzo, her husband, convincingly played by Paul Sparrowham.
The servants were particularly well characterized here. Vernon-Keeble-Watson's Vasques took a while to convince, but never looked back after his scene wheedling the truth from Putana, a feisty Helen Elsworth, enjoying girly giggles with her mistress. Scheming Hippolita, wicked fairy at the wedding feast, has the best death scene; she was magnificently done by Julia Stallard. James Hannant was an improbable priest, but came into his own when he warned of the hellfire to come.
When death's shadow has passed, only the Nuncio is left to bury the dead – instant gravitas from Brian Terry to end a stunning two hours' tragedy.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Arsonists
Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court
2nd November 2010

Jim Hutchon was at the first night ...

Director Danny Segeth has taken the very daring step of reworking a Max Frisch play about the abstracts of evil and innocence into a highly-focussed polemic on the very public revelations over the abuse of youngsters in the care of the Catholic Church. And, with his co-director Kelly McGibney, has created an entrancing, powerful and absorbing piece of theatre.
At a time when churches are being burned down around the town, a priest, played with a mixture of innocence and complacency by Chris Piper, is effectively powerless against an evil couple who insinuate themselves into his house and even import petrol and detonator into his attic. First, the sly Jo, played with a real flair for injured innocence by Vikki Pead, then the quietly menacing Eisenring (a peerless performance by Joe Kennedy), slowly unfold the story of his abuse as a child, drawing in the allegations of the priest’s complicity in another’s abuse and suicide.
Peter Nerreter is convincing as the priest’s colleague arguing against appeasement. He is also shown to be culpable, not for his active abuse, but for standing by. The housekeeper confused by her master’s inability to eject the interlopers is Laura Hill. A superb, highly-stylised ‘Greek Chorus’ of firefighters, Steve Parr, Leanne Johnson and Sarah Chandler led the general indictments, and also acted superbly as scene shifters, shifting not the scene, but the players.
The very atmospheric and well synchronised live music accompaniment was composed by Mike McGibney and David Woolford, and the latter also performed it. The set is basically a fire ravaged interior, complete with smoke and ragged bits hanging from the ceiling, but the production, in the round, used an effective lighting scheme to bring that and other scenes into play.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch
production picture by Nobby Clark

The ghoulish tale of Maria Marten entered the popular imagination before the murderer's corpse hit the dissecting-room slab in 1828.
It's been staged regularly ever since, and Chris Bond's tongue-in-cheek melodrama version was an obvious choice for the resident company at the Queen's.

The footlights and the false proscenium were in place, a kind of pageant cart, complete with pumpkins, sat centre stage, hinting, with the Morris dancing scarecrows, at a dramatic tradition much earlier than the Victorians. As the unlikely plot unfolded, a towering pulpit, a tiny pantomime cottage and the “infamous Red Barn” itself were wheeled on by the scarecrow crew.

Bond's tuppence-coloured prose [and verse] delighted in alliteration, hyperbole and folklore. The basic plot, and some of the characters, were taken from fact; the rest, including the political stirrings, sprang from the playwright's fertile imagination. An ailing wife in a bath chair, a baby stolen by gipsies, the Tarot and the Thane of Cawdor, all added zest to the already lurid story.

No surprise to have the incredibly talented Cut to the Chase cast playing instruments – euphonium and accordion added to the mix here – though mostly off stage; the best exception was a furious fiddle duet as Good and Evil vied for Maria's soul.

Even before the curtain went up, we met the Martens, desperately imploring the audience to track down, and later impersonate, their lost sheep. Lindsay Ashworth was a superb rustic caricature, matched by Simon Jessop's Molesticker Marten, who was closest to the panto tradition with his singalong and his banter. Tom Jude made an imposing rector – his sermon was brilliantly done – and Oliver Seymour-Marsh played the dastardly Corder for all he was worth, complete with tall hat and melodrama cloak. But the hardest working actor had to be Christine Holman, who not only played the crucial, and rather comely, Gypsy, but also came on in Act Two as Lady Augusta, the brilliant detective who reveals the “true” story behind the body in the barn.

Despite her efforts, this was one of the weaknesses of the show, with page after page of explanation which made Miss Marple seem tongue-tied. Contrast the economical Ballad of the Trial, sung by Maria's Mother.

Matt Devitt's broad-brush production had many neat touches – the hunt and the storm, the back-projection metaphors from the natural world, the parasol sword, the psychic charades. It all made for an entertaining take on a familiar tale. As Bond says, melodrama, with its strong storylines, suspense, passion and cheap laughs, finds its true home in the theatre. This classic example is at the Queen's till the 20th.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Greville Theatre Club at the Barn Theatre

No poker for these Golden Girls, but hard-fought games of Trivial Pursuit. There's Mickey the cop [a no-nonsense Carol Parradine] and Vera [“the oldest known vegetable in the world”, played with a nice line in puzzled pathos by Judy Lee], Sylvie [Marcia Baldry] and Renee [Lynda Shelverton].
They meet in Olive's flat – not the neatest in New York – and suffer her warm cola and her Dead Sea Scroll sandwiches. At Greville she's played, in all her endearing sloppiness and her NJ83 sweatshirt, by Jan Ford. Wisecracking, with every line timed to a tee, but caring too: she happily offers a home to her friend Flo, who's about to be divorced from the unseen Sydney. They're chalk and cheese – the obsessively houseproud room-mate soon exasperates Olive with her “cooking, cleaning and crying”. A pretty near perfect performance here from Rita Vango, the accent, the body language, and of course the characterization and the comedy timing. These two troupers were a great team, sparking off each other and clearly comfortable in each other's company. The wordless start to the final scene just one example of the stage chemistry that had our table in tears of laughter.
The centre piece of the Second Act, the deliciously difficult dinner date, featured an even odder couple, the Costazuela brothers from the flat upstairs, replacing the Pigeon sisters of the original. They too wrung all the laughs from their slightly bizarre dialogue. Rodney Foster was the somewhat slow Manolo, John Richardson a dapper Jesus.
Neil Simon's play is superbly crafted, with old fashioned curtain lines and cracking dialogue. It was revived with style and enthusiasm in Diana Bradley's polished production.