Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ingatestone Young Expressions at the Community Centre.

Bugsy Malone's world of pint-sized hoodlums and their molls took over the Community Hall for Young Expressions' latest show, a swan-song for Music Director Cathy Edkins and Directors Liz Gibson and Allen Clark.
The wide stage was made wider still by the Book Emporium and the office; a grim Big Apple backdrop was drawn aside to reveal the illicit delights of Fat Sam's.
The pit band, in black homburgs, produced impressively sleazy speakeasy sounds.
Polished performances from Harry Kemp, proudly padded as Fat Sam, and Ralph Stevens, promising as his arch rival Dandy Dan. The charming chancer Bugsy was very confidently portrayed by Alec Stevens; I particularly admired the way he delivered the motivational Down and Out. His Blousey was sweetly sung by Rebecca Craythorne, and the sultry Tallulah was gamely played by Ella Harget-Dash. Fizzy, dreaming of stardom, was Suzy Jennings.
Stylish staging of the production numbers – My Name is Tallulah, the Bad Guys' Song – and plenty of clever touches: the hat routine, the synchronised hit-men, with the stiffs sack-barrowed off to Rota's Godfather theme from Asgeir Faben's bass, the Pink Panther from Rebecca Durose's sax for Smolsky and O'Dreary [Todd Brand and Peter Angel].
With thirty different scenes, it was sometimes hard to maintain the punch and the pace, but it was all great fun, and the shoot-out and the finale were excellently choreographed.

Monday, June 27, 2011

at Shakespeare's Globe

How would the first audiences have seen Faustus, when it opened round the corner from the Globe, at the Rose on Bankside ?
Many of the features that are pleasing the packed house of 2011, I'd guess. The coarse humour, the fantastical spirits and animals straught out of the morality plays. The skeletal dragons were especially impressive. The wings on the Good Angel and later on Lucifer were visually stunning, and Matthew Dunster's production was studded with such treats for the eye: the planets, the lithe deadly sins, the huge puppet Helen of Troy. The opening was striking too, with multiple black-clad, dark-glassed Faustuses, all wielding volumes from his library.
Paul Hilton's Doctor was a conjuror in the modern as well as the ancient sense, releasing an inflatable castle in the air, plucking a bunch of grapes from “a far country”.
What this version lacked for me, was the intensity of emotion and cosmic conflict. This Faustus spoke of Hell as a modern cynic, not a medieval scholar. The verse was not generally well served; Mephistopheles [Arthur Darvill] was too offhand to be evil. Of course we are not likely to be shocked or chilled by one man's rejection of God these days, but the two central characters needed to engage us on a deeper level to do justice to Marlowe's tragical history.
The groundlings loved it, though, and their enthusiasm was rewarded with a generous jig, unnecessarily complex, maybe, but with an inspired instrumental duel between Faustus and 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gielgud Theatre
Wednesday matinee : 22nd June 2011

John Richardson, lucky man, had a seat in the stalls ...

A bijou musical that is fun, funny and fast moving, “Lend Me A Tenor” is set in 1934 and tells of the trials and tribulations of the Cleveland Opera Company just hours before a performance of Verdi’s “Otello”. It has witty, fun lyrics, equally witty orchestrations and is a delight on the eye and ear. Sumptuous settings, scenery that magically, seamlessly and inventively moves from one location to another, doors that SLAM without the slightest wobble. And I am reminded of a northern friend whose opinion of a show invariably depended on the number of “wunnnnnderful frocks” – here he would not have been disappointed, for they were exquisite. If you enjoy musicals, good singing and don’t mind an opera or two being sent up, with the occasional tap routine (FAB !) as a bonus, then this is the show for you !
As ever I was too mean to buy a programme so I had no real idea who played who, but, as H.E.Bates' Pop Larkin character would put it, everyone was ‘perfick’. My out and out highlight was the opera company diva’s ‘audition’ in front of the world-famous tenor who should have been singing the lead role in “Otello”. When she began the show I thought she had a ‘modern-day musical’ voice, but was I wrong – she hit each an every note of her pastiche of operatic roles – wonderful ! Her post-number applause took some time to die down, peppered with a more than a few ‘bravo’ shouts (including from me – noisy so and so !). My ‘subsequently done’ homework reveals that she was played by Sophie-Louise Dann. ‘Others’ in the cast (sounds a bit disparaging but it’s not meant that way) included Matthew Kelly and Joanna Riding.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Maldon Actors'Company at Promenade Park.

On Midsummer's Eve, the sun is setting behind St Mary's, and between the trees and the Blackwater, Shakespeare's hunch-back Gloucester once more proves a villain.
Barry Jaimeson's determinedly traditional production starred Dave Hawks as the bottled spider. In his first speech, he ran a goodly gamut of emotions, and held the broad stage whenever he appeared, genially confiding in the audience in his soliloquies.
Is the chair empty ?” in Act IV was exceptionally well delivered, I thought, and his grisly pawing of Hasting's bloodily severed head was another memorable moment. But this was by no means a one-man-show; indeed, there were some very strong women, including Poppy Miller's prescient Margaret.
And sound “Shakespearean” performances, all the way down to the black-clad “erroneous vassals”, who later doubled as priests. There was a good deal of doubling: Michael How was Brackenbury as well as a delightfully vague Bishop of Ely, and John Peregrine, as Rivers, made a noble death in Pomfret, only to bounce back after the interval as the murderous Tyrell. A heroic young Richmond, heavily armoured for Bosworth Field, from Ben Markham, and an impressive Clarence from Kevin Jennings.
The pace was commendably tight; but this is a big space, and the entries around the back wall, strikingly good visually, did sometimes mean tardy overlaps between scenes. I liked the tents on the battlefield, and the voices of the dead in the darkness. The battle itself, though would have benefited from more noise.
As at Shakespeare's Globe, talk of “clouds” and “heaven”, seemed very real, and I appreciated being able to feast on strawberries [probably not from Ely's Hatton Garden beds] and a pint of Tricky Dicky, specially brewed for this show by Farmer's Ales, just up the road at King Richard's own Blue Boar.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Brentwood Operatic Society at the Brentwood Theatre

The Devil's own city, squeezed onto a Brentwood stage made even tinier by extra seating and an upper level over the Mission.
So a pocket-size Loesser, losing most of the hoofing but thankfully preserving the music, well served by an experienced cast and a lively band under MD Ian Southgate.
Miss Adelaide is a peach of a part, and Louise Byrne more than did it justice, resisting the temptation to over-sell the comedy; her Nathan was seasoned musical comedy actor Justin Cartledge, very much at home in this role. Her Hot Box Girls didn't really warm up till the second half [and Havana looked very tame], but his “evil-looking sinners” made an effective character ensemble, given some clever choreography for Luck Be A Lady and Sit Down. The title song featured just two of the gang, Martin Harris's lovely Nicely-Nicely, and Gary Ball's Benny.
Bob Southgate was an impressive Big Jule, and William Wells, though hardly a native New Yorker, brought out the comic frustration of Lt Brannigan.
Ben Martins was a suave Sky, wooing Amy Clayton's demure Miss Sarah: she handled her songs with superb style, though her distinctive voice was not always enhanced by the sound system.
Guys and Dolls was directed by Margaret Kiel, with additional choreography by Sarah O'Sullivan.
Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court

Oli G”'s classic comedy, complete with modern prologue, bursts onto the Old Court stage [for all the world like an inn], with authentic live music, gorgeous frocks and wigs, sensitively lit, and a cast of enthusiastic Thespians, including some impressive CTW débuts.
Richard Baylis made a splendid Hardcastle, and Marcus Churchill was excellent as the tongue-tied [and easily eloquent] Marlow. The girls brought a nicely modern feel to their characters, especially perhaps Naomi Phillips' feisty Kate. Phil Drew, last seen living out his loser's love-life along the High Street, was an edgy Lumpkin; Lynne Foster's Ma Hardcastle a masterclass in comedy.
Georgian punch to welcome in the punters, and, at the end, an all-too-brief jig for the cast to take their bows …

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

This intricate, complex comedy of manners is constructed like a Swiss watch, and needed Christine Davidson’s meticulous direction, playing to its many laughs, to produce a work of real enjoyment. Marlow, a suitor on his way to woo Kate, a maid he has never met is mischievously directed to his destination thinking he is on his way to an inn. The ensuing Whitehall farce had me in stitches.

Marcus Churchill was very much in character as the swaggering Marlow but could have been a bit more imperious. Naomi Phillips as Kate played a superb role taking every opportunity for laughs while Richard Baylis, as her father, the confused then affronted host played well within himself, though still produced the laughs.

The key male for me was a sparkling performance from the jester half-brother Tony Lumpkin, played with zest and boundless energy by Phillip Drew. This was second only to one of the finest performances I have seen on the Old Court stage, Lynne Foster as the devious, greedy old biddy, Kate’s mum. Another love plot was put together by a fine pairing of Robyn Gower and Kevin Richards as a pair of would-be runaways, and there were delicious cameos from Robin Winder and Mark Preston. The large cast played completely in character and in superb costumes, before an impressive country-house interior.

production photo: James Sabbarton    backstage photo: Sally Ransom

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Springers at the Civic Theatre

It's a classy joint, the Chicken Ranch, with its “guests” entertained by Miss Mona's elegant young ladies in glamorous evening gowns.
Still, a whorehouse is a whorehouse, and decency demands it be closed down.
Springers' production of this unusual musical, directed by Maz Clarke, with its catchy country 'n' western tunes, was impressive on many levels.
The music [MD Ian Myers], the set with its double gilt staircase and lovely pink top-light, and especially the chorus work [choreographer Olivia Gooding]. Yes, the working girls of course [Hard Candy Christmas, and the inflatable Cheerleaders led by chief Angelette Natalie Schultz] but mostly the men – brilliant moves in denim at first, and then in much less for the amazing Aggie Song, the climax to Act One.
Catherine Gregory was outstanding as the Ranch's Madam – her “Bus from Amarillo” and “Girl, You're A Woman” were impeccably styled. As her two new faces, Bethan Anderson [Shy] and Mel Smart [Jewel] were impressive too – Mel's gospel-ish Twenty Four Hours another stand-out number.
Fighting over the future of the whorehouse were Simon Brett's larger-than-life Melvin P Thorpe [a hard-to-forget performance], Pete Spilling's powerless Edsel, and Barry Miles' smooth-talking Senator.
But strong ensemble all round, from Jon Newman's smiley Band Leader welcome to the downbeat one-way ticket which brings down the curtain on the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Great Waltham Church

This is Victoria's year, with choirs everywhere marking the 400th anniversary of his death.
The Waltham Singers began with his Te Deum – a liturgical dialogue with a lone voice at the back of the church. Then the Missa Gaudeamus, a musical high point of the Spanish Renaissance, sung here with purity and precision. The Singers were on superb form, for this is complex writing; I particularly admired the triumphant optimism of the closing bars of the Credo, the crisply rhythmic approach to the climax of the Agnus Dei, and the richly glowing textures of the Gloria, with Andrew Fardell's sweeping gestures urging the singers to even greater eloquence.
The Mass was interspersed, not with organ solos or Plainchant, but with short works for four voices by other Iberian masters, performed by the gentlemen of the Orlando Consort, no less.
A wonderful tribute, and many groups would happily have left it there. But not the Waltham Singers; after the interval they brought us the amazing fusion sound of the Mantra project, in which the Orlando Consort are joined by tabla, sitar and the voice of Shahid Khan. One of the happiest outcomes was that Indian music seemed much less hermetically mysterious by the end of the evening, thanks to the witty and informative introductions by the performers.
All inspired by 16th century musical missionaries who incorporated the traditions of Goa into their worship. I loved Encounter, with plainchant embroidered with an improvised alap, Tabla Talum, weaving the drums into melodic structure, and the summation of the sequence, Henna Night, blending polyphony, Arabic and an Indian wedding in a glorious celebration of music making. Though these cultural barriers were easier to break down than the traditional reserve of the British concert audience …

Witham Dramatic Club at the Public Hall

Max, the baby “put up for adoption” in Anthony Minghella's early success, would be 30 by now.

Witham's welcome revival, directed by Graeme Parrett, evoked the 80s in its furnishings and its clever choice of music – Girls Just Want To Have Fun, I Could Be Happy.
The performances, on the other hand, seemed very modern, naturalistic, even hard to hear at times.

Catherine Hitchins was Caroline, who escapes to a lazy seaside town to have her illegitimate child. Scarcely out of adolescence herself, she struggles to maintain her resolve and master her emotions; we share her ambivalence and her anguish – a touching performance in this challenging central role.

But it was Gemma Robinson's Stella who touched an emotional nerve, with her bitter, artistic landlady who has a pathological loathing of men. Her raw, honest monologue was masterly.

Charlette Kilby was the baby-obsessed schoolfriend Fran – a nice, if uneasy, contrast with the troubled Caroline.

The most successful scenes were the set-pieces: a game of charades, kites on the beach. They felt very fresh, very real, improvised even. The trio were joined by Caroline's lesbian ex-teacher and her 17-year-old pupil/lover D [a very promising Natalie Whitworth]. The moment when Kate [Jacqui Brown] is forced to accept rejection, and some awkward truths, was movingly done.

There was strong support from hospital staff [Anne Dyster and Viv Carey], Shirley Taylor as Caroline's uncomprehending mother, Roxanne Carney as Veronica, and Alex Twitchett, making a promising début as a surly waitress.

The piece seems very much of its time, with a strong sense of sisterhood and no sign of the New Man. But it was good to see it on stage, stylishly presented on the flat with striking portraits on the walls, and the empty stage effectively reserved for the beach and the bicycles.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Brentwood Performing Arts Group

Terry Pratchett has been eye-balling the Grim Reaper recently, though this typical tale of the Discworld dates from happier times in 1987.
BPAG's version [no credit for the adaptation] skated over much of the wit, the wisdom and the word play. They threw everything at the entrance of Death – smoke, strobe, music and a nice echo for the doomladen voice of sinister, cowled Michael Gardener, whose boneless drunk was a physical highlight. His dimwitted, gauche but frightfully keen apprentice was well characterized by Michael Boosey. Chloe Harding was suitably petulant as Princess Kali.
The most successful scene was the careers guidance comedy sketch where Death is advised by Reece Learmouth's clueless consultant.
Elsewhere, the production, directed by group members Kristen Brown and Connor Thompson, suffered from frequent scene changes, slow cues and inaudibly garbled performances.
They're hoping to tackle Rocky Horror next time. Before then, they might explore other groups' work and methods, and acquire the basic skills that any performance demands. Maybe then their audience will look up more often from updating Facebook, and reward their efforts with laughter.

Ironical image of the evening: the Grim Reaper himself standing at a rain-swept Stage Door, desperately drawing on a pre-show cigarette ...

Friday, June 17, 2011

National Theatre at the Olivier

Ibsen's lost masterpiece” tells the story of the Emperor Julian [the Apostate], Christian turned pagan whose ruthless persecution strengthened the will of the “Galileans”, establishing Christianity as an enduring world faith.

Ben Power's new version of this epic of 1873, directed by Jonathan Kent, fills the Olivier stage with vast structures, peopled by the foot-soldiers of history.

But it is the words and the ideas, robust exchanges of views on the edge of the action, which are important, rather than the spectacle and the special effects. We don't need video to imagine the eagle soaring, and we understand that brutal war is universal and of all time, without the warplanes following the eagle through the skies.
There was some wonderful design – the religious procession, the funeral of Helena, but I wasn't convinced by the fatigues and fags for the soldiers. The final image of Julian, echoing the huge crucifix, was very telling, though.

This Julian is a fascinating character, seeking truth and freedom from Constantinople to Athens to Ephesus, abandoned by God, denied philosophy, and dying unmourned on the Field of Mars.

But I found Andrew Scott's performance strangely uninvolving, monotonous in delivery and lacking in charisma – a petulant, pathetic weakling, a tinpot tyrant.

His childhood friends - “shared lives” - did manage some powerful characterizations between them, James McArdle's blunt Agathon, John Heffernan's Peter, wryly humorous at first, then later showing the strength of faith that Julian lacks. But they too sometimes seemed too small-scale for the production, [occasionally inaudible in the circle], which demanded the kind of epic acting that we did get from Ian McDiarmid's Maximus, or Richard Durden's Ursulus, or Nabil Shaban's amazing Constantinus.

A fascinating play, with Julian explicitly following Cain and Judas as the tools of God. But the core of it all could have been told much more tightly, without the distractions of the epic excesses we saw on the National stage.


National Concert Orchestra of Great Britain at the Civic Theatre

This quaintly named band brought their “happy music” to the Civic last week.
A small ensemble, whose microphones meant that the sound picture was strangely distorted, yet could not compensate for a thin sound [only two cellos].
No programmes were provided, but hesitant, rambling introductions from the conductor, who forgot to introduce himself, but confessed to being a slightly deaf ex-rock'n'roller. Not a great communicator, whichever way he was facing on the rostrum. The sound lacked any excitement – sedate polkas, leaden Mozart, limp Lehar.
I did enjoy our conductor's own favourite, Leroy Andersen's Belle of the Ball, that old Tauber tear-jerker, Vienna City of My Dreams, and a lively Pizzicato Polka played by the strings, led by leader Amanda Rowden-Martin, who of course could have easily directed the whole thing from her violin, like André Rieu, or indeed the Waltz King himself …

I can reveal that the conductor was Greg Francis, a musician with vast experience in the business, though “Mozart 40” is about as close to classical as he comes. I certainly wasn't alone in feeling disappointed here – a very sniffy comment in the front-of-house book by the interval – but I suppose it did provide gainful employment for a couple of dozen musicians, and a night out for fans who can't get to Rieu.
Video of Belle of the Ball – not sure where, certainly not the Civic – and, for comparison and camp kitsch, André doing the Sieczynski .

Greg Francis has been in touch [April 2012] - I quote the substance of his email here:

I wonder in view of your somewhat defamatory description of me , you would be happy to include some information on just one recent concert the orchestra (though certainly not the same players !) performed recently.

As you will see, the concert was for NSPCC charity 'Childline'. The main feature was Russell Watson, for whom I conducted throughout - at his request ! The program also including a couple of last minute and unrehearsed titles. No complaints from Russell, or any of the other singers. In fact, Russell himself told his manager that he'd felt as though he'd worked with me for years, and we are working together again later in the year, and next year.

I am sorry, and I admit that the concert was unrehearsed and, the orchestra I had been sent to work with, had their own ideas about tempos, phrasings and such. It was not an easy night for me, particularly as I was also nursing a dislocated right shoulder, and rather tired from the lack of sleep caused thereby ! Perhaps I ought have canceled the concert, and let the people sit in an empty theatre ? 

You may wonder how I come to have some excellent credentials on the website - particularly having conducted for people like Russell Watson, Alfie Boe, Mark Rattray, Joe Longthorne, John Lawrenson, Edmund Hockridge and many more, including most of the BBC and NDR (German) Radio Orchestras ?

Would that not make you wonder why that evening's performance was 'under par' - rather than launching into a straight forward 'knife in the back' review ? 

RUSSELL WATSON and Soprano JANETTE MONROE , showing part of the National Concert Orchestra of GB. conducted by Greg Francis at Southport Theatre. Also shown is The Manchester Girls Choir.
They raised a total of £30,460 for NSPCC 'Childline' charity. 

Danbury Players

Even in the early 80s, no-one really believed that Fame would make you immortal, but there's an endearing optimism about the kids who're “going to live forever” in the film and its franchise, which includes tv, reality shows and this musical.
Choosing Fame for your first venture onto the musical stage shows a deal of optimism too, not to mention chutzpah and lack of fear.
I thought the most impressive thing about Trevor Hammond's ambitious production was the brilliant ten-piece band, led by MD James Tovey. So much so that the kids often struggled to compete, not helped by unsophisticated sound re-inforcement.
The lighting, too, was downright bizarre, almost all from below and the back of the hall.
Some performances shone through, though, including the street-dance boy in the chorus [Samuel Gower?], Louise Haines' Mabel, with her Gospel Weight Loss number, Andy Prideaux's violin prodigy, and Jamie Haines' insufferable Tyrone, “Dancing on the Sidewalk” his finest hour.
Molly Blackmore handled her numbers well, as did Katherine McKeon, striking as the tragic Carmen. Edward Barber, not ideally cast as extrovert Hispanic Joe Vegas, made the most of his opportunities, and I sympathised with irascible music teacher Ben Allen.
Because this very bizarre show – a great success in the West End, I know - is ultimately very depressing, imagining as it does a High School for Performing Arts where the “cream of the crop” have bags of attitude but almost no discipline, where “hating Shakespeare” is no bar to being in the Acting Class, a Sonata can only be improved by adding clichéd lyrics, being gifted in street dance means you have nothing more to learn, and dyslexia can go undiagnosed for years.
I hope it won't be the last musical at Danbury – the enthusiasm and energy on show here deserves to go from strength to strength. But, if you choose another made in the USA, you've got to go for the accents. You've got to stop people wandering aimlessly during their solos. And you've got to say No to people, however keen, who can't hold a tune at all.

Ad Hoc Players at Brentwood Theatre

In the not-too-distant future, slow-moving oldies clog our pavements, dementia is an epidemic.
Tamsin Oglesby's thought-provoking play, first seen at the National last year, sees two groups grapple with the problem.
A sinister government agency, all euphemisms and double-speak: Paul Ganney very impressive in his political speech, and in his downfall [pure poetic justice], Robert Evans as a number-crunching nerd in red braces, and Hayley Joanne Bacon strong as the sceptical rebel.
And an extended family: stoical Alice [Jenny Lee] and her sister, Lyn, a bright, feisty woman slowly succumbing to Alzheimers, a superb performance by Shealagh Dennis. In contrast, the children – Andrew Spong as Dylan, glued to his PlayStation, and Georgina Hayworth as Millie, the thoughtful [and softly spoken] teenager who values the authentic.
The play is not perfect, especially in the rambling second act, and not all the performances were as spot-on as these. I would mention Kirsty Stoddart's impressive robot nurse, and Vicky Nunn, who on opening night did a brilliant job interpreting the action in BSL.
Wendi Sheard's production was a welcome introduction to an important new play; more confidence with the words would have improved its pace and impact, but it was nonetheless an absorbing and original piece of theatre.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Phoenix Theatre Company at Christ Church, Chelmsford

Guest director Kenton Church – no stranger to Black Frog Creek and its comedy characters – had an impressive saloon set, with a cleverly-used window by the swing doors, and he had managed to get some credible performances from his cast.
The script glories in bad puns, word play and jokes that were old before the West was won. The key thing with this material – think Round The Horne – is never to be the slightest bit diffident or apologetic. Complicity with the audience is essential. “I'd rather be watching TV, given half a chance,” and I quote.
Outstanding in this respect were Jean Speller's sassy Diamond Tooth Lil, and Joan Lanario's likeable Ma Treacle - “Keep yer eye on me pie!”. Peter White looked good as Filthy Frank, and Les Leeds had a mean Lee Marvin sneer as Tex. Angela Gee gave her all and had a ball with Hairy Hannah, one of the comedy trio of villains.
Richard Langley was engaging as young Yipee Brown, though his performance could have been bigger and bolder, and Neil Smith made a suave Sheriff.
Lots of fun ideas – the varmints nicked with a line of knickers – though sometimes the pace needed to be sharper to get away with the material – the concussed sheriff, for instance.
But a refreshing change for this long-established group, which tends to go for 'comedy thrillers', 'hokum' and 'pot-boilers'. Perhaps next they might try a good modern play …

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Cameo Players at Hylands House

The Cameo Players brought their Rebecca – already a success at Little Baddow – to Hylands House last week, in a polished production by Lindsay Lloyd.

Using only a minimal set – not, alas, the imposing staircase in situ - and no stage lighting, this implausible melodrama made a tremendous impact on capacity audiences.

Four great characters come together in the story. Maxim de Winter, the master of Manderley, bringing back his new bride, hoping to forget the past. Darren Matthews was a little young for the role, in truth, but he gave a searingly honest, strong performance, using his voice to suggest the pain behind the suave, stiff exterior. The second Mrs de Winter was played by Sara Thompson; the shy, mousy girl was touchingly suggested, and I liked the way her eyes shone when she hoped to surprise Maxim at the ball, or when she was determined to save him from the hangman's noose. But the foyer talk was all of the sinister Mrs Danvers, given a performance of depth and detail by Vicky Tropman. A still, brooding figure, she dominated the room with a look, a pause, an inflection, and later, as she descended into madness and mania, she obsessively adored the relics of her former mistress, the first Mrs de Winter. And lastly there is the house itself. The technical limitations are outweighed by the sense that these walls have known servants and sorrows, seen masked balls and maybe even murder.

Not all the other characters had much opportunity to shine, and such opportunities as they did have were not always taken. But I did enjoy Catherine Bailey's snobby, bitchy Beatrice, and I admired the uncomfortably intrusive presence of the rotter Jack Favell, stylishly played by Robert Bastian.

Like Thornfield, and Tara, the house is climactically consumed by fire. The moment cried out for special effects, but the impact was preserved by the now deranged Danvers silhouetted against the red glow, and by a glimpse of the shade of Rebecca running towards the West Wing and the oblivion of the flames.

Saturday, June 04, 2011


The Greville Theatre Club at the Barn Theatre Little Easton

There may be trouble ahead ...” a cheekily anachronistic Tin Pan Alley commentary punctuated Rita Vango's production of this classic Russian farce. Other theatrical touches I admired were the retreat to the gallery of most of the cast, and the monologues to the audience. The beautifully designed programme was great, too.

Nick Dear's adaptation added some ripe language to Ostrovsky's text – think Chekhov done by the cast of East Enders.

The Dickensian characters were mostly well served by the Greville actors; certainly the audience were audibly amused throughout. Were there an award for the most convincing looking Russian, it would have to go to Rodney Foster's Tishka, closely followed by Adam Thompson as Lazar, the timid clerk who reaches the top by wedding the boss's daughter and cashing in on his cunning plan to cheat his creditors.

The shameless Lipochka, who dreams of marrying a military man but is too old for the village idiot, was played for all she was worth by Carol Parradine; her grizzly old bear of a father, a martyr to piles and ulcers, was the excellent Chris Kearney. Good comedic performances too from Marcia Baldry as the Matchmaker, and Steve Braham as the dipso solicitor Sysoy.

Be content with what you've got” is the message here, since all the swindling schemes come to nothing, and the cast reassembles for the final curtain - “Let's face the music and dance ...”

Thursday, June 02, 2011


Chichester Festival Theatre

Under a the vast dark canopy of the sky, two men pass the time by a blasted tree. They try to make sense of the other characters who occasionally invade their stage.
Vladimir and Estragon, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The Beckett influence couldn't be more clearly underlined in Trevor Nunn's slightly beige revival of Stoppard's intellectually dazzling footnote to Hamlet.
No real fireworks, even in the pirates' scene, but plenty of food for thought, lots of laughs.

History Boys graduates Sam Barnett and Jamie Parker are nicely contrasted, with Rosencrantz a shy, boyish foil to Guildenstern's stronger philosophical presence [so not really as interchangeable as the text suggests, then …]. Clearly marked as outsiders to the action, not least by the jeans incorporated into their Shakespearean costumes. The third name in the production, already booked into a West End transfer, was to have been Tim Curry. The swiftly promoted Chris Andrew Mellon makes an excellent Player, and may well acquire the extra edge of danger and decadence that I imagine Curry might have provided.

His band of travelling players, a mix, as they say of youth and experience, were very effective, wearily summoning the energy for another “exhibition” for the Court at Elsinore.

Simon Higlett's design was excellent, especially the suggestion of the labyrinthine corridors of the castle, and good use was made of the Chichester thrust, covered in dark wooden decking disappearing into a vanishing point.