Tuesday, November 29, 2011


at the Novello

The lights of Broadway beckon – the Shubert, the Biltmore, and of course the Zangler Follies. And here's Bobby the banker, his tap shoes at the ready, all set to hoof his way through the Gershwin back catalogue.

I didn't catch Timothy Sheader's Regent's Park revival this summer, but the show fits perfectly into the mirrored, gilded Novello [once The Waldorf]. The revolve and the ingenious scenery take us from the street to backstage to the one horse town of Deadwood, Nevada, and its Gaiety Theatre.

The "let's put the show on right here" scenario, and the songs shoe-horned into it, not to mention the jokes that would seem antique even in panto, are not what makes this show such a hit. Stephen Mear's choreography – the show-stopping I Got Rhythm, and the moment when the girls, still in their travelling attire, advance towards the footlights were just two of the memorable effects – and a strong cast of singers and dancers, keep the show lively and light-hearted.

Sean Palmer is a cool Bobby, dancing his socks off; I loved the Nice Work solo with the follow spot. I thought Clare Foster was a superb Polly – her voice just right for these numbers. And the other stand-out star for me was David Burt as the Hungarian impresario – excellent comedy timing. His vaudeville duet – What Causes That ? - with Palmer [die zwei Zangler] was priceless.

This must be one of the most enjoyable evenings of unalloyed song and dance delight in a West End not exactly starved of musicals.
At the end, the fans were literally dancing in the Dress Circle aisle ...


Prizewinners' Concert at Hylands School

This annual festival of music and drama has now clocked up fifty-one years in the County Town, and this sampler concert gave some flavour of the breadth and quality of the entries.

Max Saunders gave a strikingly emotional monologue a young American making an impassioned, frustrated phone call home to Mum. And Lucy Aitchison contributed an amusing recital of an Ahlberg poem.

Musically, the highlights included Emma Harris, a tiny violinist playing Bach with amazing tone and confidence, and Anthony Williams' toe-tapping Cream Soda piano solo.

The young vocalist Abbie Ward sang, unamplified, with a simple piano accompaniment, the Alan Menken Disney classic Colours of the Wind. Pure magic.

The evening began with Chelmsford Young Strings a training orchestra for primary age performers and ended with Elm Green School choir with the Snoopy anthem Just One Person.

The guest speaker was Peter Cross, whose long career has been built on inspiring young musicians. He reminded winners, performers and supporters of the importance of celebrating live music, and urged everyone to get practising for 2012 !

Sunday, November 27, 2011



Eastern Angles at the Sir John Mills Theatre
Young Oliver Nicklefield has penned a piece for Mr Crumbles' troupe of Thespian Adventurers.
Within its leather-bound pages lurk a cornucopia of characters with strangely familiar names: Little Mell, Old Sal, Miss Haversack, Obadiah Snoop, Foggotty and the Aged P. Plus some un-canonical gatecrashers like the sinister Scotsman Tosser McCaber.
Great fun was had catching the references as they flew by, dodging the puns, the local jokes, the double entendres and the naughty innuendos. [Those old enough to remind I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again will get some idea of the style.] And of course being roped in and humiliated in the intimate Gatacre Road auditorium, doubling here as a most convincing Old Curiosity Shop. And not just Dickens, either, Ernest's handbag plays a key role, and there are name checks for Sid and Nancy, as well as [Bob] Marley's Ghost. Panto largely excluded, thank heavens, save for a passing reference to Ebenezer's Cave.
The five actors in the Crumbles company – how nice to see a little of their Hamlet from the wings – were kept very busy, dashing around the tiny acting area and changing costumes on the run. All busting a gut to win a coveted OTTA – the award for Over The Top Acting. Joel Sams made an appealingly innocent Tiny Tom [don't ask – the origin of his moniker was the subject of one of many marathon running gags] who seeks his benefactor as he waits for his testimonials to materialise. And he played the fiddle beautifully: this must be the only Christmas show where the lovers duet sharing a violin.
His Dorabella [and his long lost sister] were played by Gabrielle Douglas, her Moody juvenile a close relative of the Infant Phenomenon. She vied for the role with the more mature Mrs Crumbles – the showdown where each strove to outdo the other's uppitiness was priceless. Sally Ann Burnett was Mrs C, as well as Suffolk Favourite Foggotty and many others, including the filthy Mrs Midden, flies buzzing around her head. Greg Wagland was several possible benefactors – the convict Magpie, the old Gent, McCaber, and most impressively, the tragic Miss Haversack. And Zach Lee was the inventive Jammy Dodger, as well as the humble Snoop [from Wolverhampton]. He also got the biggest laugh of the matinĂ©e – playing some distant cousin of Mr Dick, I think – with an unrepeatable slur on neighbouring Norfolk.
Richard Taylor's music added to the fun – I liked the operatic Betrayal aria, and the opening number, reprised at the end, with just a splash of G&S.
Ivan Cutting's pacy direction kept the momentum going, even through the often impenetrable plot, from the clever opening to the denouement at Newmarket, providing a witty, pretty seasonal entertainment for those who seek respite from sing-alongs, sparkle and star vehicles.
production picture by Mike Kwasniak

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Thursday, November 24, 2011



Mercury Theatre Studio, Colchester
Pilot Theatre with York Theatre Royal

The discomfort is the point. We're in a staff room on some anonymous industrial estate. It's a tipas rank and messy as the lives and loves of the two people who seem almost trapped inside it, under the harsh glare of the strip lights.
They are a man nearing retirementconvinced he'll die at sixtyand a woman in her twenties, who's driven some distance to seek this confrontation, a ghost from his past.
As they talkand Harrower's dialogue is incredibly realistic, with unfinished phrases, loops and overlapswe learn of their shared pastan "illegal relationship" when she was twelve and he was in his forties. We feel uncomfortable, eavesdropping on their raw, brutal exchanges, constantly wrong-footed by each new twist, each fresh revelation.
He has moved on, or so he thinks. Paid the price, changed his name, found a hard-won career. She has stayed in the same house, braving the stares and the memories. But it eventually becomes clear that both of them are trapped in the past, and his choice, when it comes, is violent and shocking.
In extended monologues, we follow them back through her therapy letters, never sent, his letter of explanation, and recollections of the barbecue where they met, the codes, the car, the park, to that night in Tynemouth when their shared fantasy falls apart as the clock strikes midnight.
The play's seventy minutes hold several surprises, the lastno spoilers herea simple piece of staging which is painfully potent. But it is the characters that stay with us, both of them actedby George Costigan and Charlie Covellwith searing honesty, and a little humour amongst the darkness. The dialogue is often electric, powerful in its inarticulacy.
Director Katie Posner wisely lets the words do the work, trusting her players to run with the moments. Peter is nervous, defensive, his eyes itchy, his clothes crumpled. Una is angry, fretful, trembling and tense. Just before the end, we see a hint of what they lost all those years ago, as they share desperate laughter and childish fun.
And we can't help wondering, as we debate the rights and wrongs, the truth and the blame, what will happen to them now, these two vulnerable people whose space we've invaded for a crucial, uncomfortable hour.
This brilliant piece of theatrefilm or television just wouldn't dowas first seen in Edinburgh in 2005. This production began its small tour in York, and will end in Exeter next week.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews


Little Baddow Drama

This is the kind of traditional, "well-made" play Little Baddow does best.
An old-fashioned three-acter, with a beautiful solid set, about an old-fashioned family Christmas, set in a world of bedjackets and eau-de-cologne, where the Waits still sing carols and the trains run on Christmas Day.
Wynyard Browne's creaky dialogue and improbable characters don't necessarily play well today, but there are some deep Chekhovian insights into death and despair, the meaning of Christmas and the role of the family.
Ken Rolf movingly suggested the doubts of the ageing clergyman, setting off with his shoes in his pockets and his sermon in his hand. We were all relieved when the happy ending saw him reconciled with his difficult daughter [an elegant, emotional Sarah Trippett-Jones]. Jo Windley-Poole nicely caught the dilemma of the stay-at-home daughter, desperately clutching at her chance of escape with her "Scotch" beau [James Oakley].
The best of the variable accents on offer was the Dublin brogue of Annette Michaels, giving a spirited performance as the formidable Aunt Bridget.
Sensible, sententious Richard Wyndham was played by John Peregrine; his steady director's hand was at the helm of this polished revival in this, the playwright's centenary year.

Monday, November 21, 2011


M&G Civic Concert

For their second visit this year, the CLS chose four accessible works from the chamber ensemble repertoire. This time they brought with them two great names in British music pianist Peter Donohue, who first appeared at the Civic some thirty years ago, and clarinettist Michael Collins, who also conducted the Sinfonia in Rossini and Tchaikovsy, as well as directing Weber from the clarinet.

This was the Quintet, arranged for string orchestra, and played here with great delicacy, especially in the pianissimo passages in the Fantasia. After an agile, playful Menuetto, he took the Finale at a canter, to the delight of players and audience alike.

Donohue was the soloist in Shostakovich's First Piano Concerto, performed with a manic sense of fun, but managing, in the second movement, a more sombre mood, silky melancholic strings building to something more monumentally tragic. The trumpet, giving a wry commentary from the opposite side of the stage, drowsily muted in that Lento, was Nicholas Betts. In the bravura closing Allegro, the soloist really looked as if he were enjoying the ride, like an enthusiast behind the wheel of a vintage Bugatti.

Rossini's Sonata for Strings was blithely tuneful, with a lovely lightness of touch, and a passionate operatic Andantino. Tchaikovsky's Souvenirs de Florence, a late work, had a rich sheen in the string tone, some beautiful dialogue between cello and violin, and an emotional finale, bathed in the same Mediterranean sunshine as the Rossini.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Christ Church, Chelmsford

These You Have Loved selections this time, all with a story to tell.
Presumably why it was thought a good idea to have a narrator giving us generous helpings of Goethe and the Kalevala, not to mention the French verses that inspired Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre.

The evening began with the enchanting anticipation of Mozart's Magic Flute Overture, with its heroic brass and excitable strings. Then Sibelius's Pohjola's Daughter, colourfully scored, with a nicely judged diminuendo ending from the ESO's conductor Tom Hammond.

Then our first Fantasia favourite Mussorgsky's riotous Night on a Bare Mountain, moving effectively from scream to serenity as the cock crows. The evening ended with The Sorcerer's Apprentice; a triumph for the orchestra, this only in live performance can we appreciate how the cheeky theme is passed around the players, starting with the bassoons, and all sprinkled with the magic dust of the glockenspiel.

A moment of calm reflection among the magic and the mayhem was Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits, ethereal music with beautiful flute solos.


Chelmsford Young Generation at the Civic Theatre

Production values could hardly have been higher for Young Gen's visit to the land of Oz, this time in Soul Music mode for The Wiz, a Broadway smash of 1975. An impressive set stairs and scaffolding, with the Big Green Apple at the apex pyrotechnics galore, thrilling sounds from the pit, and of course the famous vitality of CYGAMS' young performers.
Some of the production numbers were outstanding: the stage filled with green people, the hoofing in “Bad News”, the revivalist “Believe”, the Munchkins on castors. Excellent chorus vocals too, right from the overture, and some big, bold characterizations: Oliver Fox's Tin Man [loved his dance], Luke Higgins' Scarecrow, and Bart Lambert's lovely cowardly Lion, though he had to work to get past the wig and the mask. Dorothy was performed with confidence and charm by Alice Masters, and the kitsch Wicked Witch, Evillene, by Constance Lawton. I also enjoyed Katie Pridige's Addaperle, the witch who couldn't do the magic, and Ben Maple's posh gatekeeper. And proving that there are no small parts, Harry Brown getting every possible ounce of value from the Messenger.
Much to enjoy in this alternative to Over the Rainbow. If there was a weakness, it was that the big numbers which punctuated the action often demanded a style and a spirit that even these talented youngsters found hard to emulate.
The show was directed by Jeremy Tustin, with Bryan Cass the Musical Director.

production photograph by Christopher Yorke-Edwards


BOSSY at Brentwood Theatre

This tongue-in-cheek, slightly subversive musical homage to the cult film, is perennially popular.

BOSSY's version, in the cosy confines of Brentwood Theatre, was entertaining throughout, with a talented team of soloists, and some excellent work from the chorus. The chilling Finale Ultimo, with cloned carnivorous plants invading the auditorium, was a nice touch to end with.

Gaynor Wilson's production had a nicely designed shop for the hapless Mushnik [well characterized by Marcus Durowse] and an instantly evocative fire hydrant not so sure about the backcloth, though. But the plants [by Theatre Props, Leicester], the squat, fat, middle-sized one, and the amazing tentacled monster, were superb, and expressively voiced by Dan Glock.

The young lovers were outstanding Ross Llewellyn the nerdy, speccy Seymour, and Amy Wenham a delicate, tender Audrey. Her dastardly dentist, dismembered and fed to the voracious plant, was Curtis Brown.

The three close-harmony trios [Chiffons, Crystals and Ronettes] beautifully gowned were imaginatively used, and I liked the backing vocals from the wings.

Musically, highlights included Seymour's duet with Audrey II, and Audrey I's wistful Somewhere That's Green, reprised movingly for her final selfless sacrifice. The MD was Andy Prideaux.


Writtle Cards

More tinsel in the auditorium, more fractured families with Yuletide issues.

This is the Ayckbourn set on Christmas Eves past, present and future in three different kitchens. And what splendid kitchens they were [Pete Goodwin] just like something from a 70's Hygena catalogue.
Michele Moody's laugh-a-minute production, emphasising the farce rather than the darker side, had a strong comedic cast. In the orange kitchen, Neil Smith, playing an annoying, boring chap who's desperate to impress as the play starts, but calling the party-game shots by the final curtain a consistently funny performance, well matched by Sharon Goodwin as his mousy wife, getting worked-up in company, happiest in pinny and Marigolds. I admired the attention to detail in this crucial first act the party noise off-stage-left, the rain off-stage-right. Different doorbell, different styling for the kitchen where young Eva [Shelley Goodwin] sits silently, surrounded by crumpled suicide notes. A weak, unstable flower-child, by Act Three she's got it together, the power behind her ineffectual, feckless architect partner [Chris Ivermee].
Sorry not to meet the life-and-soul scouting, school-teaching Potters, or glimpse their kitchen. The last couple, pine furniture and a paraffin heater, were the wonderful Brewster-Wrights, ageing banker Ronald [Daniel Curley, a crusty DofE sound-alike] and his second wife Marion [Liz Curley]. His electric shock and her maudlin drunk were two memorable highlights of a very enjoyable escapist evening.

Friday, November 18, 2011



Mercury Theatre, Colchester
They'll be in their eighties, now, those thousands of evacuees who were shipped out of the cities to themiddle of nowhereto escape the Blitz. But their stories still have resonance with children today, who can empathise with the homesickness and the unlooked-for freedom.
The latest tale to be adapted for the stage is Michael Morpurgo's 1977 Friend or Foe, currently touring in a beautiful small-scale production from the enterprising Scamp Theatre.
The narrative is shared between two friends who end up on a Devon Farm. Dapper, respectable David, and the wilder, less inhibited Tucky, interrupt each other, arguing over how best to tell it as it was. And so they draw us into the storythe train journey, thecattle market, the foal on the farm, the village school. Until their West Country idyll is shattered by an incident which tests their friendship and their sense of duty.
The boys are persuasively characterized by Paul Sandys and Mathew Hampermannerisms, inflections, body language all instantly recognizable without being too modern. The story proper starts with David packing his cigarette cards and his books for the journey into the unknown. And the play ends, movingly, as it began, with his model Dorniera powerful image for a play which manages to combine realism with impressionism, and in little over an hour and a quarter to tackle some important moral dilemmas.
All the other characters in their story are played by just three actors. Janet Greaves is brilliant as the chain-smoking headmistress, and also plays the apple-cheeked farmer's wife, an ideal surrogate Mum for the lads. I loved Michael Palmer's beautifully conceived Mr Reynoldssurly at first, not at home with words, but won over by his helpful, appreciative house guests. He was also a German pilot, the Foe of the title, who, like his counterpart in War Horse, is a subtly rounded character, sympathetic at times, sinister at others. Chris Porter was the other airman, as well as an Army Officer and several other smaller roles.
Keith Baker's set suggests a bomb site, but as the boys take us on their journey, it effortlessly becomes, in their imagination and ours, Paddington station, the farmhouse kitchen, the moor and, memorably, the river bed. Daniel Buckroyd's assured direction manages changes of mood and pace with ease, keeping audience members of all ages engaged and involved. And his faithful adaptation, cleverly allowing for the demanding doubling in the adult roles, wisely retains elements of story-telling while adding some theatrical magic to Morpurgo's thought-provoking tale.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews