Monday, September 30, 2013


CAODS at the Civic Theatre

Cowboys, chorus girls and all those Gershwin tunes ! Who could ask for anything more … ?
Sallie Warrington's tremendous production for CAODS didn't miss a trick: the comedy, the glamour, the backstage clichés, all immaculately brought to life on our Civic stage, with Patrick Tucker's pitful of musicians adding extra gloss.
Two excellent players in the leading roles. Christie Hooper as Polly, born with vaudeville in her blood, and entrusted with many of the best numbers, including a superbly sung Someone To Watch Over Me. She's rescued from Nevada obscurity by Bobby Child, sent to repossess the Gaiety for his New York bank. He was played with a bouncy, puppyish enthusiasm by Young Gen veteran Henri de Lausun, who clearly has musical theatre in his genes, too, hoofing and delivering his duets with confidence and charisma. Their on-stage affair was a delight from the first coup-de-foudre, through the dewy-eyed dance-off to the lump-in-the-throat moment when he finally gets his girl before the Art Deco finale.
His mirror number with his impresario alter ego Bela Zangler [Kevin Richards] was neatly done, too. Another obscure song to emerge sparkling was Stiff Upper Lip, initiated by the Fodors [Angela Broad and Justin Oakley] and developed with imagination and style.
Among the many polished performances: Karen Kelleher as a svelte Irene, Jonathan Lloyd-Gane as the saloon owner, and John Cox as Moose.
But it's the ensembles that make the show, from the brain-dead drifters of Deadrock to the infectious tap-dancing energy of I Got Rhythm, with its tin trays and its pick-axe swings.

production photograph: Christopher Yorke-Edwards


Action to the Word at the New Wolsey Studio Ipswich

Anthony Burgess was not happy about the way his seminal novel transferred to the screen. The amoral adolescent gang-lads seemed much more vivid, more threatening, more iconic.
Whatever would he have made of this amazingly physical re-working of that 1952 tale [based on his own stage version], with ten young men giving energetic expression to the homoerotic dystopia extrapolated from the original story.
There's much he would recognize. Plenty of Ludwig Van, sonata as well as symphony, sharing the soundtrack with David Bowie, The Scissor Sisters, Eurythmics, Queen and Placebo [Battle for the Sun]. The molokothe spiked milk which is the recreational drug of choice for young Alex and his friends the Droogs. Not forgetting the Nadsat, a crazy, casual Russian-inspired patois, heightened at times with cod Shakespearean formality. And of course the ultraviolence, much of it glamorously choreographed by director Alexandra Spencer-Jones.
Adam Search is a fine, charismatic Alex: cocky, depraved, insolent. A suitable case for the Ludovico treatment, aversion therapy with Beethoven as backing track.
And cured he is, nauseated by sex and violence, robbed of the freedom to choose, unable to respond to the temptations paraded before him, despised and rejected by family and friends, tempted to suicide.
The endingBurgess's famous Chapter 21in which our hero grows up and finds a steady partner is perhaps less convincing, even with the direct appeal to the audience.
This production has boundless physical energy, spectacular movement work but relatively little in the way of real drama or believable characters. Its world is increasingly, teasingly, orange: an egg cup, a flat cap, the carrots and the clementines in the nightmare ballet. And there are welcome flecks of comic relief amongst the the kicks, the blows and the groping, the camp nurses, for instance.
Excellent work from a strong young ensemble, with the occasional standout characterization: F Alexander the Writer, the Minister of the Inferior, and the impressive doubling of Mr Deltoid, social worker, with an Irish hellfire chaplain.
Action to the Word's Clockwork Orange has been successfully revived several times – London fringe, Edinburgh – and now, slightly longer, it's on the road again, ending this tour in Hong Kong by way of Inverness.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews


The College Players at the Brentwood Theatre

Here's Roxy – back for another "totally unbelievable" ripping yarn of international skulduggery.
The superb set has an imposing fanlight [classy back projections behind] which opens to form the submarine. Or in one priceless sequence, three simultaneous subs, crewed by three shades of foreign foe.
Not everything is as brilliant as this, and we are served some very ancient gags indeed, but style and polish make up for a lot, and it is good to welcome back some masters of the genre: Darren Matthews' laid-back dick, Lindsay Hollingsworth as his lovelorn side-kick secretary, keeping fans and first-timers up to date with her stream-of-consciousness soliloquies. June Fitzgerald and Elaine Laight are here again as the Salmon Sisters, while Paul Sparrowham reprises his lecherous Larry, memorably struggling into a lamé fish-tail in a moment of pure, filthy farce. Indeed the shade of Carry On is never far away, with some risqué wordplay from our author, Anon.
Among the denizens of Hollywood: Emma Feeney as a rasping Mabel, Hannah James as English Gwen, James Wild – cod-piece as impressively engineered as the U-boat's conning-tower – as Rodney, Claire Hilder as dancing diva Lola, and Bob O'Brien brilliant as the Leg-Man, tasked with humping mermaids around the sound stage …
Oh yes, there are mermaids, and they do tap-dance. The glorious plot involves Easter Island and Fabergé eggs - it's produced and directed by Sue Welch and Nick Wilkes. Will this tie up the trilogy, or will it become a franchise like the Road pictures or Dick Barton ? Well, there's a hefty clue at the end of the show – let's hope Roxy Pirelli [née Krasner] will bounce back soon in the mystery of the pink bird …

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Trinity Methodist Music and Drama

Laura Bennett was at Trinity for The Chelmsford Weekly News ...

Sandy Wilson's 1953 musical comedy, The Boy Friend, is a frivolous, feel-good show - the essence of which even the predictable plot line and weak book can do nothing to dispel - and this youthful Trinity cast brings a vitality and spirit to the stage. Polly Browne, set to inherit her father's fortune but wanting to find love regardless of money, is played with earnest sobriety and a sparklingly beautiful voice by Jessica Edom. Ben Huish gives delivery boy Tony a bumbling posh-boy interpretation, with a smooth, confident singing voice.

Hands held at constant right angles and fixed smiles with shiny white teeth, the English roses of the finishing school are played with stylised elegance by Charlotte Watling, Helen Quigley, Amy Coster and Nina Harrington. Their enthusiastic Charleston-style choreography is well matched by the strong male support from Joe Gray, Dom Short, Dom Light and Ed Tunningley. All relevant parties spiritedly maintain their French accents, especially Emma Byatt who floats around the stage as a graceful Madame Dubonnet. An enjoyable cameo too from Director Tony Brett who exudes personality while playing lecherous Lord Brockhurst.

The busy three piece band are reliably led by Musical Director Gerald Hindes who pitches the volume levels ideally to ensure that the performers voices are always heard.

It is lovely to see a talented group of young faces joining the established performers at Trinity, and the result is a fun-filled production with the enthusiasm of the cast reflected by the appreciative audience. An entertaining evening.

production photo by Val Scott

Friday, September 27, 2013


Chichester Festival Theatre at the Theatre in the Park

"They do like water at the Chichester theatre …" someone remarks in the queue for ice-cream. And yes, the front row does get damp again.

No capering Gene Kelly here, though, just four thoroughly wet middle managers from Salford. Really, thoroughly wet. We can't help but sympathise with them as they drip in the inhospitable Lake District, stranded on an island when their Blue Sky Outbound team-building exercise goes tragically tits-up …
Designer Robert Innes Hopkins has come up with a very convincing promontory for them, with conifers disappearing up into the big top, the constant, drenching rain falling onto a pebbly, rocky shore surrounded by Derwentwater, out of which, like Venus from the waves, emerges Adrian Edmondson's Gordon.
A cynical, caustic bully, he is the catalyst for the meltdown – the very opposite of bonding – that the crisis brings to Neville's team. A brilliantly observed character, the lines delivered with deadly accuracy.
Neville himself, the captain whose orienteering leads his men astray, is John Marquez. Tim McMullan is the dim, hapless Angus, with his bottomless rucksack and gnawing self-doubt, and Roy, from Finance, the Christian twitcher, is nicely done by Rufus Hound, wrestling with his demons in the look-out tree.
Angus Jackson's production of Tim Firth's classic is impressive on many levels. There are plenty of laughs, but some very uncomfortable moments too. The sausage mishap, so easy to predict, is done with finely judged suspense, and the dénouement, with manna, and marine rescue, from heaven, is thrillingly dramatic, with the chopper's down-draught as real as the rain and falco rusticolus.

I'm sure I spotted some sort of lacewing or mosquito flying through the mist on the lake. I hope there's an accredited insect handler on the production team ...

rain on Rampsholme from my seat in the front stalls 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court

An evening with George and Martha is not a comfortable experience.
In fact the evening is past, and we're into the small hours. They return home after a faculty party, already the worse for wear, and are joined by a younger couple, a reluctant audience who watch, and drink, as game-play turns to total war, the dialogue punctuated by the clink of ice and the slam of glass on wood.
Edward Albee's play has lost none of its impact in the fifty years since it was written; Joe Kennedy's powerful production opts for a naturalistic, almost improvisatory style. We thereby risk losing some of the rhythms and structure of the dialogue. And some of the words, too, as the rows and the recriminations echo around the Old Court. But we gain an edgy, raw immediacy that forces us to stay up till almost dawn in the company of these four flawed individuals, through "Fun and Games", "Walpurgisnacht" and "The Exorcism", wondering what is true, what is lies.
This demanding piece needs accomplished actors, and the CTW's excellent quartet do not disappoint. Kelly McGibney, braying, bawling, baiting, gives a memorable Martha, vulnerable beneath the bravado, and lets us see the human being behind the wreck she has become. Her kimono monologue was superbly done. Well matched by Dave Hawkes as George, haunted by failure, trapped in a destructive relationship, but gamely battling on, sparring desperately with Martha. A promising CTW début from Rhiannon Regan as the dim, bubbly Honey, knocking back the brandy and trying to keep up. Jacob Burtenshaw seems slightly underpowered as her husband Nick, but this buttoned-up approach makes a good contrast with the emotional incontinence of the others; the moments when he does stand up to George's bullying are all the more telling, too.
We get the uncomfortable feeling that this couple may be destined to go the same sad way as George and Martha...
Amongst the many memorable scenes: George's monologue about the boy in the Gym, the pacey Get The Guests sequence, the strong end to Act II, and the sofa grouping at the start of Act III, which is echoed very effectively at the end of the play.

As George ironically remarks, a nice evening, all things considered.

Sunday, September 08, 2013


Shakespeare's Globe on Tour at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

This week the grubby red and white circus tent is pitched on the stage of the wonderfully restored Regency playhouse opposite the brewery. This touring Taming of the Shrew opened in Portsmouth back in June, and has played "wet and windy Cambridge" and "boiling Malta" amongst many other venues. It'll finish in Singapore ...
This is a predominantly young company, enjoying the doubling and the disguises. A chirpy, cheeky style, reminding us of what Shakespeare's "little eyasses" must have been like, the boy companies who were so popular with the play-going public.
Christopher Sly, the drunkard who is duped in the Induction, is a cocky Geordie Kate Lamb, later Katerina, more than a match for Leah Whitaker's swaggering, flowing-maned Petruchio – "I am rough and woo not like a babe," she assures us with a knowing look and a bone-crushing handshake. Their first encounter is tense and tentative; Kate is almost eager for their first kiss, but her submissive speech in the closing moments cleverly wrongfoots Petruchio, who is clearly appalled by her effusive abasement, and is reluctant to pocket his winnings.
Excellent comic support from the company, including Remy Beasley as Tranio and Becci Gemmell as Lucentio, Joy Richardson as the Widow and an asthmatic, cricketing Gremio, Olivia Morgan as the two blondes [Biondello and Bianca], Nicola Sangster as Hortensio and Kathryn Hunt, with a variety of throaty chuckles, as, amongst others, a long-suffering Grumio and a lovely Yorkshire Baptista.
Joe Murphy's production has many moments to relish, Kate being left at the church, the horseburgers in cardboard cartons. Corin Buckeridge's music is well used [these are multi-talented actor/musicians] – some catchy period songs, a cello for the wedding party, Kate's siren sax to herald the jig. But, rather like the costumes – hunting pink, concert-party flannels, seventies wedding suit – the music lacks a cohesive style. Petruchio as aviator [flying goggles – Grumio his mechanic] is a nice touch for "what happy gale blows you to Padua ?"
It's a decade since the last all-female Shrew at the Globe, but only last year that Toby Frow's production was the hit of the season. Best if you can put those two out of your mind, and imagine this fresh and feisty show on a warm evening outdoors, with strawberries in your hamper to match those Bianca shares on stage – Minack in Cornwall will be their last al fresco date !

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews


Jamie Wilson Productions
at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford

Hot on the heels of Ha Ha Hamlet and Ha Ha Hitler, Ha Ha Holmes, an irreverent and gloriously silly look at Sir Arthur's greatest hit.
It's been reworked to accommodate the unique talents of Joe Pasquale, who effortlessly assumes the role of the "sleuth detective".

It's the kind of show which has a warm-up before the lights go down. Ben Langley, author, director and a mean Sherlock in his time, is first up, joined by Andrew Fettes, who plays all the other parts, from Moriarty to Fanny Stapleton. And then by Pasquale, master of the stand-up throwaway line. They mercilessly rib the punters as they drift in"Peggy Mitchell""J R Hartley". And they are upfront and honest about this first night of a gruelling tour that will take them from Yeovil up to Glasgow and back to Plymouth. "None of us know what we're doingwe're flying by the seat of our pants" They're not entirely kidding eitherthere are some sticky moments, some soggy moments. But the audience are happy to play along, make allowances, and join the cast in a happy collaboration. Just before they don the deerstalkers and the Inverness capes, and whip the dust sheets off the furniture, they offer some advice: "Lower your standards!".

Seated stage right is Andy Pickering at the keyboard, ready to provide silent movie music, accompaniment for the songs, and the odd bit of acting.

It all feels a little like a poor man's panto, with an audience song, and "volunteers" brought on to form a Neanderthal erection, or ride the stage coachan inspired sequence, this, using the bookcase and the stairs to make the coach, with someone in row E holding the reins, someone else blowing the horn, the whole audience singing along and builder, biker, cowboy and Indian riding behind. Another priceless routine had Fettes frantically miming the story as Langley told it.

It's quickfire, frenetic, over-the-top stuff, not always best served by Pasquale's laid-back style. He's really at his best playing himself, bumbling engagingly through the routines, looking to the audience for support and sympathy. Sometimes difficult to hear, too, what with the meerschaum, the microphone, and a delivery which recalls the late Sir Patrick Moore.

The setting is versatile and stylishthe moving staircase, the piano/reception desk, the Aga microwave. Yes, we actually see the three of them prepare and eat a meal. And in what other show could you see a man transformed into a hound, and then murder a Lionel Ritchie number as he stumbles down that impressive flight of stairs. Not to mention inflating a rubber glove on his head using only his nostrils. Worth the price of admission alone, I'd say

Next in the canon, in case you were wondering, Ha Ha Hood in 2014.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews