We've all been
there. Watching the little angels [and the little devils] as
innkeeper, shepherds, kings and the Holy Family.
So Tim Firth's
cutting comedy is onto a winner straightaway, as the plentiful laughs
proved on opening night.
It's not a
perfect stage play [it began life on television], and the adult
epilogue struggled to relight the fire, but some fine comedy
performances got under the skin of the reception-class thespians,
with their rivalries, insecurities and chaotic home lives. Often sung
to those familiar carol tunes, replacing the words they didn't quite
manage to learn.
credit every child [all played, Five-Go-Mad style, by grown-ups], but
Daniel Curley stood out as the malevolent innkeeper, Jean Speller as
the lisping Andrea, Frankincense her shibboleth, Laura Bennett as
bossy Virgin 1, with five stars on the “Who's Been Good?” chart,
Jodee Goodwin as her catty rival, playing Gabriel – the
Annunciation was superbly done – Liz Curley as a down-to-earth
shepherd with brilliant comedy timing. Not to mention Dirty Pedro,
and the special needs donkey, hilariously done by Chris Rogerson.
The set, with its
cereal packets and its giant chair to suggest the scale, was
convincing, as were the varied costumes. Class teacher Mrs Horrocks
never appears, but her tambourine spoke volumes …
The Flint Street Nativity was produced for Writtle Cards by Clare Williams, and
directed by Sharon Goodwin.
exactly an austerity panto, but this Dick Whittington is set in the
grey postwar world of the 1950s. Diego Pitarch's inspired design has
an illuminated Mansion House tube sign, and the tiled walls of the
London Underground. There's a red phone box stage right for Fairy
Bowbells, and manhole covers helpfully inscribed Foul Sewer London.
transformation from rat-infested underworld to gold-paved streets is
distinctly underwhelming, and only three characters have a costume
change for the walk-down.
no corners are cut in the performance; the ten actor-musicians give
their all in this, the 13th
rock'n'roll pantomime to hit the Wolsey stage.
never ceases to amaze – a dame at the drum-kit, a cat on the
trumpet, and full eight-piece backing band, plus vocals, for the big
solo numbers. All drawn from the same super-talented team of ten.
J Dean, a fresh-faced, winsome Dick, sporting a cheeky smile and the
obligatory spotted handkerchief, brings a very authentic rock'n'roll
style to the song and dance routines. His Alice is a very energetic
Nicola Hawkins; she has a wonderful way with the vocals, too, her
First Cut Is The Deepest a highlight amongst the 21 musical numbers.
saucepots !” - it's Sarah the Cook, a man-hungry dame very much in
the old-fashioned mould: funny walks, mildly suggestive, easily
outraged, besotted with Steve in row B. A superb performance from
Sean Kingsley, who has impressive West End credentials. The other
comedy star is Tim Bonser as Billy Bungalow, with just the right
blend of pathos, physicality and sheer silliness [bubble pipe,
favourite Shirley Darroch is back as the good fairy. She has a
down-to-earth Cockney delivery, and certainly knows how to sell a
song - “Turn, turn”, a clever choice, is excellently delivered.
Alsina makes a pompous Alderman, and Dan de Cruz, ducking and diving
as King Rat, leads an epidemic of rodents, including the Rat Pack of
Punks giving their Sex Pistols tribute. CiCi Howells, who'll play
Polly Peachum here next year, is a lovely, slinky Taffy the Cat.
playlist is eclectic: real 50s classics [Tutti Frutti] jostling with
Meatloaf, Mud and Bonnie Tyler. “Walking on Sunshine” works very
well, as does the high-octane encore “Tiger Feet”.
Rowe's script retains all the key elements of the traditional show –
some lovely rhyming couplets, too – but manages to bring
sophistication and freshness to it at the same time. Like the music,
not everything is retro – both Boris J and George O get a
name-check – and as Sarah points out, “it's not all about Dick!”.
there is an ominous sign that last year's gangnam might be this
a welcome sprinkling of the surreal – Derek the Fly, a few bars of
Cats, a tumbleweed moment – and the self-referential - “Seeing
stars ? Not in this panto, mate ...”. Even the sound effects –
often proudly flatulent – are the object of the Dame's frustrated
so many local jokes this year, but every reference to Dick's home
town is met with a proud cheer from the packed Ipswich audience,
welcoming back this uniquely enjoyable blend of panto and popular
better birthday celebration for Baron Britten of Aldeburgh than this
irreverent musical comedy by Suffolk writer Robin Brooks ?
flippant, catch-penny title, there's plenty of food for thought to be
savoured along with the birthday cake, mixed in with the silliness
and the cabaret songs.
alas, Ben's own cabaret songs, to Auden's verses, but workmanlike,
clever little numbers from Damian Evans: “At Home in Aldeburgh”,
“Pacifism” and the keynote quartet “Britten is Blessed”.
oeuvre, generally, is in short supply. In one final black comedy
moment, it's that Mahler Adagietto on the Lido that proves the final
straw for this “silly old heart”. The finale, though, has the
composer conducting his Young Person's Guide, coincidentally the
closing music for Bennett's Habit of Art, which covers some of the
same uneven ground.
imagined a compelling drama, a dreamscape of the Kafka kind, where
time flows in all directions and the shadow of a mysterious
“tribunal” hangs over Britten's head.
So there are
anachronistic pops at The Scallop, and a scathingly witty critique of
Grimes on the Beach.
Dirk Bogarde deckchair is not the only reference to Death in Venice.
There's a mysterious, and very versatile, Death figure, done with
some relish by Sam Dale. Like the baritone in the opera, he's a sort
of ferryman, and the barber who speaks of the sickness driving people
away, not from La Serenissima, but from Suffolk's “Notting Hill on
piece has a lovely central performance from Keith Hill as Britten. He
catches exactly the boyish enthusiasm, the innocent sense of fun, the
insecurities - “ping-pong and the piano: all done on the nerves”
- and the relentless pursuit of youthful beauty.
young Polish boy who embodies that beauty [excellently acted and sung
by Sam Bell, alternating the role with Theo Christie] shares several
key scenes with Ben – and in this play he does speak to the child –
ducks and drakes, fear of the storm, swimming in the chilly North
Sea, but not going in too deep, or too far …
apart, the characters are all drawn more or less directly from life:
Pears with his college scarf [Jonathan Hansler], Miss Hudson the
housekeeper [Hansler again], and Charles Mackerras with his salty
Australian gossip about “The Twilight of the Sods”. David
Hemmings is quoted but not named. Other characters are an amalgam –
the rejected librettist with his science-fiction opera and his
version of Mansfield Park, and the tragic Marcus, who hangs himself
before his wedding and comes back, in cricket whites, to haunt Ben
who's sleeping in the boy's old room at Mallards. One of the most
affecting aspects of the drama, this, beautifully played by Joseph
Reed as the boy grown too old, thrown over for a new tennis partner …
As he tells us, he speaks for all Britten's boys. Joy, his mother
[Gilian Cally] and Sir James his disapproving father, also represent
many members of the Aldeburgh society with its ambivalent attitudes.
brief mention for the programme, one of the cheapest and classiest in
recent memory, based on the Letts schoolboy diary that Ben famously
used well into his twenties.
everything works, not all the numbers are as sharply scored as they
might be. And it would help to be up to speed on Britten and all his
works. But the concept is great, and a clutch of fine performances
from the cast of six makes this a uniquely affectionate tribute to
this most famous son of Suffolk.
of Alan Ayckbourn's plays are a gold mine of opportunities for actors
and directors and this black comedy view of a "family"
Christmas is no exception. All the stresses and strains of people who
don't see each other from one year's end to the next, the catering
dilemmas, who should be kept well away from alcohol or in this case,
guns. Designer Alan Thorley came up with an impressive set with its floor
plan of two living rooms and a hall with a staircase leading off one
side and a kitchen on the other, plus massive Christmas
as it was this, however, led to one of the problems of this
particular production - the physical distance of the audience from
dialogue and action (of which there was plenty) in the hall
were plenty of laughs. Especially from William Wells's enraged and
outraged Howard's showpiece puppet theatre, Vernon Keeble-Watson's
thoroughly nasty piece of work Uncle Harvey and Kathy Smith's
outrageously drunken Phyllis. With them you knew the production was
in safe hands. The
production was, however, in footballing terms a game of two halves.
Some of the cast didn't realise that their distance from us at the
back of the set needed more voice projection and energy so that even
the front row missed lines. This contrasted with the maturer members
of the cast giving it their all in voice and characterisation, and
the contrast was obvious. Gary
Ball gave a nicely understated portrait of the writer guest Clive.
His delicate tiptoeing scene with Amy Clayton's frustrated spinster
was followed by a comic sex scene with her married sister Vikki
Pead's Belinda. Marjorie
Dunn was the director.
refreshing version of A Christmas Carol took the Little Baddow
Players back to basics, and stripped out much of the dross that has
accumulated on this classic over the years. With a simple, soaring
set – a trademark of the director – they were able to create
spectacular tableaux punctuating the action.
Scrooge revelled in his badness, though his conversion from “Bah
Humbug” to “Go buy a turkey” was a bit sudden. His nephew, Fred
(Paul Bonnici) was persuasive. Especially convincing was Steve
Holding, who speaks with his eyes, as the ‘umble Cratchit. Ken
Rolf, too, every inch the jovial Victorian gentleman, shone a new
light on the Fezziwig’s family dance sequence. And Jeff Green was
compelling enough as Marley’s ghost to put shivers down my spine.
The children were
at the heart of the production, Matthew Turner as Young Scrooge, Alex
Dale-Doczy as Oscar, Lily Beer as Cratchit’s daughter and,
especially, small, frail-looking Steven Turner, struggling manfully
with his crutch as Tiny Tim.
The play was shot
through with all the good nature of a well-organised village
production, in the Ambridge tradition (but a bit more convincing).
The costumes were superb, the ensemble work by the large, unwieldy
cast was totally in character and, joy of joys, an actual real, live,
violinist, Anton Archer, to squeeze the last dregs of melodrama out
of the production.
In the largest
event of the worldwide celebrations of Benjamin Britten's 100th
birthday, thousands of young people from Australia to the USA
performed his Friday Afternoons set of songs.
Cathedral hosted choirs from St Cedd's School and the Cathedral
Primary School, as well as its own choirs, under self-confessed
“Britten nut” James Davy, the Master of the Music.
Some of the songs
were performed by the choristers alone – they first performed them
back in May – such as Eleanor Farjeon's Jazz Man, or Cuckoo!,
beautifully phrased. For others, the three choirs joined as one –
There Was A Monkey, and A Tragic Story [the Thackeray trifle about
the sage and his pigtail].
School brought two songs celebrating Britten's love of nature, and St
Cedd's contributed a jazzy setting of Now Thank We All Our God by
Alexander L'Estrange, himself once a chorister …
style is set by the busy Runyonland prologue: gauze, Broadway neon,
and the complex choreography of the devil's own street, peopled by
tourists, showgirls, gangsters, molls, matrons and of course the
marching band of the Save A Soul Mission.
moving to Frank Loesser's classic score, played by a pit band of a
dozen giving the John Wilson sound a run for its money – the
conductor is Stuart Woolner, and the show's Musical Director Rachael
the vast arena of the Cliffs Pavilion, Suzanne Walters' production
takes a broad brush approach: lines are pointed, gags are semaphored,
numbers are belted, lest the back of the gallery should miss out.
it's a slick, professional-looking show, helped by great costumes
[though I've seen better kitchen showers] and a wonderful set [by
Proscenium] which flies and glides into place with well-oiled
precision. The streetscene, the mission hall, the sewers, the Hot Box
night-club, even Havana, are all effortlessly and stylishly magicked
successful at bringing charm and subtlety to his character is local
lad Mike Cater as Sky Masterson; he has a glorious singing voice too
[I'll Know, My Time of Day], and bags of charisma.
Cooper is his Sarah Brown, the mission doll who tastes forbidden
fruit and Bacardi as the result of a bet, and eventually brings her
Obadiah into the fold. She puts over her numbers with panache: If I
Were A Bell, and Marry the Man, duetting with Miss Adelaide, Laura
Hurrell outstanding in the much more rewarding role of cabaret
artiste, hypochondriac and perpetual fiancée.
man, Nathan Detroit is played by Les Cannon, and his fellow low-lifes
– evil-looking sinners to a man - are all excellently done, from
Ian Benson's Nicely Nicely to Ian Scoging's Harry the Horse with his
of opportunities seized in the cameo department too; Liz Green's
myopic Agatha, for instance, or Ian Gilbert's strong, silent [and
powerfully still] Big Jule. And Dick Davies makes the most of old man
Arvide's moment in the spotlight, with a beautifully sung More I
Cannot Wish You.
ensembles are spectacularly choreographed by Adam Gaskin, who also
plays Rusty Charlie. Luck Be A Lady, the impressive boat to heaven,
the bar-room brawl and the cheesy chorines from the Hot Box in their
of clever touches, too, like the blink-and-you-miss-them dreams of
have an enviable reputation for West-End quality musicals, witness
the coach-loads turning up for this well-attended matinée.
time out, we swap the Hot Boxers for the Cagelles, with a rare
amateur outing for Jerry Herman's La Cage Aux Folles.
and Maureen, mother and daughter, living a life of mutual loathing in
remotest Connemara. A bleak backwater, brilliantly conjured up by
Juliet Shillingford's realistic set: holy images, green gloss paint
and rain streaming down the panes of the casement.
is the tab curtain, too, a drenching downpour twice leaving the
comic at times, uncomfortably harrowing at others, the piece, from
1996, is carefully constructed, and though some of the plotting is
predictable, the final dark dénouement is memorably powerful. Most
impressive, perhaps, apart from these two sharply drawn characters,
is the way McDonagh catches the rhythms and the idioms of the
language, the repetitions and the Donegal dialect achieving an almost
Moran gives an amazing performance as Maureen, the beauty queen of
the title, totally believable as the victim of her circumstances, her
character disclosing more of its dark, dangerous depths with each new
revelation. Flirting with her last chance of love, staring
unflinchingly into her hand mirror, dreaming of a whore's life,
brazenly trying to embarrass Mags. Nora Connolly is the mother,
manipulative, pathetic, and a victim in her turn. Beautifully
observed, both in the geriatric minutiae of Complan and urinary
infections, and in the vile vindictiveness towards her long-suffering
brothers visit the house. Ray, impatient and edgy, [Andrew Macklin]
and the older Pato [Stephen Hogan], who's the only person here who
makes any attempt to be nice: a charmer, who offers Maureen a chance
of happiness and escape. His letter monologue was a masterpiece of
of course we guess that Maureen will never read these outpourings,
much less walk off with him into a Boston sunset. Though we could
never imagine the brutal truth, made all the more striking by symbols
like the suitcase, the swing-ball and the poker which is not to be
sold. And the tinny transistor, tragically too late with its Delia
Kerryson's direction is done with the lightest of touches; these
characters are richly enough written to speak for themselves, and
this fine quartet of Irish actors are wonderfully adept at bringing
an era and a culture to life.
is the third McDonagh piece Kerryson has done in Leicester, and the
second Mercury/Curve collaboration this year; a success to match that
of the Hired Man. It's a fruitful arrangement which is surely the way
forward for our regional producing houses.
Productions at the Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford
forgotten the power of candlelight to chill and to enchant.
simple, potent device is exploited by R M Lloyd Parry, whose one-man
storytelling shows recreate the King's Cambridge room where M R James
[to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance] first told his classic
stories of the supernatural.
simple staging, most of it in deep, eerie shadow, allows us to
concentrate on the words; each story sounds fresh and spontaneous, as
if we had been invited to listen to it for the first time of telling.
Ash Tree is a creepy tale of witches and revenge, which takes place
around the Suffolk country house of Castringham Hall. Lloyd Parry,
candlelight glistening on his spectacles, economically suggests
glimpsing the creature, finding the corpse, opening the coffin. And
the counter-tenor and lute – Black Is The Colour – is an inspired
choice of music to set the mood.
second story, also set in East Anglia, is the more famous Whistle and
I'll Come to You, a more subtle, far scarier affair altogether, with
golf and archaeology on the Suffolk coast as a background to the
tour-de-force of the story-teller's
art, and I'd certainly travel to hear him again, perhaps in a
suitably spooky setting. Hemingford
Grey, maybe, or Suffolk's Otley Hall, or the Leper Chapel in
monumental Sea Symphony is almost a cantata. The choir, like the
ocean itself, is an ever-present force of nature, enriching the
The text – from
Whitman's Leaves of Grass – is sublime, of course, but rarely heard
in its entirety. And that was certainly the case for the Waltham
Singers performance, when both the impressive choral forces and the
two excellent soloists were often no match for the orchestra. The
Salomon Orchestra was in fine form, with brass, strings and
percussion effectively painting the seascape.
The choir did
have their more traditional moments – the unaccompanied “Greater
than the Stars or Sun”, or the breathtaking opening to The
firm direction ensured a memorably eloquent, vivid reading: the
brooding On the Beach at Night Alone, the dramatic end to the
hymn-like The Waves, and the meticulously judged, and deeply moving
envoi, “further sail ...”
Our soloists were
baritone Andrew Rupp, who impressed especially in the second Sea
Drift sequence, and soprano Katherine Crompton, wrapped in a black
fur coat in the chilly cathedral, rising thrillingly above the marine
soundscape in “all brave captains”, for instance.
works began the programme: Brahms Variation on a Theme by Haydn, with
a fine cantabile in the Grazioso, and a solemn, triumphant Andante
finale. And, appropriately, Mendelssohn's Calm Sea and a Prosperous
Voyage, the delicate string texture of still waters giving way to
wind-powered forward movement, and a safe arrival heralded by a
Young Gen have
been dying to do Joseph for years, and now their dream has come true,
with a fresh young cast selling out their five-show run at the Civic
indestructible show, and over the years [I'm the same age as Lord
Lloyd-Webber] I've enjoyed seeing the show grow from a simple cantata
to the big bold spectacular it is today, happily discovering each new
number as it was added to the score: the cowboys, the café, the
They're all there
in this version of course, together with some impressive extended
The cast includes
dozens of youngsters, and some of the youngest are the chorus whom we
meet first as schoolkids exploring Egypt with their pretty young
teacher [Kathryn Peacock], who has a rainbow rucksack, and a dream of
her own …
They're there, in
nightwear, clutching candles, with Joseph in his cell, they get to
reprise Any Dream, and they're back again, in coloured teeshirts, for
the happy ending.
production is full of inventive touches: the coloured banners,
Potiphar [James Bantock] and his toffs, plus the predatory Mrs P [Eve
French], the Benjamin limbo for the Calypso, the flower-power
psychedelic Act One finale, the vast coat of many colours as a final
flourish. The French scene, and the cod Calypso, both excellently
done; only One More Angel seems lacking in pastiche style, making the
energetic hoe-down less effective than it might be.
Very much an
ensemble show, with the brothers [and their womenfolk] working well
together in the big numbers. But I was particularly impressed with
Jack Toland's Simeon in Canaan Days, and with Jayden Booroff's Joseph
– a warm stage presence and superbly realised renditions of the two
keynote numbers. [MD Bryan Cass.]
A real treat to
see Young Gen bring their trademark enthusiasm and discipline to this
iconic show at last. Their unflagging Duracell energy is sustained
right through the megamix finale, when, on opening night, the packed
auditorium rose in tribute to the brothers, wives, dancers, choir,
King, camel and ensemble packed onto the monumental ancient Egyptian
Music inspired by
the natural world made for a pleasing programme from the Stondon
Singers, conducted by Christopher Tinker.
from Haydn's Creation, linked by readings and including a robust
Heavens Are Telling and a precisely delivered Achieved is the
Glorious Work, provided a contrast with the pastel, pastoral tone of
many of these settings. As did the playful Ballad of Green Broom, the
last of Britten's Five Flower Songs.
Among the most
enjoyable offerings were Elgar's gentle Torrents in Summer, William
Hawley's evocative setting of Emily Dickinson's My River Runs to
Thee, and the closing number, Stanford's much-loved Blue Bird, with
Annabel Malton's pure soprano soaring above the nave.
This is a chamber
choir, and they excel in the delicate madrigals, like Wilbye's
miniature Flora Gave Me Fairest Flowers. But they also rose to the
challenge of the Haydn, Tinker's own Memento Mori, and Eric
Whitacre's unaccompanied Water Night, with its intense, richly
the Singers' accompanist, contributed a fine Bach Prelude and Fugue
on the venerable St Laurence organ.
A far cry from
Malcolm Arnold to Andrew Lloyd Webber, from Lancashire to Louisiana,
where religion and innocence were both very different. But this
intimate staging of Whistle Down the Wind did capture the essence of
the original tale, even if we couldn't share the children's faith
that their Jesus would survive the apocalyptic Christmas Bonfire.
The simple timber
staging suggested barn and homestead, bold lighting took us to the
tunnel and the revivalist meeting, bare feet and a fishing line
effortlessly evoked the creek. The Southern drawl proved a problem;
not for the first time it was the children – veterans of The Sound
of Music - who mastered it best: Charlotte Golden's Brat, Matthew
Scott's Poor Baby, and Katy Forkings' superb Swallow. Brilliantly
cast, her slight frame so vulnerable against the bulk of The Man, her
pure voice with a hint of the warm timbre of maturity.
brought honesty and huge presence to the convict Christ, struggling
with his parables and his conscience; Colin Shoard gave a moving
portrait of the single parent caught between his children's naivety
and the lynch mob in the village.
performances too from Aaron Crowe as Amos, Bethan Anderson as his
Candy, and Ross Rogers as Edward, leading the cast in Cold, one of
the better numbers in a patchy score. The old Lloyd Webber magic is
still there, though not always well served by lacklustre lyrics.
The staging made
the most of the space – the people gathering for worship at the
start, the children's offerings and the adults' offensive weapons
tellingly juxtaposed for the Act One finale. But when The Man was
“lying low” he was invisible to most of the audience, and it was
distracting to have the screens and the bike manhandled behind the
Whistle Down The
Wind was directed by Andrew Shepherd with Fiona Lipscomb, the
choreographer was Olivia Gooding, and the MD, up above the action
with his excellent band, was Ian Myers.
Singers celebrated Britten's 100th – and the feast of St
Cecilia – with a concert which paired him up with Henry Purcell,
his great predecessor and artistic influence. Thou knowest, Lord, the
secrets of our hearts, written for the funeral of Queen Mary, made an
atmospheric opening to the second half, sung unaccompanied behind the
audience at the west end of the darkened church.
A Jubilate from
each man – Britten's with an intricate organ part [Laurence
Lyndon-Jones], Purcell's with some excellent solos from within the
choir, including Gavin Oddy's authentic alto.
And two Britten
Hymns – the Hymn to St Cecilia, words by W H Auden: “appear and
inspire”, and the Hymn to the Virgin, the choir divided east and
continuo with Lyndon-Jones was cellist Alastair Morgan, who also
gave, from memory, a stylish performance of Britten's first cello
suite; not easy listening, and a huge technical and interpretative
challenge for the performer. Morgan brought out the colourful heart
of the music, especially in the dreamy Lento and the dramatic
programme, sung with confident conviction under Christine Gwynn,
concluded with the Choral Dances from Gloriana, an opera written
sixty years ago for the Coronation.
Shaffer's delightful double bill was a huge hit on both sides of the
Atlantic back in 1962.
back in the days of Ascot water heaters and coffee bars, in a
theatrical landscape before the National and the kitchen sink, when
revue was fashionable, and it was not unusual to enjoy two, or more,
short plays in one evening.
Whatley's revival, the first in 50 years, captures the style
The Public Eye, Bob lives alone in a dingy bedsit, opera posters on
the wall, a curtained alcove for a wardrobe. He's geeky, shy and he
comes from Warrington. But he's met this girl at a concert, and
invited her back for supper. To help him with the Mateus Rosé and
the [tinned] mushroom soup he's roped in Ted from the import/export
office where they work.
as different as biscuits and cheese. Ted is cocksure, laddish,
blessed with the gift of the gab. Could be Naughton's Alfie, or
Orton's Mr Sloane. So it's no surprise that when Doreen turns up in
her fake fur, she's more taken with the helpmate than the host, who
does himself no favours by pumping Peter Grimes over the Wharfedales.
the Behemoth stereo has another track up its LP sleeve, and the power
of Puccini almost succeeds in seducing the pair of them, as she waits
coyly on the bed and he sits stroking the ocelot.
sequence is especially well done, a potent mix of the tender and the
Hill gives a bravura, amoral Ted, and Siobhan O'Kelly is excellent as
the awkward guest – body language the most eloquent here.
meal itself, a stylised fast-forward fantasy, is another highlight,
with Stephen Blakely's Bob left a gooseberry at his own feast. His
character is superbly observed; we can see that he desperately wants
to break free from his anorak cocoon, but in the end his courage
fails him, he tacitly concedes defeat to Ted, and, heart-rendingly,
gouges a scratch across Madama Butterfly.
encouraged to see links between the two pieces, and, in a wonderfully
choreographed brown-overalled ballet, the scene is changed after the
interval, before our eyes – and Blakely's – as his lonely room
becomes a swish accountancy practice, and, by means of a moustache, a
mac and a pork-pie hat, he is reborn as a private detective.
The Public Eye it's Julian's cross-talk with stuffy old accountant
Charles [superb work from Jasper Britton] which provides the comedy
gold, though it's the relationship between Charles and his young wife
– very much a child of the 60s and another stylish characterization
from O'Kelly – which is at the heart of the drama.
a free spirit, he's jealous, and it's up to Julian to heal their
marriage with a cunning plan.
has much to say about unhappiness, frustration and fidelity, but it's
the beautifully judged masterclasses in farce that make these
bitter-sweet period pieces such an enjoyable trip back to Shaftesbury
Avenue in the Sixties.
Hamlet our hero ? What, like Henry V ? Or more like Macbeth ?
and Mick Foster's uncluttered, dynamic production for Chelmsford
Theatre Workshop encourages us to re-evaluate our take on the Prince
of Denmark, though prior knowledge of the play, or the vast body of
criticism it has attracted, is certainly not essential.
clean, monochrome set, its three doors echoing the Renaissance stage
which first saw this tragedy acted, some super costumes, and a clutch
of fine Shakespearean performances make
for a satisfying evening with the Bard.
Taylor is the eponymous hero [or not]. A bearded , brooding figure,
he has certainly “lost all [his] mirth”. He speaks the speeches
with a natural, spontaneous delivery which still respects the verse.
The soliloquies, very much an innovation back in 1601,
are done in the round, drawing us in to Hamlet's troubled mind. This
is an aggressive, angry man, unfeeling towards others, notably his
mother [Beth Crozier, in a strong performance] and poor Ophelia,
especially in a finely judged “nunnery” scene.
is played, with stylish subtlety, by Sarah Bell. She has a bawdy
song, an impressive mad scene. She's listening, a smile playing on
her lips, to Polonius's interminable advice to Laertes [Robin Mahr,
physically and vocally secure], and she's lurking, with her prayer
book, throughout To Be Or Not To Be.
a generally strong supporting company, promising first CTW outings for Tom Ford
as Rosencrantz, Simon Burrell as a smooth-talking Claudius, and
Christian Search as an elegant Horatio.
Crozier is the angry Hamlet Senior; Robin Winder the phlegmatic,
acting area, though it must have been very difficult to light, is
effectively used, with many striking stage pictures: the grouping of
the players, with R & G, just one example.
a definitive Hamlet – how could it be – and the first and last
lines are amongst the many cuts. But a thoughtful interpretation,
thankfully free of gimmicks and director's ego.
Laura Bennett reviewed the show for Chelmsford Weekly News;
A considered character exploration opens the CTW programme, written by co-directors Lynne and Mick Foster, analysing Hamlet's place as a literary "hero". Should we be taken in by his intelligent and profound speeches, or see past them to the terrible actions we witness him perform? An interesting take, and one that cleverly opens the way for thought-provoking direction to engage those with prior experience of this epic work, but does not clutter or confuse the story for those approaching the play for the first time.
Barry Taylor's young Prince Hamlet is given a melancholy characterisation, exploring the directors' interpretation with a particularly nasty portrayal, especially in his chilling treatment of both Ophelia and Gertrude. In a supporting ensemble cast of mixed experience there are some standout performances. Beth Crozier gives a compellingly regal interpretation of Gertrude with particularly impassioned reactions to Ophelia's tragic demise. Her new husband Claudius is played by Simon Burrell with conviction and although his posture could be more majestic his delivery is clear and engaging. Sarah Bell's Ophelia is very gentle, quietly done her descent is all the more intense for its calmness and a pin can be heard drop during her singing scene. A strong couple of cameos too by Jim Crozier as the ghostly old Hamlet, and Robin Winder as the garrulous gravedigger.
A fluent and accessible version performed smoothly with moments of quiet intensity. The hand of the directors can be felt throughout, generating interest for audiences both familiar and new to one of Shakespeare's most famous and influential plays.
The first of this
season's Civic Concerts welcomed back the City of London Sinfonia, in
a timely celebration of British music, with a special focus on
Benjamin Britten, whose centenary we celebrate this month.
conductor, Michael Collins, premièred Britten's Clarinet Concerto
[realised by Colin Matthews] some sixteen years ago, and it was a
real privilege to hear him play the mysterious elegiac slow movement
in a new arrangement for small string orchestra by Joseph Phibbs.
The evening began
with Britten's arrangement of a Purcell Chacony, and ended with a
dramatic interpretation of the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings
from the Scots tenor Thomas Walker and horn player Stephen Stirling.
the piece with which he won the BBC Young Musician Competition back
in '78, the Finzi Concerto: a lyrical reading of the clarinet part,
contrasted with some forceful string playing.
The Sinfonia, led
by David Juritz, were on sparkling form – I don't think I've ever
heard the Holst St Paul's Suite played with such verve and evident
enjoyment, from the muscular jig to the folk fiddle freedom of the
the dingy basement office of Fernsby Market Research bursts its MD,
just off the PanAm from the US, full of new ideas and stateside
brand new musical comedy is set firmly in the 1960s, the design, the
language, the pre-permissive society, bath buns and bathing costumes.
The show itself seems almost like a throwback to that innocent era,
its creators happily acknowledging the influence of the legendary
Boulting Brothers. It's gentle satire, genially poking fun at lazy
staff and gullible clients.
a strong, hard-working ensemble of musical theatre and comedy stars
do their best to breathe life into this unlikely saga of generic
brands and product relaunches. Campbell's Lotion, used by generations
as a cure for everything from diarrhoea to torpor, is to be rebranded
as Gemini ...
Edwards is the lanky, awkward Fernsby, crisp comic timing and laconic
delivery squeezing every last laugh from the script. His mousy
secretary, loyally carrying a torch for her hapless boss, is played
by Mel Giedroyc, in a big-hearted, lovable performance. David
Mounfield clearly enjoys his two caricatures – the Scottish
snake-oil mogul with a dark secret, and a florid, pedantic MP, both
given a lovely patter song.
Ghent and Benjamin Stratton are kept busy playing all the rest,
including brown-overalled stage-hands who manhandle the lamppost, the
office and the public bar in a triumph of scene shifting.
the musical stage, we welcome Daniel Boys, who also gets two
characters – Fernsby's other employee, frantically faking
questionnaires in the Waggon and Horses, and Abramovitz, the hippy
creative brought in for the relaunch. The excellent Julie Atherton is
Campbell's unlikely American bride, entrusted with some of the best
numbers – her seductive Thinly-Veiled Metaphor is one of the
highlights of the score.
onstage musicians are wonderful, recreating the jazzy sounds of the
sixties from their onstage bandstand – Tom Kelly is the Musical
the inspiration is inconsistent. Not every number reaches the same
sublime heights of ridiculousness as Airport Carousel; the paean of
praise to the good old British pub, for example, is a huge
disappointment. But the score is serviceable, with a good deal of
enjoyable pastiche, and it's all delivered with commendable flair and
Perks' design is superb – the street and the office beneath, the
pub, the truck for the band, even a Scottish baronial bedroom – and
Daniel Buckroyd's direction is deft and pacy, skilfully recreating
the comedy style we enjoyed before Carry On coarseness crept in.
crazy plot comes home to roost with Mr Fernsby's new American ideas
brought to bear on the political world, with a New Jerusalem of focus
groups and consumer surveys. So that's who's to blame ...