Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch

A jazz trio in the foyer, and in the road outside, a stunning collection of vintage automobiles to prepare us for the drama within.

In those golden Twenties before the crash and the depression, Jay Gatsby and his charmed circle live out the decadent hedonistic dream in his waterside mansion.

Cut to the Chase are no slouches when it comes to twentieth century classics, and this is a seriously stylish production of what might seem a rather superficial adaptation of a complex many-layered masterpiece. The novel relies on the onlooker/narrator Nick Carraway, sensitively played here by Callum Hughes, and it is through his eyes that we see much of the tragedy unfold. And it is he who reads Scott Fitzgerald's handwritten envoi at the end.

Simon Jessop is a familiar face at the Queen's, but this is his first show as director, and he has certainly seized the opportunity with both hands.

In a bold meta-theatrical prologue, he shows us an empty rehearsal space, bare bricks off-white-washed, fire hose, doors, chairs and staircase all in the same hue. The company wander in, bearing musical instruments and doughnuts, eight characters in search of a read-through.
Introductions over, the “director” gives them a pep talk, demanding of them “conviction and high style”. And boy, do they deliver. Two characters step into the central circle, and the scripts are discarded as we move seamlessly onto that “slender, riotous island”.
Jessop's vision is never realistic, and rarely glamorous. This is Gatsby as Arthur Miller might have told it, drilling down to the raw, deformed emotions at the heart of the piece. The staging is striking: the silent fireworks, the Old Metropole, the lighthouse duologue, the death of Myrtle, Daisy's letter monologue, the “strange enchanted boy” martyred in his swimming pool. The first meeting of Gatsby and Daisy is superbly choreographed as a quartet. There is a see-through cupboard under the stairs for the bedroom scene and the Metropole-dancing.
There is much music, but no production numbers. Instead these actor/musicians provide underscoring, quick cues and snatches of song. Boulevard of Broken Dreams, What Is This Thing Called Love, but also, very effectively, unexpected arrangements of All Saints and Justin Timberlake.
Sam Kordbacheh is an elegant, statuesque Gatsby, enigmatic and unemotional, save for the powerful moment when he loses his temper with Sean Needham's racist asshole Tom Buchanan. Georgina Field gives a wonderfully inebriated Myrtle; Sam Pay is incredibly moving as her wronged husband. The shallow, self-absorbed Daisy is beautifully portrayed by Ellie Rose Boswell, and Alison Thea-Skot is the emancipated golfer Jordan Baker. A great character turn from Stuart Organ as the ageing mobster Meyer Wolfsheim, with his cuff buttons made of human molars.

The lighting is atmospheric; back projection and film are sparingly but tellingly used. And, at the end, silent movie credits not only for the actor/musicians but for every member of this amazing Queen's Theatre company.

production photograph: Nobby Clark

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews


RSC Open Stages Project - Artisans Drama Society at Brentwood Theatre

Mary Redman was in the audience ...

Artisans' Designer and Director Nicola Stacey has a long and distinguished record of re-imagining classic plays such as this rarely produced or academically studied late Shakespearean romance, Cymbeline.
Yet once again audiences were not disappointed with her comic silent film, highly melodramatic approach. Even if, in the interval, many of them were studying foyer cast photographs to try and work out who was who and which gender they were. An apparent shortage of male actors led to some confusing casting but all was well that ended well since there was no deficiency of comedy and laughs.
Despite a three-page,small-print summary of the plot in the programme it was easy to get led up a garden path (probably ending in the renowned yet rather unlikely Shakespearean romantic trysting place of Milford Haven).
The basic story is Snow White complete with wicked stepmother and her camp son, plus a vanished royal daughter combined with the misadventures of lost or banished sons of the king. Basically Shakespeare was doing a John Godber or Ray Cooney by reusing and churning up previous successful plays.
The prequel to the play was done as a silent film to fill in the background to the play. Plus all through the production MD Darren Matthews gave us a marvellous piano solo accompaniment to match the action.
Barry Howlett looked sufficiently regal as a King Cymbeline rather more than somewhat prone to displays of temper. His gleefully wicked Queen played by Shealagh White with great relish and beautiful clarity of speech. (She later reappeared very successfully as an extremely Welsh Soothsayer). Almost glued to his mother's side when he wasn't attempting rather unsuccessfully to be a naughty villain, was Gary Catlin's hilariously camp and OTT son Cloten.
The lovers in the shape of Neil Gray's not-what-you-would-expect-from-a-hero Posthumus partnered by Romy Brooks the delightfully lively, lovely young thing as Imogen. Together or apart they went through numerous trials and tribulations to get their morganatic marriage recognised.
The faithful servant Pisanio was played strongly by a dragged-up Emily Catlin complete with false moustache and beard matched in stage masculinity by Wendi Sheard's brave Roman Captain. Tim Tilbury was an extremely nasty villain Iachimo who got booed by the audience and his just deserts in the end.
There was a very strong supporting cast and things looked very good thanks to Chris Wilkes's lighting and the director's choice to go for minimalist staging. This made choreographed use of the human arch “supports” and a grey flannel “cave” responding to people going in and out.

The colourful costumes were extremely effective. Apparently it took Nicola hours on the internet gathering them all together, the only thing lacking being corsets. One of the many wonders of this show was the hilariously choreographed stroboscopic battle between locals and invading Romans.  

Monday, April 14, 2014


Royal Ballet at Covent Garden

The many thousands who enjoyed Joby Talbot's Alice in Wonderland score will instantly recognise the musical idiom here. Accessible, heavy on tuned percussion, but, understandably,  less jolly and more obviously minimalist than in the earlier piece. The huge forces are conducted by David Briskin.

This ambitious narrative ballet reunites that Alice team to excellent effect.
Bob Crowley's design includes monumental columns, and the shadows they cast, landscape paintings as backdrops, and, in Act Two, a wonderful tree, dripping with golden ornaments, where we discover Florizel languishing faun-like in its roots. There is projection, too, with ships and storms, and a bear on a billowing silken sheet. A gangplank, a tall narrow staircase, which Mamilius [nimbly danced by Joe Parker] and his teddybear descend as he watches his mother's beautifully crafted solo. There are lifelike statues, too, preparing us for the climax, in which, movingly, Leontes, overjoyed by Hermione's awakening, reaches out to the figure of the boy Mamilius, forlornly hoping for a further miracle ...
Christopher Wheeldon's choreography is eloquent and often poignant – Sarah Lamb's Perdita is given some lovely flowing movements. And the [?over-] extended rustic dances in Bohemia are most enjoyable, pastoral but not pastel – the autumn colours have a Balkan feel. And the narrative arc is clearly and simply delineated.

It's not a simple task to deliver the poetry of Shakespeare's original in dance form. Edward Watson's Leontes, tortured by jealous doubts, is an impressively expressive performance, and Lauren Cuthbertson's Hermione is touching and physically convincing. Steven McRae is typically athletic and outgoing as young Florizel, but with some touching moments with Perdita. And Zenaida Yenowsky is a marvellous Paulina, a strong pivotal figure in the story's unfolding.

A new, full-length narrative ballet, bringing 21st century energy and freshness to Shakespeare's classic tale.

Thursday, April 10, 2014



Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court


debbie tucker green [no caps for her] is a Jamaican-British playwright. Her “dirty butterfly” is an exploration of domestic violence, overheard by neighbours.
It's a strong concept, tautly written.
Jacob Burtenshaw, in his directorial début for CTW, assisted by Amanda Craddock, has ditched the South London language patterns of the original, inserted an interval and two silent prologues, adding a good half hour to the running time. He has also given it a realistic set [more suited to Ayckbourn], and reunited the two neighbour witnesses to the abuse in one bedroom.
His three actors – we never see, or hear, the unnamed abuser – give honest, emotional performances. Caroline Wright [Jo, the victim] cowers miserably, and is a strong presence in the second scene, where she drags herself to the café where Amelia [Swapna Uddin] is a cleaner. Amelia has little sympathy for Jo, identifying more than once with her abuser, caring more about the blood on the floor than about the dying girl. At least until they exchange names over the table for two … but it is too late, the play is over. James Howes is Jason, the voyeur whose glass is pressed against the party wall, enjoying his disgust. An almost confessional scene of tenderness closes the first part.
The form is often narrative inner monologue. The style of this production, with its depressive intonation and deliberate pace, made it hard to identify with any of these people – their soliloquies kept firmly to themselves. Much of the impetus and the impact is lost with the idiom.
But, not for the first time, CTW has unearthed an interesting piece of new writing from the fringe, undoubtedly a thought-provoking and uncompromising look at voyeurism, power and guilt.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014



Chelmsford Young Generation at the Civic Theatre


A retro feel to the styling and the staging: the austere brickwork of the school hall at Rydell High forms the backdrop to the whole story – the sleek Greased Lighting glides in through the double doors.
Costume and hair are also pleasingly redolent of those distant 50s.
Jeremy Tustin's production has some lovely touches: the grease monkey chorus, the baby-doll beauticians. The Prom Night duet is tellingly staged, and Doody [Charlie Toland] is given a backing trio and a gold jacket for his big number. And the huge cast – including some Junior High School kids – fills the wide stage in splendid Todd-AO. Lively dancing, with plenty of those tasteless and vulgar movements, and perhaps not enough of the inventiveness that brings a witty hint of Busby Berkeley to Beauty School Dropout.
Natasha Newton makes a convincingly “wholesome and pure” Sandy, with Henri de Lausun as her devoted Danny. A whole string of excellent performances in support, including audience favourite Jack Toland as goofball Eugene, Alice Catchpole as the omnivorous Jan, Monique Crisell as Frenchy and especially Tamara Anderson as the mature and cynical Rizzo. Her handling of Worse Things I Could Do is exemplary – insightful and crystal clear. Because in this show the words are always important, carrying the satire and the social comment behind the nostalgia and the dancing.

production photograph: Barrie White-Miller

Tuesday, April 08, 2014



I Fagiolini at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Following the acclaimed L'Ormindo, a hugely entertaining two hours from I Fagiolini.
All based round the madrigal comedy of 1623 by Banchieri: a sequence of short scenes following the passengers as they escape Venice for a break in Padua. Wonderfully characterized by the five singers, and considerably enhanced by the English introductions by Timothy Knapman – who knew there were so many rhymes for Venezia … - delivered in a cod Italian accent from the Fagiolini's director Robert Hollingworth.

Somewhat straighter, excerpts from Monteverdi's Sixth Book of Madrigals, four hundred years old this year, and a limpid solo reading of the same composer's Si Dolce è il tormento, by countertenor William Purefoy, no stranger to New Globe Walk.

Theorbo solos, too from Paula Chateauneuf, who joined Hollingworth's harpsichord for the continuos.

An amuse-bouche from Gesualdo, and to end, a novelty number from the Scherzi Musicali of Giulio-Cesare Monteverdi, Claudio's lesser known younger brother, entitled Mentre Lavo I Vetri. Unbelievable.


Shakespeare's Globe Young Players at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

How talented were they, those “Children of the Chapel Royal” who gave the first performance of Marston's play, and whose indoor performances rivalled the Globe in popularity ?
We shall never know for sure, of course, though my guess would be that they were confident, charming performers, with the strong singing voices that went with the day job.
So this experiment, in the wonderfully varied SWP opening season, is particularly valuable. And often impressively entertaining, too.

We meet the 21st century troupe – all aged between 12 and 16, but not all boys – dressed in simple black and white, lounging around the acting area. Then a beautifully sung prologue before the fast-moving plot gets underway.
The lines are, for the most part, clearly spoken. The two protagonists, Altofronte, disguised with an eye patch as Malevole, and the ambitious Mendoza, have an authentic mastery of the lines. We know that some of the original “little eyasses” specialised in women, or old men, and here we have an ancient duke, and a superb character creation in Maquerelle [“an old panderess”] - picture of a woman, and substance of a beast”.
And Passarello, the Fool, is engagingly played by one of the older girls.
Not all of the youngsters have the charisma to fill this space – working in the near-darkness of this candle-lit stage does not help, nor do the often-imperfect sight-lines. But the stronger performances, the silly plot, the jokes and the frequent singing hold us for the full two hours. And it is a privilege to hear, as the Jacobean cognoscenti did, all the wit, wisdom and wickedness from such innocent lips.
There is a Masque at the end, and an energetic jig, followed by that stadium roar that greets the curtain call at all the best Globe productions.

Monday, April 07, 2014


EasyTheatres at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford

The ghost of good old variety haunts this successful touring show. Tease not sleaze is their watchword, so while there are jiggling bottoms and whirling tassels galore, plus a little mild innuendo, there's nothing to frighten the horses, or indeed to justify the 18+ rating.
The auditorium is packed with punters, mostly in groups, bringing their boas and their booze to the party. Encouraged to whoop, whistle and heckle, they are certainly not disappointed.
Our Mistress of Ceremonies is Tempest Rose, soldiering on with a sprained ankle, but full of breathless giggly enthusiasm as she expertly warms up her audience. She has a winning way with a standard, too, giving us Don't Tell Mama to open and a nod to Nirvana at the top of Act Two. And she does a brilliantly hilarious job of humiliating her victims in the stalls, not least the four strapping men coaxed up to help her with a dance routine.
More “Cabaret” from the show's star, Amber Topaz, something of a legend in the recherché world of burlesque revival. This sassy Rotherham lass, “Yorkshire Tease” her bill matter, performs a memorable tribute to Jessica Rabbit, complete with red dress, suspender belt and her very own battery-operated bunny …
It's the show-girls who define burlesque, and this tour features the four Folly Mixtures. As well as their ensemble pieces, including bumps and grinds in glimmering gold, and the glitter-dust Diamonds finale, they have solo spots of traditional burlesque specialities – the fan dance [Liberty Sweet], the balloon number [Ella Boo], the hula hoops [Storm Hooper] – and the “neo-burlesque” with Ooh La Lou as a welder.
Two lads complete the company. Very much in the spirit of variety, we enjoy Edd Muir's mastery of the Chinese pole [for some reason he's dressed as a hard-hatted builder, but finds acrobatics very hot work...]. And Christian Lee does his cruise-ship comedy magic routine, assisted by Ruth from the audience. Very polished work, this, finely judged throwaway lines, and surreal fun with a leaf-blower and a huge yellow balloon.
Despite the Paris backcloth, and the two Berlin numbers, this is very British burlesque, and a picky critic might regret the lack of any live musicians, and a certain sameness about the choreography. But the packed crowd of birthday boys and hen groups loved every cheeky moment – even stage manager Zoe as she deftly cleared the stage of discarded nylons and lingerie.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews


Mr Bugg and the New Wolsey Theatre, at the New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich

A nurse from the North Country longs to be on the burlesque stage. Her ambition is fostered by three men in wartime London – a black-marketeer Mr Fixit, a war-hero toff and a Polish Jew in exile.

Matthew Bugg's labour of love began its life here in Ipswich last year. Now, after a national tour, substantial rewrites and cast changes it's back at the Wolsey before taking to the road once more.

The setting for this intimate tale is simple but evocative – footlights, a bed and a baby grand , with the tiny stage of The Night Light at the back. One of the many members' clubs, deep underground in the dark, which kept Londoners entertained through the Blitz; “We Aim To Tease” its motto. Clandestine meetings in the blackout for The Enemy Within – homosexuals at risk of blackmail or jail.

These worlds are powerfully evoked in the opening minutes. One of the many strengths of this piece is the bond between the musical numbers and the messy lives of those involved. It helps, of course, that the company of six are all actor-musicians. So the emotional ties between Miss Nightingale herself and her composer/pianist and her impresario are repeatedly represented by their saxes and her muted trumpet. Art mirrors life on this cabaret stage - “I Don't Care” - and, most effectively, the Bluebird song, expressing her distress at the loss of her soldier brother Harry. And it's Harry at the piano, played by Bugg himself. A heart-stopping moment.

The casting is very strong. Harry Waller is outstanding as George, the refugee who longs to bring a little bit of his [1930s] Berlin over here to Blighty, torn between his singer and his lover. Jill Cardo is the forces sweetheart – more Gracie than Vera – who puts over the numbers with style and heart. Her invocation of Noel Coward, gorgeously dressed, one of many highlights of the burlesque act; the fallen Blue Angel, the sausage-starved housewife, the riveter ...

Tobias Oliver is an uncomplaining dogsbody. Tomm Coles is Sir Frank, who seeks Maggie's hand in a lavender marriage, and Adam Langstaff is her amoral first love, Tom, who threatens to ruin everything by blackmailing Frank over his affair with George.

Despite the tightening and the rewrites, there is still a good deal of expositional dialogue, with the themes and the history sometimes getting in the way of the characters. And one confrontation seems to be conducted entirely in clichés – it's never a good sign when you can anticipate the rejoinders before they're spoken.

But the music more than compensates for any dramatic shortcomings. Traditional love songs - “Mister Nightingale” - the clever trio “Could It Be”, the key changes in “Someone Else's Song”, the feel-good flash-forward ENSA finale, and, best of all, the a cappella tap-dancing “Stand Up And Be Counted”. This, of course, is pure pastiche, and these ersatz saucy wartime hits are superbly done, from the double-entendre come-on of “Let Me Play On Your Pipe” to the priceless “Sausage Song”.

Miss Nightingale is a touching, thought-provoking reminder of a lost world: light entertainment and illicit love in those dark days of the 1940s.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews



Opera della Luna at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford

The Mikado was always a fashion statement. All things Japanese were the rage in 1880s London, and Liberty's, no less, dressed the original production at the Savoy.

So absolutely appropriate that Gilbert's tale of the cheap tailor turned executioner should start in a sweat-shop, complete with treadle sewing machines, and feature gorgeous frocks, designed by Gabriella Csanyi-Wills. Katisha's Act Two creation, Yum-Yum's gowns and Koko's Gaultier-inspired kilt especially eye-catching. The sets, too, are stylish to a fault, with shadowy topiary figures for the Act II garden.

Jeff Clarke's witty and inventive re-imagining includes countless enjoyable details, as does the choreography of Jenny Arnold, who has also directed this revival. The opening sextet, the “schoolgirl photoshoot” - very Japanese, this – the tocsin Madrigal, the exhausting encores of the gardening trio, the tap-dancing finale to Act One, all come up fresh and funny.

Opera della Luna's Seven Savoyard Samurai do excellent work with their characters – John Griffiths is the Northern shop steward Pish-Tush, as well as a lugubrious Mikado, with his crime and punishment ditty updated to include graffiti artists, HS2, Jeremy Kyle and [un-named] Wynne Evans, whose skills would probably fit well into this company, if WNO could only spare him … Koko's lost lists now include the SNP as well as the aromatherapists. He's played by Richard Gauntlett, rather as Joe Pasquale might tackle the role, if he had the voice. Physically very funny, with lots of adlibs [“wake me up before you Koko ...”], designer costumes including that kilt, but a playing a mercifully straight bat for Tit Willow. Martin George - “born sneering” is an imposing Pooh-Bah, changing hats and robes to emphasise his multiple functions. The three little girls include Celena Bridge's beautifully sung Yum-Yum, Nichola Jolley's Pitti-Sing, and Louise Crane, sole survivor of OdL's first Mikado tour in 1998, as a lively Peep-Po and a formidable, elegant Katisha.
Sullivan's music is made over, too, with a clever reduction which features some amusing oriental percussion, but there are excellent straight vocal performances here, notably from a dashing Christopher Diffey as Nanki-Poo. And Katisha's two serious solos are beautifully crafted by Crane.

Opera della Luna's next G&S tour is to be The Gondoliers, opening in May.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Sunday, April 06, 2014


S.O.D.S. at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff

That bijou club in St Tropez is proud to present its 15th production – more feathers, sequins and drag queens than the far right could shake a stick at.
SODS, on another coast, can boast a much longer heritage: La Cage Aux Folles is their 219th production, and their history predates even this charming Edwardian theatre. They're back here after a period in the less atmospheric Cliffs Pavilion, and this ambitious choice is a fine way to welcome back their loyal audience.
It's a huge challenge for any non-professional company. SODS have gone for an equal-opportunities troupe of show-”girls”, four boys and five girls make up the nine Cagelles. It's a high-risk strategy, of course. Will the lads end up looking like Dick Emery against the glamorous young ladies ? Any such doubts are soon dispelled in the routines for the opening “We Are What We Are”, and the troupe are never less than impressive, whether in the statuesque stillness of the Act One finale or the colourful, incredibly athletic, Can-Can.
Lovely character work, too, notably from Suzanne Walters as Mme Dindon and Ian Gilbert milking every moment as the stage-struck butler/bonne Jacob.
The couple at the heart of this touchingly old-fashioned story of love, loyalty, family and sharing are Georges and Albin, twenty years a couple and thrown into disarray by their son, young Jean-Michel, announcing his engagement to the daughter of the bigoted Deputé Dindon [Dick Davies, who gets his own moment in drag at the end].
Declan Wright makes an excellent job of the boy, with his romantic song and dance of the old school; Hannah Dunlop is his delightful young Anne.
SODS stalwart Les Cannon is a wonderful Georges, tired and cynical sometimes, but proud of his club, his partner and his son. His handling of the sentimental songs is faultless; a strong anchor at the centre of this whirlwind world of burlesque and farce.
But most of the weight of expectation here falls on the shoulders of Mark Evans-Leigh, playing Albin, George's other half and, as Zaza, the established star turn at La Cage. Evans-Leigh is too young for the role, making something of a cradle-snatcher of poor Georges, but he does bring a superb sense of style to the showpiece numbers, as well as to the more introspective Mascara and the iconic anthem that ends Act One with him rushing out into the St Tropez street. A compelling characterization, combining boyish charm, innocence, bling and vulnerability.
David Street's polished production uses a large cast – the red-blooded chorus number for “Uncle Al” for example – and gets the most out of his dancing girls. The Dishes number was well sung, but lacked farcical fluency. But I admired the swift scene change to Chez Jacqueline, and the poignant moment after the walk-down when the gorgeous gowns go back in the skip, revealing the actor beneath.
Costumes on show here, I understand, from the original Palladium production, when Dennis Quilley played Georges.

Rachael Plunkett is the musical director, with Stuart Woolner conducting in the pit, and a sound mix [Rob Gulston] of West End quality.


Chelmsford Singers at the Cathedral

An impressive reading of this mighty work, in the version with piano accompaniment, which Brahms made for an early London performance.
The four hands on this occasion belonged to Tim Carey and Martin Sanders-Hewett, no strangers to our County Town.
James Davey's firm direction brought out the light and shade of the scoring, especially in the familiar fourth movement and in the sombre final section, ending on a movingly muted note.
The clarity achieved in this small-scale version was immediately obvious in the opening Selig Sind, with powerful entries from the choir. The solemn processional which follows was particularly well shaped, with the sunshine breaking through towards the end.
The soloists were baritone Michael Pearce, excellent in the sixth movement, before the dramatic contribution of the choir, and a wonderful soprano in Cecilia Osmond – her voice was strong but unforced, and her approach to the text was warm and sympathetic.
With its complex and constantly shifting dynamics, and an unusually substantial role for the chorus, this is a challenging work for any choir; the Chelmsford Singers responded magnificently, in a performance of stylish assurance.

Friday, April 04, 2014



National Theatre in the Olivier

Spoilers have been kept to a minimum; this piece refers to the second preview of the production.

This is one of Ayckbourn's most cutting comedies. First staged here in 1987, it was widely seen then as an allegory of Thatcherite values. It has lost none of its bite – a quarter of a century on sleaze, greed, corruption and the breakdown of morality are just as prevalent in our “all in it together” society.

The family firm that the playwright imagines are all in it for what they can get out of it. All except Jack, a man of principle, who takes over from his ailing father-in-law at the helm of Ayres and Graces, makers of fine furniture and fitted kitchens.

As the drama unfolds, each member of his family is revealed as, more or less, morally bankrupt, though surrounded by status symbols and conspicuous consumption. Starting with stroppy teenager Sammy, whose shoplifting starts it all, revealed when a sleazy, creepy inspector calls ...

Tim Hatley's suburban façade is clearly not a real house – something from a child's book, or an artist's impression: too regular, too cleanly detailed. The same holds true for the interior, its well-appointed rooms doing duty for all the family houses. That's about as far as the dramatic trickery goes here; some simultaneous scenes in Act II. Time passes, and there are great clouds blowing. There's a serving hatch, of course, and an overdone hotpot, though, inevitably, it takes time for the olfactory evidence to reach the back of the circle.

Director Adam Penford gives us some wonderful set pieces, some fine farcical moments, including the excruciating opening scene, and there are strong performances all round. Ayckbourn is unrivalled as a writer of truly awful characters, and they are brought to very believable life here, though, perhaps with the passage of time, many of them seem a little like stock stereotypes.

Nigel Lindsay is Jack, who rallies his troops with talk of trust, but is drawn slowly but surely into the web of bribes and “business deals”. Good work too from Gawn Grainger, no less, as the increasingly confused paterfamilias. Alice Sykes as Samantha, Stephen Beckett as the odious Cliff and Neal Barry as Des, “more than half nancy” who spends all his time in the kitchen and dreams of running a restaurant on Minorca.
Benedict Hough, the “eminently corruptible” private investigator, is brilliantly brought to life by Matthew Cottle. His voice, his body language make him a loathsome figure, but very funny too. I shall long remember him prowling ominously round the empty rooms.

Ayckbourn writes superbly for his women, and here we have eating disorders [Amy Marston's Harriet] and “strictly amateur” S&M escort Anita [Niky Wardly], Alice Sykes's Samantha. And central to the intrigue, Jack's wife Poppy, perceptively played by Debra Gillett.

Constant reminders of the eighties, when mobile phones and CD players, very desirable novelties, were big and bulky, “bloody” was the teenage epithet of choice, and LCD watches were state of the art.

The denouement, involving a cramped Porsche, seems a little contrived, and the final tableau, though undeniably powerful, is sadly predictable.

Nonetheless, a carefully crafted, very enjoyable revival of a classic comedy of manners, as a much a moral tale for our times as it was in the days of the Big Bang and the Great Gambon.

Production photograph: Johan Persson

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


Latchingdon Arts and Drama Society
The Tractor Shed Theatre

Mary Redman was at The Tractor Shed:

Well at least we didn't have to go up to London to see a revival of Noel Coward's comedy which he dashed off with great speed in the dark days of the Second World War. Just out into the backwoods of the Essex Marshes.
Swing music provided on record by either Victor Sylvester or a near relation set the period scene as the curtain went up on Alan Elkins's luxurious set with its comfortable, overstuffed furniture, radiogram, plentiful ornaments, paintings and a grandmother clock permanently stopped at ten past four.
In an age when additional alcohol preferably in the form of a cocktail was the cure for anything that ailed you, adoring and over speedy maid Edith was played by Michelle Kuta. Ann-Marie Stephens as Ruth second wife of widower Charles Condomine attempted to restrain her enthusiasm. This Ruth was apparently of the correct social class and reserved where Charles' first wife Elvira had been mischievous and less inhibited according to the script. It was unfortunate that Ann-Marie wasn't rock steady on her lines. By contrast Carole Hart's Elvira was impish, vindictive and thoroughly naughty with clear delivery of her lines.  
An elegant Dan Tunbridge had the appropriately relaxed and bemused manner for Charles a writer researching ESP by inviting outlandish medium Madame Arcati to dine with them and Robin Warnes in dignified mode as local Doctor Bradman and Pam Burton as his giggly wife.
Nor did we need the services of an ageing Angela Lansbury reimported from America to play the actress-friendly role of Madame Arcati because Cathy Hallam tackled the role head on from her first entrance and was clearly having a whale of time in the process. Clad in exotic silken robes impossible to describe, she strode around the stage with her voice swooping here, hovering there and booming when excited. Which frequently happened.
One of the drawbacks to Alan Elkins' (assisted by Arthur Barton) production was the underprojection by most of the cast which was not helped by a very slow delivery that meant Coward's many witty lines didn't make the impact they should have done. I know the script well and even then couldn't make out what was being said especially when the action moved upstage to the sofa. 
Lighting was by Sean Sullivan and Matt Refell and while the front of the stage was well lit it appeared that the lighting had been set while people were sitting down. There were great pools of grey making facial expressions difficult to read.
Costumes of the 1940s by Aimee Hart were somewhat let down by small but vital details with the maid having deliberate strands of hair hanging down her face while wearing footless tights and Mrs Bradman's 21st Century loose updo which ought to have been a tight chignon. And a proudly 1970s' coffee set with large cups made its appearance after dinner.
Graham Farrell's sound included the cuckoo calling through the open window and Always on the radiogram.
As is usual with this play Stage Management were in their element at the end with pictures, ornaments and all manner of things flying about as a manifestation of Elvira, Ruth and the Maid's anger. Even the stopped clock fell apart.

LADS' Founder Director Peter Jones continues to make good progress in hospital and should be home soon.

[pictured: the cast in rehearsal]