Monday, May 26, 2014


Greville Theatre Club
The Barn Theatre Little Easton

Mary Redman was at Table D in the Barn ...

Ronald Harwood is well known for his accurate portraits of life upon the wicked stage such as The Dresser. This affectionate picture of life in a genteel retirement home for geriatric professionals, though peppered with theatrical injokes that were new long before Noel Coward was a boy actor, is great fun for audience and cast alike. Sample black joke about “being the guest of honour at the crematorium”.
Against the background of a cosy but elegant set designed by Jan Ford and directed by Pam Hemming, four of Essex's most experienced thespians assembled for curtain up. All playing retired opera singers who had appeared on stage together years ago.
We were treated to not just an entertainment but a lesson in growing older. Either gracefully or disgracefully, depending on whether they still had most of their marbles or had lost a few over the years, plus how nimble their limbs had remained.
Ramrod straight and smartly besuited Mel Hastings's grumpy Reginald's prim and proper, pedantic and governed by rules person, bitterly resented his treatment by the care staff on whom he wasted his vitriolic anger.
His more urbane, sex maniac fellow inmate Wilfred was given a roistering performance by Michael Gray. He created plenty of laughs from the word go with his character's delight in his own jokes and with his lecherous leanings towards Jan Ford's delightfully dotty and simple Cissie. This was a beautifully restrained performance. Wilfred's lasciviousness now confined by age to verbal “attacks” only, but resembling in looks the modern comic actor Kris Marshall. It was very good to see Michael in a comedy role so hopefully this won't be his last swansong.
Into this settled situation came an intruder. Diana Bradley's oh-so-elegant Jean, once married to Reginald and horrified by the ravages of age. With her cool exterior she came trailing ex-husbands in her wake, including of course the resentful Reggie.
They were then asked to come out of retirement to appear at a concert which led to much twittering in the dovecot but was successfully resolved with hidden modern technology.
Sound by Steve Bradley was excellently timed especially when a Doppler effect was needed as a door opened and closed on a rehearsal. It was a pity that Richard Pickford's lighting was pooled so that as the cast stood up and moved around their faces went from light into shadow.

This was a thoroughly entertaining evening. Thank you Greville.

production photograph by Adrian Hoodless

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

Somewhere between Hair and Superstar there was Godspell, a free-love, feel-good take on St Matthew with some pretty good songs.

Matt Devitt's bold re-staging almost convinces that it's worth reviving. The playground is now a grungy concrete wilderness, skateboard ramp, wire fences and graffiti which includes some sneaky sacred imagery. Plus of course a keyboard and drum-kit for the actor/musicians who power the show. The clowns are now random performers, in hoodies for the opening, where the philosophers and thinkers [plus L Ron Hubbard] are googled, kicking off with an Essex-accented Socrates.
Musically the show sounds superb [the MD is Julian Littman], with a super-charged rock-rhythmic pulse for the noisy numbers, and, just as effective, simple guitar accompaniment for the more reflective moments, like The Willows, or By My Side, a survival from the original stateside student entertainment that started it all. Wisely, the crosstalk vaudeville All For The Best remains unrevised, and is brilliantly delivered. Only Turn Back O Man disappoints – superbly sung, but really needs a slinky chanteuse to make sense of the style.
The show is eager to please, with its naïve joy in the word of the Lord, but can seem predictable with each parable acted out with naïve enthusiasm, and one clap-along worship song after another. So Devitt skilfully keeps things fresh with constant clever touches: the hypocrites in a supermarket trolley, the water into wine, George Formby and his ukulele as Abraham, Alan Sugar as the rich man – nice to think he'll never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And, alongside all the cartoonish New Testament characters and the sketch-show acting, there are moments of real reflection. The prog-rock crucifixion, red ribbons against the wire fence, foreshadowed in the Baptist's washing of Christ's out-stretched arms, is followed by the simple sincerity of the Deposition. We are left with a more typically upbeat finale, of course, All You Need Is Love on the screens, the audience clapping along to the Megamix medley.
Wonderfully outgoing performances from these ten actor/musicians; Queen's newcomers Patrick Burbridge and Deborah Hewitt impress instrumentally, too, on guitar and violin. Sean Needham is a darkly powerful presence as Judas, and also John the Baptist in the opening sequence, in which Sam Korbacheh's Messiah is discovered wrapped in a blanket. His Jesus radiates intensity and love – a very charismatic figurehead for a cult.
The original Godspell struck a chord, on both sides of the Atlantic, with the generation who went to Sunday School in the 50s and to college in the revolutionary 60s. Does it have any resonance today, when the cynical Book of Mormon is our West End view of religion ? Or, even in this eager-to-please reworking, is it just a feel-good sequence of songs and sketches ?

production photograph by Nobby Clark

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Kytes Theatre Group
Brentwood Theatre

Mary Redman was in the audience for Orton ...

Joe Orton, an outsider from an early age, was the enfant terrible of British theatre in the 1960s. His chief delight was to upset the apple cart of the Establishment with his plays and his behaviour. In this play he chose the straitjacket form and rules of farce, plus his wicked humour backed by his deadly accurate observations of human nature in all its weakness. Thus blowing sky high the pretensions of the comfortable middle classes with their entrenched views of how society should behave, contrasting with the hopeless helplessness of the lower classes.
Set in a private psychiatric clinic, this gives Orton an opportunity to use madness to examine the madness of the world around him.
This production directed by Bob Thompson started relatively quietly with an innocent and very proper young lady arriving for an interview as potential secretary to Justin Cartledge's twitchy Dr Prentice. As his demands grew more and more ludicrous Laura Leigh Newton's eyes became more and more saucer-like. Her understanding of how to play this ingénue role was superb and she would have made a wonderful member of any early Carry On cast in the Barbara Windsor kind of role.
Intruding into this hothouse of masculine desire comes Nina Jarram's totally OTT Mrs Prentice, a flourishing, whisky-swilling nymphomaniac ready to chase anything in trousers. She's closely followed by the apparently innocent hotel pageboy of Jake Portsmouth who is used to living on his wits.
The recipe gets stirred up further with increasingly preposterous excuses and events. 
To add to the seasoning Alan Ablewhite's Dr Rance's seemingly calm approach hiding his rampant sexuality as the inspector from the government. The two doctors collude to declare the would-be secretary non compos mentis and pump her full of drugs.
The final touch is the arrival of Mark Griffiths's Sergeant Match, the perfect PC Plod.
How much views have changed in the years since this play was written is reflected in Conchita Wurst: a man appearing as a woman and singing in a woman's voice but complete with a bearded face won an international competition by a country mile. And what was once considered pornographic is now mainstream in various forms of media.
Farce does impose rules on both director and cast. You have to play it absolutely straight to get the maximum humour across to your audience. In this production the hysteria began too soon leaving the actors nowhere else to go. As the doyen of theatrical critics Michael Billington once commented on an earlier, professional production "...Orton's subversive wit gets buried under an avalanche..."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014



Shakespeare's Globe


A first look at the Globe's new Antony and Cleopatra.
Is this to be the season of the censer? Clouds of incense to mask the bloody excesses of Titus, and they're blowing again now in Ancient Egypt – two bronze bowls suspended from the heavens, with oriental carpets up there too.
A lively, noisy melting-pot dance before the show proper starts, so no jig at the end, though at the second preview there was a bouquet from the yard for Cleo, which doesn't happen very often in the Wooden O. The set, designed by Colin Richmond, hides the frons scenae behind a red wooden structure not unlike the NT's striking Shed just along the river. There's a splendid war-torn map of the region, too. The actors wear Jacobean costume, which is both original practice and meaningful: these politicians are as devious as those Tudor plotters in the RSC's Wolf Hall. Egypt does get some local colour, with a fetching riding outfit for the Queen as she goes to war.
Eve Best plays Cleopatra as a very English, no-nonsense woman, touch of hippy, touch of La Redgrave. Lots of flirting with the groundlings as well as with her eunuch [Obioma Ugoala], but some stunning stillness towards the end – Withered is the Garland of the War. And, in death, she sits upright in mummified majesty on her splendid winged throne.
Jolyon Coy and Clive Wood are the boy Caesar and the dying lion, with Phil Daniels a dry, intriguing Enobarbus, delivering his “barge” speech with relish and a hint of cynicism. Strong martial presence from Philip Correia's Pompey, abseiling down the red wooden wall.
Jonathan Munby's pacy production - “I will to Egypt” says Antony, and instantly it's all around him – does have some lazy moments [the Egyptian bacchanal an excuse for a hackneyed drinking scene] but much to enjoy: the flag fighting, the messenger scene, the aerial ballet, Cleopatra joining the line of sad captains, Antony walking past as Enobarbus calls on him as he dies.
Not nearly so much blood as in Titus of course, though those groundling bringing in hot dogs after the interval might have been disturbed by the sight of Jonathan Bonnici's soothsayer examining some very gory entrails ...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Benvenuto Cellini ENO production

English National Opera are keen to be inclusive, with musical theatre and a café promised for the future. Mike Leigh and a children's opera too.
We've already had Damon Albarn [back in 2012], and now, next month, we've got another Terry Gilliam to look forward to. Best remembered for his work on Monty Python, and for directing the visually stunning Brazil, Gilliam will be directing Berlioz's first opera, Benvenuto Cellini, with Ed Gardner in the pit. They first worked together on the same composer's Damnation of Faust – not really an opera, some might say – critically acclaimed in 2011.

We're promised stunning visual and musical set pieces such as the Mardi Gras carnival, the opera is based on the autobiography of celebrated 16th-century goldsmith and maverick sculptor Benvenuto Cellini. The ENO cast includes rising tenor Michael Spyres in the title role, soprano Corinne  Winters   as Cellini's lover, Teresa, and ENO favourite Willard White – whom I last saw as Britten's Bottom - as Pope Clement VII.

Monday, May 19, 2014


Made in Colchester at the Mercury Theatre

Sara Perks' splendid design instantly conjures up a grim world of postwar austerity, the grim industrial Nottingham where Sillitoe set his state-of-the-nation novel.
The steel girders frame sliding doors and screens; before the action, six silhouettes come to life in a clever pastiche of movie titles. The visuals say Sixties, the soundtrack, though, is a lively mix of genres – Lovin' You, Lightning Ball, Rhythm Stick ...
Amanda Whittington's adaptation, first seen in 2006, is punchy and fast-paced. The utility furniture is pushed swiftly around to create the pub or the shopfloor at Raleigh's, as well as more intimate, but no more joyful, domestic settings. The fluent staging is enormously enhanced by the presence of the “Community Chorus”, local volunteer background actors who people the factory and the Goose Fair.
Against this sombre backdrop struts the cock of the walk, a fifty-bob suit under his overalls, that seminal angry young man Arthur Seaton. A self-styled communist, amoral, male chauvinist, he rages against the system, but is always out for what he can get – more pay, more beer, more sex - always ego-centric: even when helping a paralytic Irishman he can't resist recalling his own misfortunes. But he's by no means shallow – one prophetic political rant has tremendous resonance sixty years on ...
He's given a mesmerising performance here by Patrick Knowles; supremely confident but immature and restless underneath it all. Hard to empathise with him – he often eschews naturalistic speech patterns, setting him apart from the other, more predictable characters – but impossible not to feel some sympathy when, after a final soliloquy he decides to try wedded bliss instead of domestic violence. The luckiest bastard in the world ?
The two married women he seduces – under the noses of their husbands – are Gina Isaac as Brenda and Hester Arden as her sister Winnie. The bright, bubbly girl who might just be Seaton's salvation is Elizabeth Twells' Doreen. Ian Kirkby gives a nicely touching performance as the cuckold workmate Jack, and Mercury favourite Tim Treslove puts in overtime as half a dozen others, included that hilarious drunken Mick and Robboe the Rate Checker.

Tony Casement's energetic direction is often surreal, using the doorways as lightboxes to frame a little scene, a few figures. The factory floor and the funfair, when the balloon bursts, are both beautifully done, with a balletic quality to the movement. And the sordid visit from Aunt Ada, terminating Brenda's pregnancy with a steaming, scalding bath and Mother's Ruin, is superbly staged: the red slip, the screen, and Arthur's anxious cigarette smouldering in the shadows.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Sunday, May 18, 2014



Trinity Methodist Drama at the Civic Theatre


A good old-fashioned musical given a good old-fashioned production by the Trinity team.
Eric Smart's polished production took us effortlessly from the Golden Garter to the Bijou dressing room to the cabin to the Colonel's ball. A big, bright chorus made the most of their numbers: the Black Hills of Dakota particularly effective, with capes and ringlets, wagons and lanterns making their way through the Civic stalls.
Some good principals, too. Especially successful at “carrying beyond the footlights” were David Slater [straight from the Steam Packet to Deadwood] in the Howard Keel role of Wild Bill Hickok, Charlotte Reid as Katie Brown, the mousy dresser who steps into the star's shoes [her first, hesitant, Keep It Under Your Hat was wonderfully awful], Patrick Willis's lively lieutenant and of course Corrina Wilson as Calam, a trigger-happy gamine with a gruff voice who finds her feminine side just in time to join Bill in belting out the show's Big Number.
It's show of two stages: the first coach, conjured up from an upright piano, a whip and a pair of parasols. And the second, real stagecoach wheeled on for the triple wedding – the third couple being the hapless Francis Fryer [Mark Clements] and Kate Harrison's Susan, whose uncle is Deadwood's hassled impresario [David Ehren].
The choreographer for this production was Julie Slater [impressive CanCan girls] and Gerald Hindes and his pit orchestra gave an excellent account of Sammy Fain's score.
production photography by Val Scott

Friday, May 16, 2014


Opera della Luna at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

The Venetian Initiative sees Opera della Luna, that iconoclastic, hugely entertaining pocket opera company, taking the Gilbert and Sullivan gospel into the community. In its most ambitious venture yet, with Arts Council funding, they are recruiting a team of young music-theatre performers for each venue, opening in Ipswich before moving up for a week in the Lowry, Salford.
They've chosen The Gondoliers, the last of the Savoy Opera successes, richly scored, with a clever blend of satire and Latin charm.
Perversely, perhaps because this is basically the production Jeff Clarke did for Buxton a couple of years ago, they've chosen to play it relatively straight. None of their usual spin, no googlies, little of their traditional invention born of necessity.
Money has been well spent. We are greeted with a familiar Venetian skyline, gondolas in front, lovely flown pieces of architectural detail, and a stage filled with those “roses white and roses red” which will spell out not only the names of favourite gondoliers, but, cheekily, AMORE, OMG and more. And for Act Two, after a protracted interval, a gloriously baroque Barataria, gilded mouldings and a magnificent throne, which swivels to reveal the Inquisitor's torture chamber for the dénouement.
The frocks are fabulous, too – the Duchess's generous gown, needing a divan all to itself, traditional garb for the nobs, but a more modern look for the contadine: flowery prints with matching galoshes [Venice being wet underfoot, presumably].
The opening sequence is splendid, with the gondoliers in sexy dark glasses given some impressively macho dance moves.
Elsewhere the inspiration is uneven: the jointly ruling monarchs – sharing the role and the regalia – were a tad dull in their “pleasures of a king” number, but the rhythmic boot blacking and spud bashing works wonderfully for Take A Pair Of Sparkling Eyes. Good use is made of freeze motion moments.
It is a great cast: Greg Castiglioni as Luiz, the rightful king, and Victoria Joyce in fine voice as his Casilda. Stephen Brown and Robert Gildon make likeable republican royalty, with Maria Jones and Lynsey Docherty strongly characterized as their feisty rustic wives.
Traditional G&S performances from Kristin Finnigan as an imposing Duchess [her big number a highlight] and Carl Sanderson as a very British hidalgo. Opera della Luna favourite Ian Belsey does not disappoint as Don Alhambra, the dialogue and the vocals richly relished, wearing the kind of character slap you don't see so often nowadays.
The locally sourced chorus fill the stage nicely, and are given dance routines and individual characters to work with.
Perhaps not “travelling with a full band”, but an excellent palm court pit ensemble, with director Jeff Clarke at the piano as usual.
On opening night there were one of two glitches and uncertainties, and the lighting was patchy. It's a big production for Opera della Luna, and will bed in nicely at the Lowry, I'm sure.
Musical theatre has an enthusiastic following amongst young people. Fuddy-duddy G&S less so. This laudable initiative aims to redress the balance. But I still can't help thinking that a less straightforward treatment, perhaps along the lines of their catwalk Mikado, might be a more accessible way into the Savoy canon.

photograph from the Buxton production

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court

Willy Russell's hit musical is often dubbed a melodrama. But it always seems to me a Merseyside Greek Tragedy, complete with fate, chorus and catharsis – even the supernatural and a [screen] goddess.
The piece originated as a small-scale Theatre in Education production, with just the one song. And in this version the drama, freed from those swelling melodies, is all the more vivid. Although in CTW's production, the show lyrics do survive, lending a poetic force to the narration especially.
Christine Davidson's handling of the drama is spectacularly successful. The characters are clearly sketched, and the pace carefully controlled. The setting, with its Liverpool skyline and, later, pastoral idyll, has a high window, and an arched “entry” - both telling features well used. The two worlds which the twins, once parted, inhabit are evoked by the simplest details. There is constantly clever comedy, much of it caused by those worlds colliding. And the inevitable tragic ending is frequently, and movingly, foreshadowed in games with guns and catapults.
A hard-working cast brings Russell's characters to life – there's a good deal of doubling, with Marilyn Monroe [stunning] also Donna-Marie, the daughter who takes after her mother, and the milkman knowingly explaining that he's now the gynaecologist.
Stuart Moore makes a compelling narrator, relishing the doom-laden verse in his dramatic downlight.
The two lads – not perhaps “as like each other as two new pins” - are brilliantly done by Mark Ellis as the poshie from the Park – stiff, naïve, with a braying laugh – and Chris Edwards outstanding as the scally from the other side of the tracks, in a tirelessly physical and totally convincing performance; his decline into depression is heartbreaking. They work superbly together, whether in exuberant play, or as awkward adolescents, or in their tearful farewell.
The two mothers are Andrea Dalton as the childless woman driven to desperation and madness – her initial delight and her growing paranoia are skilfully suggested - and Cat Bailey as Mrs Johnstone. A truly great performance, this, exploring the torn emotions of this victim of fate, circumstance and class, and giving an impeccable unaccompanied “Marilyn Monroe”, the one song from the original, unplugged Blood Brothers.
The tragic tale has tremendous impact in the intimacy of the Old Court – we are swept along by the story and the sure-footed staging, discovering anew the dramatic heart of this popular success.

Blood Brothers runs at the Old Court until May 24. Largely sold-out, but a few walk-ins available each night for those prepared to arrive early ...

production photograph: James Sabbarton

Wednesday, May 14, 2014



The College Players,
Brentwood Theatre


Mary Redman was the real critic ...

Hound is Tom Stoppard's black comedy that sends theatrical conventions and Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries absolutely sky high. Jokes with words and visual jokes are what he specialises in and completely succeeds in demolishing any scrap of dignity in his subjects. What we see is a play within a play as two theatrical critics take their seats for a run-of-the-mill potboiler they've written about a hundred times.
Following some pre-curtain toing and froing between our heroes Moon and Birdboot energetically and thoroughly played by James Wild and Darren Matthews June Fitzgerald's Mrs Drudge made her entrance on set. Idly dusting the same things over and over again June really came into her own later in the “play”. She's a fearless actor and always mesmerising to watch as when she filled the audience in with the back story.
Richard Spong was a lively cad Simon Gascoyne who also combined ham and bad acting in his pursuit of the money while Claire Hilder's squeaky-voiced ingénue, was the stilted actress as both heroine and tennis-mad jilted girlfriend Felicity. Lindsey Hollingsworth is another actor who can do no wrong. As Lady Cynthia, mistress of all she surveyed, she swept imperiously onstage in a clingy, siren-red 1930s' evening dress.
Harrumphing Major Magnus (Bob Brien) entered into the fun which included the sound effect of his ancient wheelchair bumping down the stairs on the opposite side to where he made his entrance.
As the Inspector Paul Hollingsworth was extremely good value for money. A walking disaster area sartorially he arrived in yellow oilskins with a matching safety helmet crowned with a flashing blue light and massive snows shoes for crossing the Essex swamps. When removed these revealed yet another clothing disaster of mismatched items echoing his mismatched brain cells.
The director Daryl Adcock and his cast did the play proud by entering fully into the mayhem as the critics got involved in a punch up onstage and two of the cast took their places in the “audience”.
Finally many congratulations to the brave Peter Farenden as the corpse who spent the entire production immobile and flat on the floor.

Thank you College Players for a very enjoyable evening.



Theatre at Baddow

Mary Redman was at the Parish Hall ...

In my eyes Neil Simon can do no wrong even if some of his plays are stronger than others. I love the wry yet forensic expert way in which he neatly skewers the all-too-human condition so that lines that get a laugh have a background of sad recognition. His way with dialogue is summed up with “If a mouse loves a maggot what's wrong with that?”
So to see this play of his that I hadn't seen before was a treat thanks to TAB/s production directed by Pauline Saddington. First of all the set. Once again a miniature masterpiece from the ever-reliable David Saddington whose motto is less is more. With a Paris restaurant of deep wine red velvet drapes contrasting with black and a minimally furnished set of dining table, chaise longue and sideboard with drinks and canapés, it worked. The double doors upstage centre allowed the cast to make an entrance as our eyes were drawn to them.
While acknowledging that it's a lot easier than attempting French or American accents I would disagree a bit with Pauline's decision to make the characters English. It is set in Paris and the characters all have French names.
One thing I did enjoy was the tinkling piano music beforehand which became Big Band later. Apparently the title of one number was Peace, Peace which is the last thing that emerges in this play. All the characters have previous connections in marriages or relationships brought together by a mysterious person who sets them there and leaves the mixture to brew.
First to arrive was Kenton Church's Claude sometimes conversational rather than projecting his words outwards. Followed by the theatrical treasure that is Bob Ryall playing Albert a car rental firm owner. An ordinary bloke, often ill-at-ease and clumsy in the upmarket surroundings, he sent his performance right through to the back row of the audience.
The final masculine character to arrive was Roger Saddington's sophisticated boutique owner Andre, a performance that pointed the comedy lines with aplomb.
Caroline Froy's Mariette was apparently in her late 50s but appeared much younger, her only drawback being a tendency to swallow lines.
Jean Speller's spiky ex-wife of Albert gave as good as she got in order to get her man back again. Helen Quigley as Gabrielle made an eyecatching entrance in a stunningly tight and clinging lipstick red frock and proceeded to sort out a few people in the second act.
I did begin to ponder why I felt a bit let down by lines that should have got laughs not doing so, plus flattened projection. This was the second night of the run, which is notorious for amateur groups lacking the energy of the first and last nights. Professionals know how to take this in their stride and up their energy levels accordingly.

In addition the stage at TAB is a tricky one for casts to project on because upstage above them is a void which voices can all too easily rise up into and stay there. One to look forward to is Dad's Army in the Autumn.

Sunday, May 11, 2014



The Queen’s TheatreHornchurch, is to present a new production of the divine smash hit musical – Godspell, from 16 May – 7 June.

This almighty celebration of friendship, loyalty and love is bursting with boundless energy and features a multi-talented cast – all members of cut to the chase…, the Queen’s professional resident company of actor-musicians. It’d be a sin to miss it!

From John and Judas to prophets and parables, Director Matt Devitt’s stylish urban-inspired production retells the timeless story of Jesus - as told in the Gospels - in a gloriously colourful way.

With music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz – the Grammy and Academy Award-winning composer ofWicked - Godspell’s wonderfully uplifting soundtrack is jam-packed with soul-stirring pop, folk and rock hits such as Light of the WorldPrepare YeDay by Day and many more. All music is played live on stage by the brilliant cut to the chase… company.

In a bid to inject more joy and energy into church congregations, creator John-Michael Tebelak originally wrote Godspell as part of a project in the drama department of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. Since opening off-Broadway in 1971, it has been performed in thousands of shows on Broadway and in the West End, becoming one of the most popular and enduring musicals in modern history.

The cast includes cut to the chase… company members Ellie Rose BoswellPatrick Burbridge,Georgina FieldDeborah Hewitt, Callum HughesSam KordbachehMegan Leigh MasonSean NeedhamSam Pay and Sarah Scowen.

Godspell is directed by Queen’s Theatre Associate Director Matt Devitt, with set and costume design byMark Walters, musical direction by Julian Littman, lighting design by Mark Dymock, sound design by Rick Clarke and choreography by Donna Berlin.

Godspell runs at the Queen’s TheatreBillet LaneHornchurch from 16 May – 7 June. Tickets cost £12.50 - £26.50. Call the Box Office on 01708 443333 or book online at

Friday, May 09, 2014



LODS at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff


Like Bach's Passions, this is an iconic musical work, long thought to be unstageable.
It's twenty years now since the Broadway run, and despite the many challenges, the album makes a satisfyingly dramatic stage show.
Mark Valencia's exciting, inventive production for LODS wisely lets the music speak – MD Ashton Moore heads a youthful stage band, fronted by two excellent guitarists. They're a constant presence, of course, but come to the fore in I'm Free, and in the Underture at the top of Act Two: a real rock concert moment, this, with banks of stage lights sprayed all over the Edwardian interior.
The stage boxes are cunningly used, too, in a Brechtian breach of the fourth wall.
The design is strong but simple – bold graphics and brilliant projection. Technology has now made this an effective weapon in the designer's arsenal, embraced by the Royal Ballet amongst many others. The WWII montage, parachutes behind Mrs Walker's pregnancy, the smashed mirror, the 3D animation for the arcade machine. Only the handheld videocam underwhelmed – a lot of cable for not much impact.
Stylistically the show is omnivorous. Was it the gold jacket that reminded me of Lloyd Webber, especially in the first Tommys duet. And a hint of Godspell in Welcome - “Come to this house ...” Musically too – the carol singers were pure Glass, I thought. And none the worse for that.
The narrative – more logical, less anarchic than the album – is clear and uncluttered. Simple mime scenes carry the story forward, at the beginning, in particular, where it's vital to know who's who and what's happening.
And the show is packed with bright ideas – Cousin Kevin cubed [three superbly physical performances], matched by a trio of Local Lasses. A floppy puppet [Gemma Crofts] for the older child, making Uncle Ernie's fiddling even more chilling. The three lads air-guitaring the big number the first time it's heard. The chorus holding flashing lights for the pinball bumpers. The sleepers awakened and looking up to the heavens in the finale. And a strange blue hood to represent Tommy's isolation from the world of the senses.
The older Tommy is an impressive Glenn Sanderson – active and introspective by turns, with a versatile singing voice. The sight of him twitching and trembling – part of the machine – makes a viscerally impactful ending to the first act.
Supported by a committed cast of characters – Sarah Kelleway touching as Tommy's mum, Helen Sharpe outstanding as the Acid Queen, Steve Wilding a shameless Uncle Ernie, and when I saw the show, Freddie Sharpe a confident little Tommy.
We are promised “gunfire and occasional swearing”. Not to mention catatonia, child abuse and a courtroom full of zombies. And yet this trailblazing rock opera from the Sixties somehow makes a musical to appeal to all generations, whilst still preserving Townshend's raw, passionate iconoclasm. And those timeless tunes …



Chichester Festival Theatre at the Minerva


A parlour forever Fifties. Antimacassars, whatnot, dog-eared sheet-music, reeds and moon-pennies [honesty] on the upright piano.
All aboard for a day in the suburbs!” - Palmers Green, to be precise, home to Peggy [Stevie] Smith and her dear Lion Aunt, brought to life on the stage in a seamless blend of memoir, poetry and dialogue by Hugh Whitemore.
Lovingly directed by Christopher Morahan, this is the kind of theatre Chichester does uniquely well. Not only Simon Higlett's evocative design, but the three pitch-perfect performances.
Zoe Wanamaker is the poet, neurotic and drily droll, awkward of posture, devoid of fashion sense, issue of an unsuitable marriage, lingering hopefully, smoking too much, escaping at the last moment from the drowned submarine of conformity, weeping in the bathtub. A funny, poignant performance, capturing the physique as well as the psychology of this lonely pocket Hercules.
Lynda Baron the Lion Aunt – a mane of grey wavy locks bringing a Yorkshirewoman's disdain of stuff and nonsense, eagerly anticipating her niece's approval of the Yorkshire brew, enjoying junket with brandy and cream, and at the last sleeping her life away in her favourite armchair, which her niece will briefly inhabit before leaving the suburbs, welcoming the Friend at the End of the World, penning her last poem as Life's railway train gives one last mournful whistle.
Every Man, watching from the parlour's shadows, quoting the odd verse, is Chris Larkin. He also plays the chaps in Stevie's life, most memorably the car-owning friend and literary critic. It is he who gives us her best-known work, Not Waving But Drowning, as she stands stock still, a vertical cigarette burning down like a votive candle.

Fourteen-year-old, why must you giggle and dote,
Fourteen-year-old, why are you such a goat?
I'm fourteen years old, that is the reason,
I giggle and dote in season.

The Conventionalist.



Arpana at Shakespeare's Globe


One of the hits of the 2012 Globe to Globe season, this unfussy feel-good adaptation returns for a brief run on the bloodied boards of Shakespeare's Globe.
Performed in Gujarati, it shifts the action from Renaissance France to India, 1905, using a popular theatre idiom to tell the basic tale, with plenty of music, song and dance.
Much of the subtlety and the irony is jettisoned with the language, but the salient plot points survive, in a broadly comedic production by Sunil Shanbag. Bertram becomes Bharatram, keen to succeed in business in Bombay – his production number evocation of the big city [with Parbat – Parolles – his chum] is one of many musical highlights. Heli [Shakespeare's Helen] persistently pursues him, curing an amusingly ailing King of France [now Gokuldas] on the way.
All very enjoyable, whether or not you're able to laugh along with the many jokes; a colourful celebration of Shakespeare on the subcontinent.