Sunday, June 29, 2014


Tomorrow's Talent at the Civic Theatre

Can it really be ten years since Tomorrow's Talent took those first steps down the path that would lead them to revolutionize performance opportunities for young people ?
West End Story was their anniversary show, celebrating past successes, with the help of returning alumni, and showcasing the fantastically gifted performers in their ranks.
Busy eye-catching choreography, professional production values, seamless segues and some forgiveable fond reminiscences made for a stunning couple of hours' entertainment.
From Chicago – an inventively staged All That Jazz – through drama – five lads on the lash and five ladies on the town, impersonated by the same five Bouncers; Wonka and Britney deconstructed in the Chatroom – classic choral work – Rhythm of Life with commendably crisp diction – and pure choreography – Move That Body – to Michael Jackson, and Mamma Mia, a mirrorball megamix finale put over with cheeky style and endless energy.
Even Shakespeare – Bart Lambert on Hamlet's sterile promontory.
A well-drilled but characterful ensemble - Our House a prime example – and so many outstanding soloists, including William Keeler with Ryan Lay in Billy Elliott, Isobelle Molloy in Matilda, Ollie Fox in Miss Saigon, and an incredibly mature performance by Chester Lawrence in Miss Saigon.
West End Story was directed and choreographed by Emma Tapley and ETT Principal Gavin Wilkinson, with Mark Sellar the Musical Director.
A nostalgic evening, to be sure, but one which left us in no doubt that musical theatre, locally and nationally, has a brilliant future.

pictured: Gavin Wilkinson with the guest artists, alumni returning to the TT fold


Writtle Cards in the Village Hall

The season is immaterial.” A Wilde guess at the literary influence on Fry's English version of this French farce from the 50s. Oscar's hand in the crumbling butler [a splendid Boot Baines] and the caustic Aunt [Margaret Rutherford, once, now Liz Curley in her antique bath-chair – shades of Aunt Sedilia, Lady Dundown - “I can walk, it's just I'm so rich I don't need to...”
Anouilh's “charade with music” is given a rich revival by Writtle Cards. Daniel Curley's production, set in the Roaring Twenties, boasts gorgeous frock and a catchy score [pace Poulenc]: ragtime, tango and a classy Anything Goes finale.
Some stylish performances, too, not least Curly himself as Messerschmann, the tycoon who sees the light and shreds his fortune. An elegant Diana from Michele Moody, a charming young butterfly [Isabelle, Brigitte Bardot's role] from Laura Bradley, with Angie Gee as her gushing mother. Twin brothers Hugo and Frederic are played with relish by Neil Smith – a challenging role, assumed with assured versatility. Not everyone is as secure with their words, but there is a standout character turn from Paulette Harris as Capulet the companion – a constantly delightful, physically resourceful performance.

Fireworks, a catfight, sophisticated wit and broad comedy – a recipe for a fine evening of boulevard theatre.

and for Sardines

Not scene-stealing, exactly, but some splendidly eye-catching work from the supporting actors in this lovely revival of Jean Anouilh's social comedy.
In Daniel Curley's stylish production, we begin and end with the imposing presence of Joshua, the crumbling butler, splendidly embodied by Boot Baines, who has the manservant's fruity tones to a tee. He's taken a tape measure to the chairs in the orangerie, proprieties must be observed, but his efforts are thwarted by the invasion of jazz music and bright young things, the château’s weekend guests.
Music and movement play a key role in this piece: the ending, before Baines is left alone with his thoughts and his chairs, is a wonderful full-cast production number, a karaoke Anything Goes. Another musical highlight was the piano duet, mime and memories, from those other eye-catching characters, Paulette Harris's faded companion and Angie Gee's pushy, garrulous mother. I was only sorry that there was no outing for that catchy little number from 1931, performed by Al Bowlly amongst others, There's A Ring Around The Moon …
As a director, one cannot guarantee that everyone in the cast will be able to convince as a French socialite between the wars. What you can do, and Curley does triumphantly well here, is overlay the action with stylish touches, inspired ideas. The dancing servants, the Jealousy tango, the frozen groups of onlookers.
The costumes, too [Jan Irving] are superb, worth the seven quid ticket price alone. Isabelle, the innocent lower-middle-class dancer [protégée of Geoff Hadley's hapless lepidopterist] who's at the heart of the intrigue, played with an easy charm and palpable presence by Laura Bradley, is dressed on her first entrance in plain dove grey, with a simple rope of pearls: a stunning effect, but easily topped by the designer gown she's given to wear for her part in the web of deception …
The eligible identical twins are confidently done by Neil Smith, switching from devilish rake to lost dog with a change of boutonnière and wire-rimmed specs. He manages to give us two distinct characterizations, though I suspect more can be achieved with sleight of hand, lighting and body doubles. Good work too from Michele Moody as his fiancée, Liz Curley as the formidable aunt, bathchair-bound until the song-and-dance finale, and Louise Burtenshaw as Lady India, secretly in love with Patrice [Alex Houlton]. And of course Mr Curley himself, making the most of the melancholy millionaire who has a wonderful scene turning his back on Mammon and heading off to Krakow.
Despite a numbingly long first half – originally a three-acter, this – Writtle, and producer Nick Caton, are to be congratulated on a deliciously entertaining piece of period froth.

Friday, June 27, 2014


Shakespeare's Globe

A first look at Dominic Dromgoole's new Caesar. You won't find a rowdier production – the Lupercalia is in full swing here, with street entertainers noisily working the piazza, and the citizenry in full cry in the yard.
All credit to the company – which includes some familiar Globe faces – for changing the mood from raucous to rapt in an instant.
This is what used to be called “original practices”, with costumes which the first audience on Bankside [1599] would recognise. Plenty of Roman touches, though, especially in the armies. The “pulpit” perhaps the one idea that looks wrong, though I can see why you wouldn't want to do all that from the balcony in front of the musicians' gallery. [Claire van Kampen's music is intriguingly exotic.]
Resourceful doubling from the cast; Will Mannering on fine form as Metellus Cimber and the unfortunate Cinna the Poet, George Irving [spoiler alert] has a slyly significant second coming, and plays a mafia boss of a Caesar, whose bloody demise [the effect enhanced by a rain-dampened forestage] provides plenty of gore for the eager hands of the young conspirators. Tom McKay as Brutus, Joe Jameson as Octavius, and Luke Thompson as Mark Anthony – excellent at rage, less successful in subtlety.
A lively, energetic look at the sharp end of political power.

Monday, June 23, 2014


Brentwood Arts Festival 2014

An impressively ambitious programme of events in Brentwood this July to celebrate the arts and commemorate outbreak of the First World War.

Orchestral performances, art exhibitions, plays, yarn-bombing and much more is promised. Organised by the Brentwood Arts Council, the eight-day festivities run from July 5 to 12, bringing together a host of artistic groups from across the borough.

At Ingatestone Hall, there's A Midsummer Night's Dream in the open air and the Stondon Singers, who bring William Byrd back to his Catholic roots.

In the wonderful space of Brentwood Cathedral, we have Elgar And The Great War to open the Festival on July 5, and Karl Jenkins'  The Armed Man, A Mass for Peace, to close it on July 12. 

More information, and online booking, on the Festival website

and you can find them on twitter, too


The Unremarkable Death Of Marilyn Monroe
Friday 27 June 8.00pm
Cramphorn Theatre

Dyad Productions, the company that brought to the Cramphorn Studio stage Female Gothic, I, Elizabeth, The Diaries of Adam and Eve and Austen’s Women returns with The Remarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe on Friday 27 June.

August 2nd, 1962… Monroe as we’ve never seen her before: alone in her bedroom in a dressing gown and underwear; no glitz, no glamour, no masks. Overdosed on pills, the woman behind the icon unravels her remarkable life and travels back through the memories of her closest relationships. Repeatedly stalked by a mysterious caller, the Hollywood icon tells all (Joe DiMaggio, Clark Gable, Arthur Miller, her mother – it’s all here), revealing a biting intelligence and an imperfect body, and leads us in real time to the very moment of her death.

Previous works, Austen’s Women and I, Elizabeth were five-star successes at Edinburgh and Adelaide in 2009/2010 and 2010/2011, with The Diaries of Adam and Eve and Female Gothic garnering five-star reviews at Edinburgh 2011 and 2012, respectively. 

The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe is written and directed by Elton Townend Jones (writer/performer: The Diaries of Adam and Eve, script editor: Female Gothic, writer: Cutting the Cord for Flying Eye), performed by Lizzie Wort (Animal Farm – Guy Masterson/TTI; The Magician’s Daughter – RSC/Little Angel Theatre) and produced by Rebecca Vaughan (writer/performer: Austen’s Women, I, Elizabeth, Female Gothic, performer: The Diaries of Adam and Eve).

Peter Lawford, Bobby Kennedy, Clarke Gable, Liz Taylor, Lawrence Olivier, Joan Crawford, plus several other actors from Hollywood’s supposed golden era get cited with varying degrees of warmth & coolness. Marilyn’s commentary on the behind the scenes goings on is delivered with equal measure of sharp humour and misery. Marilyn’s marriages to Arthur Miller, Joe DiMaggio, Jim Dougherty, their very different set-ups and her role within them play a crucial part in this unique entertainment.

Tickets are £14.50 and concessions £13.00. To book tickets visit or call the Box Office on 01245 606505. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Charles Court Opera at the King's Head Theatre

Through the crowded Victorian bar at the King's Head – World Cup misery on the big screens – to another, secret bar out the back . Dartboard on the wall, Adnam's on tap, totally lifelike [all credit to production designer Simon Bejer]. Only the adverts for ghoulish cocktails and poetry readings give a hint of pleasures to come, as Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience is dusted off and updated, tweaked and tactfully trimmed.
John Savournin's brilliantly bold concept takes Castle Bunthorne and rebadges it as The Castle, the village local where the eponymous Patience is the barmaid. The lovesick – sorry, melancholic – maidens are impeccably dressed a la Goth, as they sit on bar stools, knock back the spirits, and sigh and pine for the attentions of fleshly poet Reginald Bunthorne.
Sullivan's score is respectfully treated in the reduction for David Eaton's grand piano [no pub upright for him], and the singing, viscerally vivid in this intimate space, is superb throughout. The “Old Old Love” sestet just one example of melodic delight, with the manly tenor of David Menezes' Duke soaring above the rest.
David Phipps-Davis is wonderful value as a florid, self-absorbed poet – black rose, purple eye-shadow, nicely contrasted with the Greek God picturesque perfection of Henry Manning's Idyllic rival. Joanna Marie Skillett [Cinders last Christmas] is a lively, Nordic Patience. And contralto Amy J Payne [another panto survivor] is a huge hit with the audience as Lady Jane. No cello, alas, but a beautifully done “ageing” Aria, nobly resisting the crisps behind the bar.
Hilarious team-work, and perfect patter, from the Dragoons, Michael Kerry's Major and especially Giles Davies's spiffing Colonel Calverley.
Cheeky concessions to the 21st century include Grosvenor's transformation into a “TK Maxx young man”, with melancholics Helen Evora and Andrea Tweedale becoming thoroughly modern maidens to match. Nothing too incongruous, and all in the spirit of Gilbert, who would, had he lived long enough, have very happily rhymed Sartre with Sinatra.


Waltham Singers at Great Waltham Church

Music in Waltham for a June evening has been a fixture in the calendar since I began reviewing more than 40 years ago.
This year's concert, by the always impressive Waltham Singers under Andrew Fardell, was a varied selection of sacred music.
The home team was represented by Edward Elgar – his solemn, often dramatic Great Is The Lord – capped by that Balfour Gardiner warhorse, Evening Hymn, for eight-part choir and organ, with its dense harmonies and soaring architecture. William H Harris's contemplative setting of Donne, Howells' Salve Regina with Annabel Malton the solo soprano, and an upbeat motet by Stanford completed the English contribution.
The visitors fielded Monteverdi – exquisite late polyphony from Venice – his successor at San Marco, Antonio Lotti, whose Crucifixus was appropriately programmed just before the Credo, and Widor, represented here by a gloriously ostentatious Eastertide motet for choir and organ, with the stirring accompaniment played by Laurence Lyndon-Jones.
The Monteverdi sounded clear and immediate in this acoustic, and the Lotti, a wonderful showcase for the choir, was beautifully crafted, as the sound builds in this tense, anguished setting.
The choral contributions were interspersed with an equally eclectic selection from the Williams Kelleher Guitar Duo, including early English lute music – Echo, by Chester cleric Francis Pilkington, a charming version of Greensleeves – and a colourful group of pieces by the contemporary Argentine composer Pujol.

Friday, June 20, 2014


Made In Colchester at the Mercury Theatre Colchester

We are a grandfather … so this UK première of Roger Hall's soft-centred show about growing old and grandchildren was certain to hit the spot.
It's almost as if a focus group had come up with all those Third Age clichés: dodgy knees, deafness, technophobia, Christmas crises, skyping across the world, infant artwork on the fridge, a sideboard, even a stairlift – Stannah have supported this Colchester production.
In Andrew Breakwell's delightful production a single set does duty as the family home and Hillcrest retirement village. There's a grand piano, too, not only for the family photographs but also for the Musical Director, Stefan Bednarczyk, who does a nice line in Cowardish singing and Brechtian interventions, as well as accompanying the grandparents in Peter Skellern's songs.
There's a lot of schmaltz and sentiment in this gentle score – the best of this is the wistful Sunrise Sunset moment at the top of Act Two [They Grow Up So Quickly], reprised at the end, when the years have caught up with Kath and Maurice, who says a fond goodbye to his grandchildren before taking that last stairlift to heaven …
Happily there are one or two lively, sharper numbers, like the Twice A Night Tinkle Tango [don't ask] and Don't Let The Little Bastard Get Away, which cleverly imagines the bathtime/bedtime routine as a fitness workout.
The grandchildren are all invisible, left to mime and our imagination. Some stereotypes here [football for Sugar Rush Leonard, ballet for his sister, just as it's golf for grandad and book group for grandma]. But at least there's asthmatic, wussy Ollie, who brings along his Glee DVDs and ends up starring as Pharoah and Bloody Mary – we could have used his Happy Talk as an encore at the end of this somewhat depressing look at what the future has in store for the baby-sitting generation.
Lovely characters from two seasoned performers: Kate Dyson is Kath, delighting in her new role as grandmother, showing the photos [“They're not interested!” protests Maurice], and finally, Maurice gone, moving in to the annexe to be useful once more. Her role considerably enlivened by the glitterball Act One finale – I Still Got It Honey – where she struts her stuff on the work surface. Paul Greenwood plays Maurice, subtly ageing from the sprightly pram-pusher to the shuffling depressive confined to his favourite armchair.
All very nicely done; the audience chuckled away as boxes were ticked and funny bones tickled. But ultimately a little bland, a little shallow – one longed for something edgier, more acerbic, such as might have been penned by David Nobbs or Sue Townsend …

production photograph by Robert Day

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews


Latchingdon Arts and Drama Society at the Tractor Shed

Not for the first time, it's off to Latchingdon to see Habeas Corpus, one of the best plays by my favourite writer.
Alan Bennett's philosophical farce is a challenge for any group, not least because there is so much for the actors to do, and for the audience to appreciate. The jokes and the references come thick and fast; timing is crucial.
Even on opening night, LADS managed a creditable pace, and kept the thinnish crowd audibly amused. Gavin Rouse's affectionate production had many delightful touches: the telephones handed on from the wings [with the hands included in the cleverly choreographed curtain call], the surreal dancing with chairs in the closing moments, the follow spot, and the pop-up scenery [“set the scene and see the set-up”] reminiscent of Latchingdon in its glory days.
He was helped by a strong cast of comedy actors.
Keith Spencer certainly looked the part of the old-fashioned General Practitioner from Hove. I am sure that his confidence and comic timing will have increased as the run went on. But many opportunities were missed [no attempt to convey the subtext of the “a little run down” speech]. He was good, though, in his Brighton Pier sequences [Bennett would be bemused, or possibly incensed, to hear his verse bowdlerized] and the Our World speech.
Eileen Judd was his frustrated wife – elocution her strong point - Carole Hart his flat-chested spinster sister. Nice work from Adam Hart, in his awful specs, as Dennis/Trevor/Leonard and Aimee Hart as the lovely Felicity. Gill Bridle was outstanding as the old colonial lady, commanding the stage and never missing a trick. Greek Chorus Amelia Swabb was superbly done, with Hoover and feather duster, by Joan Cooper. Denzil Shanks, with his fluttering hands, was David Hudson, Canon Throbbing, on his bike, was Alan Elkins. LADS veteran Robin Warnes lost inches to play a convincing Sir Percy, and Bill Wright was the unfortunate Mr Purdue.
Some black holes in the lighting plot meant that crucial asides, especially stage right, tended to be lost; the black curtains in the doorways were a distraction. I wasn't convinced by the Instamatic. I wanted to see the Rubens [helps to get the Apollo Space Missions laugh]. And I was sorry that the Hammond organ we heard at the opening wasn't used more often.
Tiny niggles, these, for the most part, born out of an unhealthily close acquaintance with the play – producer once, MD once, audience countless times, from Guinness on. This was a thoroughly enjoyable romp, boldly and stylishly done by the legendary LADS.

Sunday, June 15, 2014



at Snape Maltings


Against the bare brick vastness of the Maltings, Britten's pacifist chamber opera risks looking a little lost. Glad we sat near the front. Originally written for television, it needs the intimacy of close-ups for the powerful conflict between “the last of the Wingraves” and his martial clan.
But fortunately there are some superb performances to savour here.
Susan Bullock is the implacable aunt; Samantha Crawford the sympathetic Mrs Coyle, wife of Spencer Coyle [an excellent Jonathan Summers, looking in his mutton chop whiskers the image of W S Gilbert] the military college lecturer to whom Wingrave first confides his distaste for war. And James Way, as the Ballad Singer [written for Pears], chillingly conjures up the ghost story which gives the piece its tragic end.
Ross Ramgobin sings Wingrave – beautifully phrased, and, like almost all the characters, crisply enunciated. His “Peace” aria in Act Two is compellingly delivered, and Ramgobin subtly brings out the strength behind the tortured traitor to the Wingrave family values.
The chamber reduction by David Matthews sounds fresh and incisive in the hands of the Britten-Pears Sinfonia – all that late-Britten percussion – and the opera is conducted, with more precision than passion, perhaps, by Mark Wigglesworth.
Neil Bartlett's staging uses some makeshift screens to suggest locations, while introducing a silent chorus of present-day soldiers ["The Dead"] to move the screens and to embody the accusing ancestors. They are a constant, menacing presence, their dress uniforms an uncomfortable irrelevance to their inner aggression, frighteningly focused on Wingrave himself. And towards the end each is given a ghost child of his own, dragged ominously off into the wings.
Good to see this neglected opera back in the space which saw its first performance. And good to celebrate an Essex connection or two. Ross Ramgobin was educated in Chelmsford, and has appeared in Chelmsford Cathedral, which provides the choristers for the legend sequence, who also appear, in period pyjamas, in the massacre of the innocents …



Springers at the Civic Theatre


Oh what fun we had … a moment of pure Madness in the closing minutes of the last night, as the triumphant cast jumped down to join the cheering crowd in the aisles of the Civic Theatre, all dancing to the umpteenth reprise of the title number.
Barry Miles' production is cheeky and lively from the off, with a huge cast throwing themselves into this song-and-dance story of a Camden lad whose double life makes a powerful morality play. The choreography, by Melissa Smart, is quirky and inventive: the stop motion street scene, the Vegas wedding, the fan dancers, the skipping-rope, the Berkeley brollies, and, most talked of over interval drinks, those dancing desks and daring lifts.
Jon Newman played good Joe and bad Joe – a virtuoso performance as he flipped between the straight and narrow and the primrose path. Nicola Myers was his movingly loyal girl Sarah, with two excellent duets in the second act. A huge cast changed costume and character in a twinkling – funeral to wedding – and brought a raucous enthusiasm to these iconic numbers.
Strong character support from Colin Shoard as the Dad from Above, and wonderful comic double acts from Ian [Frank Spencer] Pavelin and Aaron Crowe as Joe's gormless mates, and Sophie Lines and Natalie Hills as the heartless girls.
The dialogue is not always convincing, the lyrics even less so, but the story and the music carry the show – Ian Myers' classy pit band had the audience waving and clapping along about eight bars in …



Guildonians at the Little Theatre, Harold Wood


Something of a stylistic exercise for playwright Neil Simon – the challenge of farce too hard to resist, maybe.
He's managed a classic of the genre – mistaken identities, frantic activity, improbabilities piled high. This is the British version, relocated to Surrey, though without the nuances of class and milieu that might suggest.
Chrissie O'Connor's hugely enjoyable production for Guildonians was pacy and meticulously plotted. The set-pieces – lost ear-rings, phone duologue – were stylishly and confidently done. The six-door split-level set was a masterpiece, and the Eighties were lovingly evoked – big hair, shoulder pads, La Bamba on the huge stereo, hostess trolley … The guests at the party were elegantly dressed, though not everyone convinced as the sort of moneyed person who flits from one charity do to another.
But there wasn't a single weak performance in this ten-strong cast. Particular plaudits to Kevin O'Connor as Ken – hilarious when deafened – and Charlotte Jones as his wife Chris, with a nice line in terminal exasperation. Copy-book comic timing from Tim Tilbury as Len, with a brilliant monologue in the closing minutes, and a splendid stock character from Tony Szalai as the weary copper who tries to make sense of all the stories.



Chichester Festival Theatre at the Minerva


As veterans invade the French coast to mark the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord, David Haig's Pressure travels south from Edinburgh to the Minerva,
This timely new play takes a behind the scenes look at the run-up to D-Day, with weather expert James Stagg its real-life central character.
It is a fascinating story, and given the known outcomes, remarkably tense.
Haig, who also plays Stagg, cleverly manipulates the disagreements between the Scottish expert and his US counterpart to give dramatic conflict. There's also the hint of an affair between Eisenhower and his Irish “dogsbody”, and a slightly strained sub-plot involving Stagg's wife, in a difficult labour, with high blood pressure giving a third dimension to the play's title.
Little is known, much is disputed about what went on in those crucial days in Southwick House.
Giving scope for invention and creative tweaking, which results in a very satisfying piece of historical theatre, directed with an eye to detail and a keen sense of humour by John Dove.
The setting is splendidly realistic, with the large room simply furnished with makeshift desks, and french windows [taped in case of bomb blast] for the sunshine, the storm and the sound of drill, a reminder of the thousands of troops awaiting the word of command. Glenn Miller's Stormy Weather an obvious but effective soundtrack.
Dates and times for the countdown are projected onto the back of the set. But no such hi-tech solution for those all-important weather charts – the changing patterns of pressure are meticulously drawn on vast sheets, hoisted up in turn from a box on the floor.
Haig is compelling as the dour forecaster, expert and enthusiast in this “science governed by intuition and experience”, demanding better facilities and more telephones, raging like Lear at the storm. His breakdown under the strain is movingly done; his modest triumph is understated, his disappointment tangible when it becomes clear that neither he nor Kay Summersby [Ike's right-hand girl, engagingly played by Laura Rogers] will see Paris or Berlin …
Malcolm Sinclair gives a superbly lifelike Eisenhower, all bonhomie and bluster, but capable of tenderness in ten minutes snatched with Kay, sharing a precious orange. Outstanding too is his speech about his eve of battle visit to the Airborne Division at Newbury, given as the three of them celebrate with doughnuts and Tallisker single malt.
Colonel Irving P Krick, meteorologist to MGM, is in stark contrast to Stagg, cocky, flashy, a “salesman”, seemingly up-to-date but relying on older methods. He's played with a supercilious smile and a nasty streak by Tim Beckman. The other characters are less clearly drawn, ciphers, stuffed shirts, with some doubling in the ten-strong cast. None more successfully than Michael Mackenzie, who gives us an old school Admiral Ramsay and a terrific talkative Brummie telephone engineer, who, like the chippie from Chad Valley, is detained in the compound till after the balloon goes up, knowing too much about the Allies' plans …

The invasion map he glimpsed is still in situ, apparently, on the ops room wall in that Georgian pile outside Portsmouth.

Monday, June 09, 2014


Shakespeare's Globe at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This lovely staging of Derek Walcott's epic poem comes to the Globe's Wanamaker Playhouse by way of the Lakeside at Essex University.
Written in Dante's terza rima, and inspired of course by Homer, it moves the action to the poet's own St Lucia, to a fishing village where Hector and Achille are fishermen, and rivals for the beautiful Helen.
The ever-present sea, and Walcott's rich language, are echoes of the great Greek writer. But there's plenty of humour, and colourful evocation of the Caribbean and of Africa.

Bill Buckhurst's simple staging, and the Jacobean candles, focus our attention on the two actors who share the storytelling and inhabit all the characters: Jade Anouka and Joseph Marcell. The other performer is the versatile musician Tayo Akinbode, up in the gallery with a collection of interesting instruments.

And the beautiful programme features Walcott's own Omeros sketches, including some done especially for this production.


Deafinitely Theatre at Shakespeare's Globe

Deafinitely Theatre had a Globe to Globe hit in 2012 with their Love's Labours Lost.
They were asked back this year, and chose A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Using an eloquent blend of British Sign Language, Visual Vernacular and Shakespeare's verse, it tells the familiar story in an engaging, entertaining couple of hours.
Director Paula Garfield sets the play in the City – not Athens, but London's Square Mile. With Theseus and Hippolyta CEOs of rival banks. There's an ecological fable in there somewhere too.
The “flowery bed” - a constant presence and eventually the stage for Pyramus & Thisbe – is surrounded Emin-style by garbage. Bottom's transformation uses recycled materials, too. The wall is made of box files, the mechanicals are now Middle Management. As so often with the Dream, it's these comic characters who go down best with the audience – Peter Quince would fit in well in The Office, with his self-importance and his iPad, patronisingly signing and mouthing at his actors, including a lovely lanky Flute from Jason Taylor, and a hilarious Bottom from David Sands.
The Lovers are well cast and well characterized too: Fifi Garfield's small dark Hermia against Charlotte Arrowsmith's maypole Helena.
Anna-Maria Nabirye plays a fairy who, along with Alim Jayda's excellent Puck, gives us some of Shakespeare's own words – it is Puck who holds the audience at the end, before the inevitable applause, both signed and audible.
There is music, too, used much as in a silent movie, to underscore the action and add atmosphere, with some witty references in the P&T show. It was composed especially by Philippa Herrick, who is also the musical director.

Sunday, June 08, 2014


a new play for children by Danny Segeth
Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court

Alison Woollard was at the Old Court matinée ...

Danny Segeth has taken the world of the Mexican Day of Dead and imagined what might happen if the dead could come back and strike up friendships with the living. This might sound like a morbid theme for a children’s play but the idea is interpreted with such charm and humour that the theatre was soon full of laughter and the young members of the audience seemed at ease with the idea that a skeleton could make a good friend.

Many theatrical devices were used effectively to create the world of the living and of the dead. Puppet skeletons created an instant rapport while shadow puppets conjured up fantasy worlds in the imaginations of the audience. Adult actors, James Christie and Leanne Johnson, quickly persuaded us that they were children full of enthusiasm, while Sarah Chandler, Dave Hawkes and Fabienne Handley manipulated the puppets and other props with energy and skill, creating busy roads or quiet graveyards in seconds. The Spanish flavour of the story was conjured up by the beautiful guitar playing of Kate Hutchins.

There are three performances of Out There still to come: Friday 13 June at 7.45, and Saturday 14 June at 11.30 am and 3 pm.

Friday, June 06, 2014


Let’s Hang On
Civic Theatre

Jersey Boys, New Jersey Nights and now, Let's Hang On, all celebrating the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. 

This award-winning production of Let’s Hang On takes its audience on a musical journey through the prolific career of one of the most successful bands of all time - and it comes to Chelmsford Civic Theatre on Thursday 26 June. 

In the remarkable story discover how four New Jersey boys from the wrong side of the tracks invented their own sound wrote their own songs and became one of the biggest pop sensations of all time.

The show begins with tracks from the early 50s when Frankie first joined the group and then with the addition of Bob Gaudio who is still recognised today as one of the greatest song writers of all time. The talents of this ensemble are truly displayed when the stage is transformed into a street corner in New Jersey and the boys sing a capella under a street lamp with what can only be described as mind boggling accuracy. 

All the favourite hits are guaranteed to get people singing along to the likes of Beggin’, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Grease, Working My Way Back To You, Who Loves You, Bye Bye Baby and many many more are played.

Tickets are £20.00 & £19.00 and concessions £18.00 & £17.00. To book tickets visit or call the Box Office on 01245 606505. 

Thursday, June 05, 2014


Ad Hoc Players at Brentwood Theatre

Ayckbourn's state-of-the-nation play has a very topical feel – ordinary people sliding into extreme actions, their fears magnified and exploited.

Hayley Joanne Bacon's production raised chuckles of recognition from the first night audience, and although this is far from vintage Ayckbourn, there is some fun to be had from watching the do-gooder Christian siblings [played convincingly by Wendi Sheard and David Lintin] organize their neighbours to fight the perceived threat from the sink estate just down the hill.
Good character support from Shealagh Dennis as the nosy-parker from the local paper, and Paul Carey as the angry little engineer with an unhealthy interest in medieval instruments of torture.

This rather predictable piece, with none of the playwright's trademark theatrical devices, needs a deal of help from the performers, more perhaps than it gets here, where hesitation and uncertainty affect all the actors to some degree.

The challenging opening monologue – a funeral eulogy to the brother lost in a police shoot-out – is confidently done but seems overlong. The closing scene [all the rest is flashback] sees his mansize monument unveiled, but we are left in the dark about the future of Bluebell Hill and its unhinged residents. A sequel from Sir Alan, maybe …

and for Remote Goat:

This was Sir Alan's 75th play, and was well received [even by the critics] a few years ago in Scarborough, and in New York.
Hard to see why, based on Ad Hoc's slow-paced production. The unlikely story centres around Hilda and Martin, sister and brother, annoyingly devout busy-bodies [Jesus always lurking in the bushes] who set up a neighbourhood watch group to defend their green and pleasant development from the threat without. Hilda, who has the long funeral prologue, was done with some style by Wendi Sheard, and the pompous Martin was nicely characterized by David Lintin, with more than a hint of that comedy genius Jim Broadbent.
They are joined in their green lounge by assorted neighbours. Good work from Shealagh Dennis as Dorothy, fifteen years on the local rag [though only taking small ads, it transpires] and from Paul Carey as Gareth, forever tinkering in his shed and dreaming up medieval chastisement for his wayward wife [Leanne Gibbs, who had a promising alphabetical duologue with Lintin but elsewhere was often hard to hear].
Rod – ex-army, security mad and a close cousin of Harvey in Season's Greetings – was played by Stewart Goodwin. He has some of the best lines - “The country’s flooded with them … Eastern Europe. Never should have torn down the Iron Curtain. Biggest mistake we ever made.” - but unfortunately had his words [and his eyes] glued to his clip-board. Martin Wilderspin was menacing as Luther, the violent voice of sanity [but an unlikely Guardian reader], with Candy Lillywhite-Taylor as his kindly clarinet-teaching wife.
The room – with its controversial wallpaper – was well furnished, and the fire next door was effective. It was a shame there was no light for the garden and the other rooms; or even a glimpse of the stocks and the razor wire …

Hayley Joanne Bacon's production was sometimes a little static, but had some lovely moments of conflict and [occasional] intimacy. The chief obstacle to our appreciation of this dark, late Ayckbourn was the uncertainty of the actors – no prompts, it's true, but far too much hesitation and approximation. Comedy needs confidence and careful timing.