Friday, October 31, 2014


Writtle Cards

Arnold Ridley's mystery thriller has played in village halls throughout the land; ninety years on, audiences still gasp at the “noises off” that so impressed the Guardian in 1925.
Michelle Moody's production plays out in a suitably drab waiting room, a peeling railway poster advertises the delights of Cornwall. Enter the stranded passengers, the women more convincingly costumed than the men, all hatted except for the silly ass [Arthur Askey in the film...] whose missing headgear has made them miss their connection.
Enjoyable performances on offer from Nick Caton, irritating the others with his endless stories and flippant attitude, but saving the day in the end, and from Liz Curley as Miss Bourne, brilliantly breaking the pledge with borrowed brandy. Newcomer Jerry Thomas gives a masterclass in Coarse Acting as the surly Saul Hodgkin, stationmaster of Fal Vale. Grumpy Boot Banes and Clare Williams are the ill-suited Winthrops, Chris Rogerson and Shelley Goodwin the very young honeymooners, Sharon Goodwin the mysterious, troubled Miss Price.
The auditorium is wonderfully decorated with all kinds of railway ephemera, including station signs for Fal Vale and Writtle Cards; the bar offers Truro Tipple, a cider and rum concoction. But the play itself pootles along the branch line – to get up a head of steam would need a more confident command of Ridley's text, spookier gaslight with sinister shadows, and better special effects: the lights, the thunderous noise, the smoke, the shattered glass …

Thursday, October 30, 2014



Chichester Festival Theatre

Uncle Jocko, Seattle's Mr Talent, wants no mothers in the wings. A sentiment shared, years later, by a harassed stage manager in burlesque.
The pushy parent in question here is Mama Rose, whose more famous daughter was Gypsy Rose Lee, and whose story is told in what is possibly the best of the Broadway backstage musicals.
It's given a pretty near perfect performance at Chichester, maternity ward to the West End, directed by Jonathan Kent with Musical Director Nicholas Skilbeck.
The show belongs to Imelda Staunton. She's there at every turn, pushing from the wings, micro-managing her troupe, shifting scenery, driving hard bargains. When her pet protégée, and eldest daughter, turns her back on the family firm and elopes with a chorus boy, Rose crumples for a moment before ripping up the letter, rallying and re-focusing her maternal ambitions on the younger sister. And in Rose's Turn, at the end of the show, this frustrated showgirl, fortified by one last dream, holds the empty stage and basks in imagined applause.
Kevin Whately plays Herbie, with a limited range of facial expressions and a serviceable voice. Lara Pulver is wonderful as the overlooked, then over-exploited Louise [aka ecdysiast Gypsy Rose Lee]. There's a host of superb supporting performances, not least by the children in Mama Rose's troupe, and, one of many, Julie Legrand who has a lovely double as Electra, the stripper with illuminated assets, and the formidable PA Miss Cratchitt.
A great recreation of the dying days of vaudeville [and the threat of Burlesque], superbly designed by Anthony Ward with a moving proscenium and a proper orchestra pit for the excellent band.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at The Old Court

Cleverly placed for Halloween, this theatrical horror story successfully attracts those seeking thrills and chills in the Old Court stalls. There's spookily dim lighting in the foyer, and the auditorium is swathed in sombre gauze.
The play itself is adapted from Shirley Jackson's best-seller by F Andrew Leslie [though neither gets a credit in the programme]. Director Jacob Burtenshaw has thrown in a few twists of his own, too, sexing up the show with shocks and spectres, guignol and eerie laughter.
It's a weird story of “murder, scandal, insanity and suicide”: a “man of science”, addressed as “Doctor”, arrives at Hill House to investigate psychic phenomena, bringing three susceptible guests to help him. He begins by reading, deadpan, from his report, but soon starts talking such utter balderdash - “some houses are born bad” - that it's hard to imagine which seat of learning could have given him that PhD. Worse, his batty wife and her “friend”, headmaster of a prep school, turn up with their planchette to throw a spanner in the ghost-hunter's works.
CTW's production is redeemed by two things: excellent actors, and some really scary moments; as with last month's chiller, The Birds, it is the unseen which is most unsettling – terrifying knocking on the doors, an effective blend of live sound and recorded effects. I liked the use of torches to accentuate the darkness. The set, too, is nicely realised – the dolls, the crucifix, the doors and the oxblood leather sofa, which quite possibly has its own agent ...
Leading the cast, Joe Kennedy as Montague, and Laura Bradley giving a terrific performance as the shy, dowdy Eleanor, who is drawn into the aura of the house with tragic consequences.
Strong support from the others, notably Caroline Webb as the Housekeeper, stroking her keys with manic malevolence, Regan Tibbenham, a total contrast as the other girl in the house, and Britt Verstappen as Eleanor's spectral alter ego.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


WAODS at the Public Hall, Witham

The Sound of Music is one of the last great book musicals, and one of the best known, largely due to those post-turkey screenings of Christmases past.
Good to see the show live on stage again in the Public Hall in Witham.
Among the strengths of Eric Smart's production for WAOS are impressive choral singing [the MD is Susannah Edom] both from the nuns of Nonnberg, and from the Von Trapp family, and an excellent group of children, from Faith Rogers' lovely Liesl to Ella Bradley's tiny Gretl.
The demanding role of Maria is taken by Corrina Wilson, in a spirited, extrovert performance, with huge stage presence. Perhaps a little too knowing, a little too pert at times, but every familiar number is wonderfully sung.
A perfect performance, too, from Julie Codling as Elsa – stylish and shallow, making the most of the catchy How Can Love Survive trio with the upright Naval Captain Georg [Niels Bradley] and the amoral Max [Tom Whelan] And Janet Moore makes a marvellous Abbess, singing Climb Every Mountain with superb phrasing and real emotion.
Do-Re-Mi is imaginatively staged and energetically realised, and there's inventive choreography for Liesl and her beau Rolf [a personable Edward Tunningley] in Sixteen Going On Seventeen. We are treated to a big Viennese wedding, and an elegant soirée for Elsa.
Elsewhere, it's a swings and roundabouts show. A great stage picture for the moving final number, but a very cramped corner for the Abbess's Office. Stunning swastikas and storm-troopers for the Festival Concert scene, but the key moment where Georg's hard heart is melted by music goes for almost nothing. There's a sadly un-Alpine lakeside not only for Georg's villa, but also for Maria's beloved hillside. And those unmistakably English church bells …


Greville Theatre Club at the Barn Theatre, Little Easton

Imogen Stubbs, a much-loved actress, got a cold critical reception for her début as a playwright, despite a starry cast and a world-class director.
What a pity, since We Happy Few has much to commend it, not least its theme, which is inherently theatrical.
Unfortunately it is long, wordy, uneven and dramatically incoherent.
It tells the fascinating story of the Artemis Players – the real-life Osiris Players thinly disguised – women whose war effort is to tour Shakespeare around Britain in their “nunnery on wheels”, a 1922 Rolls. The period detail [as in Harwood's The Dresser] is evocative: hessian costumes, spirit gum and Glenn Miller. Director Jonathan Scripps and his experienced cast successfully reduce the play to manageable proportions, and produce an amusing, often touching, ensemble piece.
The powerhouse behind Artemis is the formidable Hetty Oak [Pam Hemming], secretly pining for her long-lost “darling boy” and bravely rallying her motley troops. It is she who, movingly, quotes Prospero at the end, and turns out the light as the curtain falls.
Outstanding among her rag-bag company are Carol Parradine's Flora Pelmet, the co-founder of the troupe. Her heart-rending monologue about her brother Toby is wonderfully done, though it sits awkwardly in the action. Rough-and-ready mechanic Charlie [Lynda Shelverton] has a sapphic Sarah Waters moment with Rosalind [Sonia Lindsey-Scripps], who is relentlessly quashed by her awful mother [Jan Ford] – a hard-drinking, chain-smoking faded pro – Coral Browne rather than Joan Crawford springs to mind. Ford also contributes a priceless cameo, trying out for Titus in the entertaining audition sequence. And Amanda Thompson excels as Ivy, the Brummie housemaid who's cajoled onto the Shakespearean stage.
Marcia Baldry-Bryan is Jocelyn, the stage manager, and Judy Lee is a “batty old lady” as well as a Jewish refugee in an unconvincing subplot.
The simple, versatile set is dressed with swags of colourful costume and a frieze of footwear over the lintel.
The fewer men, the greater share of honour” … There are two chaps in the cast, though: Adam Thompson as the refugee son, and Rodney Foster working hard to good comic effect in three lesser roles.

The first night audience was positive and enthusiastic – proof perhaps that, given a good play doctor, the piece could yet be the hit that Stubbs must have been hoping for.

photograph by Adrian Hoodless

Sunday, October 26, 2014



M&G Concert at the Civic Theatre

The first of this season's Civic Concerts featured two works inspired by the seasons.
First, Piazzolla's Cuatro Estanciones Porteñas – four contrasting Tango-flavoured movements depicting the seasons in Buenos Aires. Originally a piano work, this version, by Leonid Desyatnikov, brings it closer to Vivaldi, in a virtuosic violin concert. Brilliantly played by the LMP and Tasmin Little, with a lovely cantabile cello theme for Autumn from Sebastian Comberti.
Roxanna Panufnik's World Seasons borrows ideas and idioms from various musical cultures, without ever imitating. Autumn in Albania is a punchy, rhythmic dance movement, with a poignant love song following the cadenza. Tibetan Winter, complete with singing bowl [Comberti again], is hauntingly ethereal, and Indian Summer is sultry, smoky with a blazingly intense finale, redolent of the Holi Festival of Colours.

These two alternative almanachs were bookended by familiar favourites for string orchestra: Tchaikowsky's lively, lilting Serenade, directed from the leader's chair by Tasmin Little, relishing the rich sonorities of the writing, and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, with leader Simon Blendis directing. Hard to bring anything fresh to the Mozart, you might think, but this was an enjoyably crisp, brisk reading, enhanced by the clear acoustic of the Civic Theatre.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Return to the Forbidden Planet

Queen’s Theatre launches 25th anniversary UK tour

The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, proudly launches the 25th anniversary UK tour of Return to the Forbidden Planet, the Olivier Award-winning rock ‘n’ roll musical, on 6 November.

This fantastic show blasts off from Hornchurch, where its run until 15 November is very nearly sold out already! It will then tour the country until the summer. It stars the cut to the chase… company, the Queen’s permanent ensemble of actor-musicians.

Dashing Captain Tempest and his flight officers take audiences on an exciting interplanetary adventure into hyperspace, where they meet mad scientist Prospero, his beautiful daughter Miranda and Ariel, the amazing rock ‘n’ roller-skating robot. Battling asteroid storms and faulty Photon Shields, does this motley crew ever get to the bottom of Prospero’s mysterious X Factor formula? And can they escape the Monster from the Id?

Premiering in 1989 in the West End before winning an Olivier the following year, Return to the Forbidden Planet sees members of its original creative and design team reunite for this special celebratory production including creator and writer Bob Carlton and designer Rodney Ford. This will aptly be Mr Carlton’s last production at the Queen’s, where he has been Artistic Director for 17 years. He leaves to pursue his freelance directing career.

This wonderfully feel-good family musical is a glorious mixture of influences. Inspired by the 1956 sci-fi B-movie Forbidden Planet – which is itself based on The Tempest - Return to the Forbidden Planet also manages to add a dash of Freudian psychoanalysis to the mix! Bob Carlton’s creation, written in blank verse, is driven by a delightfully unlikely selection of rock ‘n’ roll hits from the ‘50s and ‘60s and a hilarious take on Shakespeare’s greatest quotes!

As the first major musical to popularise the actor-musician ensemble, the show includes cosmic classics from The Animals, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison, to name a few. All played live on stage by cut to the chase…, who swap a multitude of instruments between them in a dazzling musical relay!

Return to the Forbidden Planet ran for four years in the West End, was nominated for two Outer Critics’ Circle Awards in New York and has delighted hundreds of thousands across the world, amassing a loyal cult following.

The cast includes cut to the chase… members Georgina Field, Christine Holman, Callum Hughes, Greg Last, Joseph Mann, Jonathan Markwood, Sean Needham, Mark Newnham, Sarah Scowen, Steve Simmonds and Fredrick “Frido” Ruth.

Return to the Forbidden Planet is directed by creator and writer Bob Carlton, with design by Rodney Ford, movement direction by Fredrick “Frido” Ruth, musical supervision by Julian Littman, musical direction by Greg Last, lighting design by Mark Dymock and sound design by Ben Harrison.

Bob Carlton's swansong runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Billet Lane, Hornchurch from 6 – 15 November. Tickets are £12.50 - £26.50. To book, call the Box Office on 01708 443333 or book online at

photograph of the Queen's 2012 production by Nobby Clark



You have to know it, you have to love it. The Great White Way, that is. Not so much to appreciate this accessible but seriously entertaining show, but to deliver the spoofs, parodies and pastiches with such consummate skill and obvious affection.

The five performers in this “fringe revival transfer” – not least the indefatigable pianist Joel Fram – are all steeped in the tradition, and take no prisoners in their viciously accurate attacks on the foibles and follies of musical theatre.

It kicks off with front of house fun: mobiles, tweets – Everyone Thinks They're A Critic – and touts, flogging duff seats in the style of Fugue for Tinhorns.
Then the performers are in the firing line: from triple threat professional children abused by director Trunchbull to veterans of the musical stage, this latter category enhanced by the presence of Christina [Diva Moments] Bianco. Liza, Angela, Kristen Chenoweth, the original Glenda, Madalena Alberto, the new Evita, Rita and Cheeta the two Anitas head to head, and Bernadette Peters – See Me On A Monday Please. Amongst the boys, male chanteuse Mandy Patinkin – Somewhat Overindulgent – Hugh Jackman, Alex Wonka Jennings and Robert Lindsay, currently over the road at the Savoy. All nailed by the hard-working quartet of singers: Anna-Jane Casey, Ben Lewis and the superb Damian Humbley joining the aforementioned Miss Bianco.
No show, it seems, is left unpanned – Cats auditioned a la Chorus Line, cardboard cut-out dummies in Les Mis, Wicked – Defying Subtlety – Miss Saigon mercilessly trashed, Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia. And no-one is too big to be brought down – Sondheim and Ho Chi Cameron both victims – and even the corporate sponsors are named and shamed.
Forbidden Broadway – a firm favourite on both sides of the pond – is devised and written by Gerard Alessandrini and directed by Phillip George.

I don't usually condone, much less publish, pirated pictures or video, but it seems in keeping with the show's opening to share this shaky mobile phone footage from last summer, when the Menier cast appeared, along with many of the shows they lampoon, in Trafalgar Square for West End Live.

and here's a new trailer for the current show

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Horrible Histories at the Civic Theatre

Who you calling barmy ? Well, a historical ragbag of characters that made this country great, from the Vikings to Queen Victoria. All of them brought to life in a shamelessly silly couple of hours that also managed to feed us some fascinating facts from our island's story.
It all began with a pair of nothing-o-see-here jobsworth traffic wardens [Alison Fitzjohn and Laura Dalgleish] who soon get roped in to join Benedict Martin and Gary Wilson to romp energetically through the footnotes to the history books, against an animated cartoon backdrop [in glorious Bogglevision for Act II].
A Valkyrie Boudicca, Vikings looking to relocate to Lindisfarne, Muslims massacred at Acre, William [from the audience] cured of the Black Death, the Groom of the Stool, a Whipping Boy, Henry VIII as a petulant puppet, a TOWIE Dick Turpin, a Hip Hop Widow of Windsor, and comedy Bones in their Pockets Irishmen Burke and Hare. Lots of Game Shows – Guy Fawkes on “Who Wants to Blow Up Parliament?” - and a few genuine surprises, like the Dale Dyke Dam Disaster, whose 150th anniversary was commemorated this year.
Even the causes of the Great War were given a knockabout outing, before a properly respectful moment of remembrance, with a biplane strewing 3D poppies over the stalls.

Monday, October 20, 2014


The Phoenix Theatre Company in Christchurch Hall

Mary Redman was at the opening night:

Inishmaan Island is off the far west coast of Ireland whose nearest due west neighbour is America. This impoverished part of the country was known during the 1930s as one of the most backward areas where tiny villages relied on fishing and keeping a few animals to survive. Education was lacking and gossip thrived amongst both women and men.
This is the setting for Martin McDonagh's “Comedy Drama” which was chosen by Phoenix for their latest production with Sarah Wilson as director.
This wasn't an easy play to stage with its difficult demands on the cast's acting abilities and their voice projection.
The atmosphere livened up a bit, however, with the arrival of Syd Smith's Johnnypateenmike with his “news” of events further afield. Gemma Anthony's Helen, a sparky young lady not given to tolerance, proved to be the most strikingly lively cast member whose words were easily audible to the hall.
The hero of the piece Billy, a young man with physical impairments who had been teased all his life as “Cripple”, was thoughtfully played by Liam O'Connor. In addition to his existing problems he receives the news that he also has a fatal form of tuberculosis (and no treatment where he lives).
Really the play came to full life whenever the adult male cast were down on the beach and so much nearer to the audience. We could hear every word from Geoff Hadley as BabbyBobby preparing his boat to go to sea. Another bright spark was Clare Woodward's Mammy O'Dougal with her drinking and eccentric ways. There was also enjoyable use of old film of the fishing industry of the time.
Chris Saxton's design incorporated a tiny shop and its living accommodation plus the really clever use of a rowing dinghy and pebbles on the auditorium floor. This led to one of the major difficulties of the production. Sarah had chosen to block the back wall of the stage with a long shop counter. This meant that a useful acting area was obstructed, many of the cast were upstaged and the cast's voices were too weak to travel the sheer distance in the long hall. The counter could have easily been on one side and further downstage.
Pace would have been helped if some of the cast had been surer on their words, as we heard the Prompt fairly frequently.
And when amateur groups are deciding what to perform they really do need to take into account their knowledge of the background to the play. If a troupe from Inishmaan had tried to put on a play about Essex Girls the result would more than likely have been much the same as this production. To have heard every word would have been great.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014



New Adventures and Re-Bourne at Sadler's Wells


Golding's cautionary tale has been staged before [ and filmed twice ]. Now it's an inspired dance piece from Matthew Bourne's New Adventures and Re:Bourne.
Adapted, with typically creative perversity by Bourne and his co-director Scott Ambler, it retains characters and events from the novel, and successfully captures its spirit, despite giving the island the elbow and stranding these lost boys on the cavernous stage of a deserted playhouse.
As we take our seats, the excited buzz is echoed through the open scene dock; it builds in a crescendo of whistles and rioting before the choirboys, smartly regimented, come marching in.
The fixtures and fittings are imaginatively pressed into service – costume rails, wicker skips, fire buckets. The conch is a [Shell] oil drum, Piggy is crushed by a massive lamp dropped from the flies. The boys forage for crisps and icecreams.
Bare feet, bullying, tribalism mark the breakdown of civilization. We see violent subjugation, a showdown, and a tsunami of rubbish thrown down onto the stage before the UN blue beret rides to the rescue. The teddy bear, who's survived it all, is abandoned with the last vestige of innocence as the boys troop off the way they came in, leaving Ralph [Sam Archer] to ponder the catastrophic events played out on the jungle stage.
Much of the dancing is visceral and strongly rhythmic. Simon, the dreamer, beautifully danced by Layton Williams, has a wonderful solo with cello accompaniment [Robin Mason, presumably the only live musician against the pulsing back track – the score, by Terry Davies, moving from choral to wild clamour]. He's joined by Ralph and Piggy [Sam Plant] in a tender pas-de-trois.
The death of Simon – washed out to sea like Piggy in the book – is superbly done, and the Beast [ a zombie corpse ? a passing vagrant ? ] is genuinely terrifying, not least when he is brought to life by the tiny witness. Jack, the feral baddie set against Ralph's reasonableness, is a physically expressive Danny Reubens.
The Wells is just one stop on a national tour, recruiting 22 boys at each port of call. A dream opportunity for them, and for the audience an amazing realization of an iconic story.



Forbidden Broadway has made its way into London's West End! For eleven weeks only, the funniest musical in town lands at the Vaudeville theatre and prepares to unleash its wicked humour on anyone and any show in its sights!

This is a welcome chance to see the West End and Broadway's biggest shows, brightest stars and notorious flops panned, poked, lampooned and lambasted by a dazzling cast of comic chameleons, all set to the tunes of your favourite showstoppers and all under one roof!

This sensational success comes direct from a sold-out run at the award-winning Menier Chocolate Factory, and stars Christina Bianco, Anna-Jane Casey, Damian Humbley and Ben Lewis.

The show's all-too-brief run at the Vaudeville ends on November 22.

Monday, October 13, 2014


Reform Theatre Company and Harrogate Theatre at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford

Unpredictable audiences and clever tweaks manage to keep this 30-something show fresh and enjoyable.
The idea is simple – four middle-aged men in black tie [the Bouncers of the title] cast a weary eye over the night-life, and, at the drop of a hat, and without any pretence at disguise, assume the persona of clubber, lad, hairdresser, drunk and toff. It's a tour de force of physical theatre and social comment, and this simple formula has kept the show in the public eye ever since Godber relaunched it for Hull Truck in 1983.
Reform, directed by Keith Hukin, have brought it to the Civic before, six years ago. The audience then was rowdier; this time out the big, philosophical speeches by Lucky Eric [David Walker] are received in pin-drop silence. But the youngsters packing the stalls laugh long and loud at the coarsely bawdy bits [blue movie, urinal line-up], performed with relish and consummate skill; Kivan Dene's turns, including a repulsive DJ, are especially fine.
Simply staged [beer kegs and white handbags the only props] and brilliantly lit, the ensemble work is relaxed but precise, the production carefully paced. The enthusiastic audience will feel they've had a good night out, with food for thought served up alongside the basket meals.

Bouncers, the 80s hit show that spawned Shakers, Stags and Hens and many lesser tributes, is a classic now, up there with Macbeth and Neville's Island on the GCSE syllabus. So the stalls are packed with the “Children of England”, amused at being frisked by the “door staff”, bemused at this warts-and-all version of an “80s Urban Night”.
It's a different world, and not only because, despite the cheeky name-checks, it's set somewhere north of Watford. The bus ride into town, the basket meals, the barber's shop with its Vinnie Jones cut, the girls with their white handbags, even the video shop and the blue movie, all now extinct. The bouncers themselves seem like dinosaurs, their gorilla arms brushing the ground, innocent of multi-cultural Britain and diversity training.
The quartet from Reform do a brilliant job – the trademark physical theatre is text-book stuff [let's hope the students were taking notes] and they move in a moment from the coarsest comedy to the deepest introspection.
All human life is, inevitably, here.” And all magicked up by these versatile middle-aged men: the boys – lad culture avant la lettre – and the girls with their ritual preparations for a Friday night chez Mr Cinders. Pre-loading not yet invented, they check their make-up and their breath before catching “the bus at the end of our street” and queuing to get past the seen-it-all-before, turn-a-blind-eye bouncers.
Excellent, and impressively energetic, ensemble work throughout, with a few stand-out turns: the demon barber [Lee Bainbridge], pathetic little birthday girl Rosie [director Keith Hukin], and the creepy DJ [Kivan Dene], now undoubtedly awaiting Yewtree trial on historic charges …
David Walker plays Lucky “The King is Dead” Eric, by far the most interesting of the bouncers, with his Brechtian soliloquies beautifully done, as he casts a jaundiced eye over the exploitation, the loss of innocence - “the firedoors tell their secret stories” - and, Lonesome Tonight, weeps to see his ex-wife at the over-25s disco.
Undeniably popular with the kids, the sequence in the gents, and the Swedish Postman porn, seem excessive [and both feature the same offensive weapon], the Michael Jackson moment merely self-indulgent.
That apart, Reform's Bouncers remains the yardstick touring production, a screamingly funny satire, tinged with tragedy. At the end, the lads queue, unfulfilled, for a taxi home, and the bouncers are left to wonder why, staring out over the city lights and envying the everyday, ordinary lives behind the towerblock windows.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Made in Colchester at the Mercury Theatre

At first glance, a typical look at Macbeth our contemporary. Naked political ambition, red berets and body armour.
But Daniel Buckroyd's accessible production, his sixth since he took the helm at the Mercury, has unique strengths.
The staging is uncluttered but eloquent. Juliet Shillingford's design has a gloomy blasted heath as its backdrop – could be the devastation of the Somme – and inclined planes for the action. The palace is simple banners, with double-headed eagle, the castles fly in, only the heavy steel door is substantial. The lower level is tellingly used to separate actors from the story – Duncan's heirs, or the cut-throats. Blood is often the only colour in a dark, monochrome world.
The soliloquies, key to the complex characters of the tragedy, are always expressively staged: time slows behind him as Macbeth speaks of his black and deep desires, he slips out of the party he's giving for Duncan [a piano plays gentle jazz]; the dagger is a sound, merely, very much “of the mind”.
Buckroyd sees this as a story of children and childlessness, too, and a small child [variously The Boy, Fleance and Macduff's son] is a powerful presence from the very start – playing with his toy tank, exchanging his wooden sword, momentarily, for a real one, appearing as one of the apparitions, a cardboard crown “upon his baby-brow”. The weird sisters, too, are central: they sing hauntingly at the opening, and their voices are always otherworldly. The soundscape and the music [John Chambers] use techno drums for battle, melody for the witches, and some chilling effects – the scream of an owl, the cry of women.
Stuart Laing is a man-of-the-people Macbeth, never at ease, switching from battledress to dress uniform to casual shiny blue suit. A compelling performance, restless, troubled. His Lady M [Esther Hall], by contrast, is a study in stillness and steely determination. Until her maternal instincts kick in – she appears to warn a woman who rushes off to rescue Fleance and send him away. After the supper, she is left sobbing at the table, and appears again only as a broken reed, her candle held like a dagger before her in a mad echo of her former strength.
A fine company of actors bring credibility to the familiar story, and clarity to Shakespeare's text [no “imperfect speakers” here] – James Marlowe an excellent Malcolm, Nicholas Bailey a human Macduff, Moray Treadwell an avuncular Duncan.
Banquo [Simon Ludders] springs up through a trap to appear at the centre of the last supper table – effective with sound and light, but not without comic effect, and titters from the audience second time around. But for the most part the action is powerfully staged: the death of Macduff's boy, the atrocities of war, “something wicked” as Macbeth enters, even the poor porter [Christopher Price]. The ending is swift – the “leafy screens” are camouflage capes, Macbeth takes off his body armour and is despatched offstage.

Not sure what the children in the audience made of it - “Emily went to sleep”, one mum confessed - but this is an energetic, engaging Macbeth, the classic tragedy clearly and passionately told.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews


New Venture Players at Brentwood Theatre

Lin Pollitt's staging of the Anne Frank story begins with an atmospheric epilogue, as Otto Frank, survivor of the camps, discovers his daughter's diary; it will be her immortality – her tragedy will stand for the suffering of millions.
She is played here by Claire Hilder, who neatly captures her bright-eyed innocence, her showing off, her teasing, tender relationship with Peter [Richard Spong]. He's excellent as the shy teenager, acutely aware of his fate: “Who's going out?” he asks as he cuts the Star of David off his coat.
David Lintin brings a simple sincerity to Otto Frank; there's a nice dramatic contrast between the homely, nervous Edith Frank [Debbie Ann Shears] and the silly, flirtatious Petronella van Daan [Laura Fava].

The open-plan achterhuis brings fluidity to the action, but is less successful at suggesting the claustrophobia of the secret annexe. But the fraught atmosphere, everyone on edge, is well suggested, with sounds of soldiers on the street, aircraft overhead. Nicely crafted dramatic moments, too: the sisters staring as Van Daan [Peter Baker] is caught stealing food, Anne's thoughtful Hanukkah gifts, and the stark coda, replacing the original final scene, in which each character's fate is impassively revealed. A sombre, sobering ending, with tears shed on both sides of the fourth wall.