Sunday, November 30, 2014


RSC at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

Straw bales, actors mingling with the audience, bunting and kitbags, VADs in the onstage band.
We start with that old cliché, the glorious summer of 1914, with cricket on the village green. But Phil Porter's wonderful family play, directed faultlessly by Erica Whyman, moves swiftly from pastoral to warfare – the cricketing metaphor, with the great scorer stage left, is well sustained both physically and dramatically.
At the heart of the drama is Bruce Bairnsfather. His wry cartoon sketches of life at the front are iconic – it's less well known that he was a local lad, working at the Shakespeare Theatre as a sparks for a time. Joseph Kloska makes him a quietly strong character, holding the show together with his love of “songs, sketches, boys dressing up ...”

An impressive ensemble plays the soldiers – on both sides of No Man's Land – as well as the nurses who provide some conflict of their own, rebelling against the harsh, old-fashioned matron.

We've seen a lot of the Great War on stage this year. This warm-hearted play pulls no punches about the grim reality, but still manages to be a hugely enjoyable seasonal treat.


RSC at the Swan, Stratford


Whatever would Webster think ?
If he were writing now, would he be Tarantino or Orton ?

His violent revenge tragedy is dragged by director Maria Aberg into the 1970s, with disco dancing and a general air of unstylish loucheness for the “horror upon horror”.

This is part of the Roaring Girls season, so the most interesting character, Flaminio, is now female [Laura Elphinstone], somewhat overshadowing Kirsty Bushell's strong Vittoria, and generally behaving as if she were the White Devil of the title.

Good work from David Rintoul, by far the best verse speaker in a very mixed bunch, in a natty red blazer as the Cardinal.

Video, dance, pumping music, the cult of celebrity, give the show a very modern feel, somewhat at odds with the misogyny in the text, especially the reaction to adultery.

All of us who booked were sent a letter warning of the shocking immediacy consequent on the contemporary setting. Didn't come across in the event, in a confusing, ultimately unsatisfying production.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


BOSSY at Brentwood Theatre

Bossy go back to basics for this enjoyably uncomplicated Joseph.
I remember those early performances [and recordings] before the show got bloated and starry, and Gaynor Wilson's production captures that spirit successfully: clear narration [five excellent young ladies drawing us in to the Bible story], good work from the chorus [Jacob and Daughters] and some impressive lighting – Joseph's jail, and an enormous mirror ball for his big numbers.
Jon O'Neill is an engaging Dreamer, very much the shy, rejected brother, but strong in Close Every Door and Any Dream Will Do.
Plenty more compelling performances in this young cast: Oliver Harvey's Pharaoh, Josh Rees's Potiphar with his triangular abacus and his wayward wife [Tomi Bello/Hannah Durowse], Alfie Gardner's Judah, charming in the Calypso, and Heather Nye's Simeon, an outstanding chanteuse for Canaan Days.
Andy Prideaux and his band kept the music moving along nicely, except perhaps in the disappointing encore sequence.

The coat gets equal billing in this show; most Josephs would be content with the Act One dreamcoat [ripped by jealous brothers] but Jon gets to wear the stunning threads tailored by the London College of Fashion for Aled Jones, and loaned by Brentwood Theatre Administrator Mark Reed. But that's another story …

apologies to those whose twitpics I've borrowed ...


Baby Austin is gala guest

The opening night of Brentwood Theatre’s Christmas Production of Danny The Champion Of The World will be marked by an appearance of a 1931 Austin 7 at the theatre, provided by Mr Graham Scutt of the Havering Classic Car Club.
A car of this type appears in the play which is based on the popular children’s story written by Roald Dahl. The Baby Austin arrives to be serviced at the filling station run by Danny and his father. Later it is taken by the 12 year old Danny as he goes to rescue his father after he fails to return home.
Bring a child or three to Brentwood Theatre this Christmas,  and meet Danny and his Dad, living together in an old caravan, running a small garage and filling station where they are blissfully happy. But will their happiness be spoilt by either Mr Hazell the local rich landowner who wants to see them evicted from their home, or the Council Inspector who claims that their caravan is uninhabitable?
Poachers and gamekeepers never mix, and Danny and his Dad get into many scrapes with man-traps, pheasants and raisins filled with sleeping powder.

8 December 2014 - 3 January 2015

Brentwood Theatre

Monday, November 24, 2014


at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Simon Armitage's new verse translation of this grisly tale has been praised for its immediacy and its fidelity to the spirit of the original.
Now here it is on stage, in the candlelit Jacobean playhouse, read by Armitage himself. The atmosphere, helped no little by the flickering light and the bray harp of Jon Banks, takes us right back to those medieval halls and their bards, spinning yarns after supper.
The poet is joined on stage by Tom Stuart, who reads the Knight's dialogue, and Polly Frame, who takes the other characters, including the Green Giant, Bertilak and his Lady. Except for the Porter, whose small role is taken by a woman in the front row …
It's an audience-friendly performance, with more laughs than one might expect; Armitage's mischievous modernisms, and wryly ironic emphases, adding enjoyably to the excitement of the ancient story.
And a taste of the original Wirral words at the beginning and the end, just to show how far we have come, and how close the new verse is to the old …

þis kyng lay at camylot vpon kryst masse
with mony luflych lorde ledez of þe best
rekenly of þe rounde table alle þo rich breþer
with rych reuel ory3t and rechles merþes

It was Christmas at Camelot – King Arthur’s court,
where the great and the good of the land had gathered,
all the righteous lords of the ranks of the Round Table
quite properly carousing and revelling in pleasure.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Writtle Singers at All Saints' Church

craftsman's art and music's measure
for thy pleasure
all combine
[Francis Pott – Angel voices]

Words and music carefully blended to mark the feast day of St Cecilia, patron saint of music and musicians.
The words came from Auden, once a friend and collaborator of Britten, and from Susan Tomes, who combines her career as a pianist with writing.
Sometimes the musician and the wordsmith were one and the same: William Byrd, whose Mass for Four Voices we heard, also wrote passionately urging everyone to take up singing - “It doth strengthen all parts of the brest, & doth open the pipes ...”. And Kodaly, an equally impassioned defender of music, was represented by Evening Song and Ode to Music – exquisitely sung by Writtle Singers directed by Christine Gwynn, with a wonderful wordless accompaniment under the melody.
The main work was JS Bach's Jesu Meine Freunde, an unaccompanied motet sung with a pure tone, precisely but eloquently phrased, with real dramatic power in the defiant “Trotz!” chorus.

Pour out your presence, O delight, cascading
The falls of the knee and the weirs of the spine,
Our climate of silence and doubt invading
[WH Auden – from “The Composer”]

stained glass image from Ohio:



Hutton Players at Brentwood Theatre


Colette's classic tale is a delicate flower. Didn't really survive the hothouse Hollywood treatment; blossoms much better in Anita Loos' dramatization, chosen by Hutton Players.

June Fitzgerald's production is suitably stylish – red drapes for salon and boudoir, period furniture, and, lovely touch, a mirror in the hallway allowing a furtive glimpse of callers as they arrive and depart.
The two grandes cocottes, whose mission is to launch the child Gigi into the demi-monde, are splendidly brought to life by Lindsey Crutchett as Grand'maman, and Liz Calnan, the epitome of elegance as Aunt Alicia. Gigi's fey maman, chorine at the Opera Comique, is given an amusing but sympathetic performance by Romy Brooks, who also manages the shaky, shrill soprano with aplomb.
Sterling work below stairs from Gary Ball as the laconic butler and Hilary Andrews as the pert bonne à tout faire.
Jake Portsmouth, as the sugar magnate who falls for the lanky schoolgirl, captures the suave exterior – top class tailoring – but is too callow to convince as the notorious man about town. His sudden dramatic proposal is very effective, though, and his affection for the young Gilberte is beyond doubt.
The title role is taken by Eleanor Burgess – better as the tomboy teenager than as the seductress in a Jeanne Paquin gown, but we feel for her as she listens helplessly at doors, and spiritedly rejects the shallow life of celebrity.

Lovely costumes. A cleverly designed double set, carefully lit. The music less impressive; Adolphe Adam, name-checked with Delibes in the script, might have covered the scene changes and set the fin-de-siècle mood. A great Offenbach curtain call, though. And there's a good deal of French amongst the American idiom – an evening with a dialogue coach could have enhanced the credibility of some of the cast.

I'd forgotten how much food there is here – Grand'maman's carrots and her pork cassoulet, the ortolans at Maxim's, the queues de rat and the liquorice ...

Friday, November 21, 2014


Little Baddow Drama Club
at the Memorial Hall

This Gothic comedy was penned back in '77 by Jack Sharkey, onetime jokes editor of Playboy.
Dreadful is a relative term”, and his often clever spoof of the Transylvanian genre has many witty touches, and is amusingly self-referential. But it runs out of comedy steam a little towards the end, as the characters sit around listening to explanations of what's been afoot.
Director Kenton Church [who also dresses up to play the various Shtunken brothers] has assembled an excellent cast, including some stalwarts and several new faces. The range of accents is breathtaking. We're in the Carpathians, I think, but there are Americans, including the daughter of the Home Counties Baroness and her Mad Scientist spouse.
The piece really needs brazen, bold performances, and some actors achieve this better than others here. Peter White is excellent as the deformed Mord, as is Sylvia Lanz as the prim Teutonic housekeeper, knocking back tots of schnapps.
John Peregrine is the mysterious von Blitzen, with Rita Ronn as an imposing grande dame [beautifully turned out, as are many of the women characters]. The youthful US contingent is well handled by Sarah Trippett-Jones, Heather Lucas and James Oakley.
The sound effects [phonograph horns high on the castle walls] are brilliantly done in the manner of steam radio, and the set, with its tiny fenestrals affording a glimpse of figures on the stairs, magically makes this tiny stage into a cavernous baronial hall.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


at the Savoy Theatre

This is a show that can't be accused of taking itself too seriously. And the audience approach it in the same spirit of old-fashioned fun.
First seen on Broadway ten years ago, and based on a Michael Caine movie from the Eighties, it's done as a traditional Musical Comedy, with glamour, gags, and proper chorus boys.

The company is seriously boosted by the arrival in the cast of seasoned troopers Gary Wilmot and Bonnie Langford – their work together is exemplary, and their Like Zis/Like Zat duet in Act Two is one of the best things in the show.
Alex Gaumond now plays Freddy, the slob to the suave Lawrence of Robert Lindsay, who survives from the original cast. Mr Lindsay enjoys sending himself up, undermining his glamour and charm, exchanging banter with the MD Richard and knowing glances with someone in Row E. He channels Henry Higgins, Leslie Philips, and in more reflective moments Michael Aldridge, whom he increasingly grows to resemble.

The design is Riviera Deco, with scenery flying out and sliding in, and the frocks are a delight, too. Less sophisticated is the writing – if the plot pits crass against classy, the former certainly wins out in the words. Just when All About Ruprecht looks set to rival Coward, Freddy's milkshake enema sours the tone. Ah well. The production numbers are impressive – tumbleweed for Oklahoma, and Katherine Kingsley [excellent work as Christine Colgate, the Soap Queen] can make Nothing Is Too Wonderful To Be True, a trite, forgettable ballad, sound like vintage Porter.

A good night out, just the thing for the office Christmas outing, unsubtle escapist nonsense in the sophisticated surroundings of the Savoy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


in Folk Song and Prose
at Brentwood Theatre

I've been listening to In Flanders Fields, the album from Coope Boyes and Simpson, so I was keen to hear another traditional music take on the Great War, presented by folk musicians from clubs across the South East, produced by Chris and Linda Paish, and narrated by Jan Ayres.
Some pieces in common, of course, Living It Up, and that musical hall classic Oh It's A Lovely War.
Poems from Owen and Sassoon, Kipling and Duffy, and songs the Tommies knew, as well as some original material: Thirteen Florins, a splendid, heartfelt new piece, written and sung by Mike Sparks, about Suffolk farm workers who enlisted after the harvest, leaving money behind the bar of the pub against the day they returned; a lovely setting of Vera Brittain's Perhaps for two unaccompanied voices, and Old Men Sing Love Songs, inspired by George Butterworth, whose Banks of Green Willow we heard sung very much as he would have first heard it in Edwardian Billingshurst.
It's a shame that this worthwhile charity event was let down by poor presentation. Folk clubs, I know, are relaxed, informal places; eye contact with the “audience” is carefully avoided. But this was a theatrical entertainment – the performers in the spotlight, us in darkness. Seeing all the musicians sitting in a semi-circle, staring down at their folders, looking at their watches, did not create a good atmosphere - unlike the cans of Maconochie's, the jars of Tickler's, which, with the poppies, successfully evoked the period. A good idea not to have applause between the items, but leaving a hesitant pause instead killed any mood that might have been created. And too many performers, readers especially, were simply not up to the task.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.
Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to Christmas songs again,
Although You cannot hear.'  
But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago. 

Monday, November 17, 2014



LADS at the Tractor Shed, Latchindon

Mary Redman was there at the final performance:

Guys And Dolls is one of the 20th Century's greatest musicals, up alongside Oklahoma, Carousel and West Side Story in the sense that they were game changers which altered how audiences perceived and enjoyed, not only the excellent music, but also the very different stories of American life in varied settings. And if you don't believe me, Bob Fosse the top banana of Broadway choreographers thought so too.
In taking journalist Damon Runyon's hilarious tales of Broadway gamblers and sharpsters plus their dolls and molls, musician and lyricist Frank Loesser created one of the most difficult sings in musical theatre yet they were melodies that are unforgettable and catchy.
LADS had a full house for their last night performance which fortunately also included Peter Jones the inspirational original director and designer of the group. With a track record stretching back to the Fifties, Peter has been unwell, but was looking so much better and lively in his rockabilly outfit of checked shirt and braces.
I've referred to the difficulty of singing this music but whenever the chorus was involved this was heartfelt and strong under the direction of MD James Tovey and his spirited band. For show stopper Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat by Nicely Nicely Johnson (Gavin Rouse) any vocal deficiency was covered by the chorus. He was joined by Alan Elkins as Benny Southstreet, Josh Oxley as Rusty Charlie, David Hudson's Harry the Horse and Daniel Tunbridge as Angie the Ox as the rest of the gang. David Bateman made a good Nathan Detroit, highlighting his naughty boy character. Unfortunately, I have to say that Ben Braden wasn't an ideal Sky Masterson since his singing was often off-key and his acting a bit diffident and lacking power.
The women's cast was much more assured with Aimee Hart as a delightful Sarah Brown the Mission Gal and Jamie-Leigh Royan as a highly glamorous Miss Adelaide. Both of them could sing and really did justice to numbers such as If I Were A Bell and Adelaide's Lament.
Simply staged - cutting out some of the Cuban scenes - by director Gavin Rouse with choreography by Vicky Bird and costumes by Kath Lang's team, this was an entertaining evening of musical theatre.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


at Chelmsford Cathedral

It's one of the greatest works of Western sacred music. But we can't be sure why Monteverdi wrote it, or where, or for whom. Did he intend it to be performed as published ? With what forces, in what context ?
This intriguing uncertainty has given musicians creative freedom to interpret this monumental setting; James Davy's performance with the Chelmsford Singers, his Cathedral choir, a first-rate roster of soloists and a superb period band, effectively blended the devotional and the dramatic.
Every corner of the Cathedral was explored, it seemed, with the capacity audience in two facing blocks along the nave. A spectacular opening, with the choristers before the altar opposite the massed choirs at the West End. Exquisitely sung solos from the ambos for The Song of Songs; duet, trio and ensemble dictated by Duo, Tres and Omnes, choristers for the Sonata, trebles for the decorated, divided Gloria in the surround-sound climax of the Magnificat. And the echo in Audi Coelum drifting down from the quaint gothic balcony over the South Door.
The choral sound was superbly shaped, with some luscious harmonies, illuminated by the brass and rounded by the architecture. The six soloists were all the more effective for being mobile and close to their audience: the intimate Nigra Sum, the sombre, subdued Deposuit.
Canzona, with their director Theresa Caudle on violin and cornett, gave colourful, often virtuosic support to the vocal forces.

More than 100 performers were involved in this memorable occasion – it is a measure of their success that our applause persisted until the very last of them had left the nave.


Young Gen at the Civic Theatre

A stage packed with young performers, singing, from memory, and dancing too. The confidence and the discipline they showed are a clue to the continuing success of CYGAMS, now celebrating forty-five years entertaining Chelmsford audiences.
This varied concert party began with their first ever show, Oliver: Consider Yourself splendidly done with some great characterizations and a bonus tap routine, and the showcase ended with a rousing One Day More. All directed by Jimmy Hooper, with choreography by Helen Millwood and Bryan Cass in charge of the music.
Opportunities to shine, and to gain invaluable performance experience, for members both seasoned and tyro. Often, as in the lovely arrangement of Over the Rainbow, roles were shared. Too many highlights to list, but standout work in the quartet for Somewhere, the cleverly staged “Loathing” from Wicked, both numbers from Miss Saigon, the massed forces for Seasons of Love.
Many challenges, too – not every number is easy to sell without the context of its show – none greater than the poetry and the complex scoring of Cats. Macavity and Memory both nicely done here, a foretaste of Young Gen's staging of the show in the Cramphorn next April. Already selling fast, I hear …

the image shows some of the cast in rehearsal