Saturday, January 31, 2015


KEGS Drama at King Edward VI School, Chelmsford

This powerful play about the redemptive power of theatre is a brilliant choice for a school drama department.
And you couldn't hope to see it better done than by this talented company of sixth form students under the firm direction of James French.
There are many outstanding performances: Ross Moncrieff's Ralph, the officer who sees the potential for dramatic performance in the convict colony. Matthew Cassettari's Robbie Ross, the bullying Scotsman who opposes the idea. Joe Richards is excellent as Wisehammer, the literate jew; Dominic Short makes a lively Sideway, who's in love with the theatre and seizes the chance to shine. Mary Brenham, subtly drawn by Elizabeth Hutchinson, is the shy girl dragged along to audition by her extrovert friend Dabby [Freya Von-Claire]. Perhaps most poignant of all, the tormented Harry Brewer – a wonderfully compelling performance from Max Purkiss – painfully possessive of his young Duckling, Jennifer Lamb, so moving as she cradles Harry's dying body and confesses her love. And Hazel Ellender is totally convincing as the troublesome Morden, whose death sentence casts a shadow over rehearsals.

But this is an ensemble piece, the carefully devised staging – all of the characters remain in the performance area throughout – providing a frame for the emotional adventures of convicts and Royal Marines in Sydney Cove.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Theatre at Baddow at the Village Hall

This version of the classic romantic novel focuses on the unsmooth path to true love of the Dashwood girls, with a little comic relief and a hurried happy ending - “events tumbling on top of one another”.
Pauline Saddington's production is stripped to the minimum – black drapes, a few nice pieces of period furniture, and a cast of seven, plus two supernumeraries who bring messages and shift chairs. A simple, largely static staging allowing us to concentrate on Austen's plot, and her words, which are ingeniously woven into the dialogue.
It's a strong, young cast. Almost everyone is dressed authentically, almost everyone is vocally convincing; no easy task with this polished dialogue. The girls – acquiescent Elinor [Sense] and headstrong, emotional Marianne [Sensibility] – are clearly contrasted by Helen Quigley and Donna Stevenson. The objects of their frustrated affection are the pale and amusing Ferrars [Nick Milenkovic] and the fickle, dissolute Willoughby [impressively characterized by Liam Mayle]. The attractive schemer Miss Lucy Steele is played by Ruth Westbrook, and the gentlemanly Colonel Brandon gets a confident, stylish performance from Roger Saddington.
The only bonnet on show is worn by Aunt Jennings, the voluble busybody deliciously done by Beth Crozier.

The music, not much of which would have been heard in the parlour at Norland, provides a lush cinematic under-scoring to the storyline.

Monday, January 26, 2015



The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe


Easy to forget that for years and years Shakespeare was enjoyed in versions geared to the changing tastes of the public, bastardized, bowdlerized, enhanced by spectacle and musical production numbers.

A taste of the Restoration in the candle-lit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, where the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment brought us Matthew Locke's Tempest. Elizabeth Kenny and her musicians, with stage director Caroline Williams, presented a potted version of the 1674 show put on by Betterton in Dorset Garden, hastily pulled together when the scheduled Psyche hit production troubles. It was based closely on the Tempest done by Davenant and Dryden a few years earlier. So a re-write of a re-write of a re-write.

The emphasis was on the music, but we did have about twenty minutes' worth of text, brilliantly delivered by Dickon Tyrrell - one of the glories of the Golden Pestle – and Molly Logan. Between them they played all the parts [Mustacho the Mate and Miranda's sister Dorinda among the less familiar], with Logan memorably killing herself in a duel.

The singers were Frazer B Scott, Samuel Boden, who played the title role in Ormindo here [it's back later this season] and Katherine Watson, superbly delivering Adieu to the Pleasures and Follies of Love.

That last by James Hart, one of several composers drafted in to supplement Locke's work, amongst them Henry Purcell and Pelham Humfrey.

One of the most spectacular sequences was the Masque of Devils, featuring two excellent boy singer/actors, Harry Cookson and Andrew Sinclair-Knopp.

This hugely enjoyable, revelatory performance is the first in a candle-lit season, including John Williams, Joanna McGregor and Anne Boleyn's Songbook.

For almost 200 years this was the most popular Tempest in town. A bit like only knowing The Taming of the Shrew from seeing Kiss Me Kate. There were some remnants of Shakespeare remaining – some of the verse, and most of the plot, between the opening storm and Prospero's valediction :

Henceforth this Isle to the afflicted be
A place of Refuge as it was to me;
The Promises of blooming Spring live here,
And all the Blessings of the rip'ning year;
On my retreat let Heaven and Nature smile,
And ever flourish the Enchanted Isle.

Friday, January 23, 2015


Blackmore Players at the Village Hall

An unusual panto, and a production which celebrates the local Blackmore community, with lots of name-checks [Budgen's, anyone ?] and disparaging references to the bigger, uglier towns surrounding it.
It's unpredictable fun, too, with BoPeep's sheep unmasked as spies and the big bad Wolf a cuddly vegetarian, appealingly played by Linda Raymond.
There are familiar panto favourites – a black-hearted villain from melodrama [Keith Goody], a thigh-slapping Prince [Charley Magee], a charming heroine [Juliet Ware as Little Miss Hood herself] and a glamorous granny as the Dame [Patrick Magee].
Not to mention a surprise late arrival by Santa [Steve Hanning], bringing sweeties for all and some lovely one-liners.
Director Lisa Mathews provides some nice production numbers, a popular audience song and a splendid Anything Goes finale, with choreography by Rosemarie Nelson and MD Shirley Parrott at the piano.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Little Waltham Drama at the Memorial Hall

Fresh faces and a new creative team for this year's show from a group with a strong tradition in village pantomime.
Directors Hannah Walker and Louise Louth wisely retain some of the most cherished features – the proscenium paintings and the confectionery walkabout, this time to a piano rag from the excellent orchestra of Dave Perry and Trevor Lee.
They cope impressively with a bright mixture of music: Steps, Wham and One Direction as well as Oliver and Aspects of Love. The chorus, stylishly dressed, get some great numbers [choreographed by Kim Travell], including Power of Love and a nice arrangement of Best Song Ever.
The successful mix of youth and experience is exemplified in the great comedy duo of [Tweedle]Dick and Dom [Ryan Chapman and Ken Little] – shame they don't have a funnier script to work with; it's noticeable that the best laughs come from the ad-libs. Brian Corrie gets his share, too, this year he's attempting a French accent …
Rebekah Walker makes a superb Rose – her “Yesterday” a musical highlight – nicely contrasted, especially in their dance duet, with her giant of a beast, Ash Cobden, transformed to a dashing Prince, but keeping enough hair for a fashionable hipster beard.
Rather too much of the story, when it surfaces, is entrusted to the good vs evil pairing of Vicky Weavers [fairy dust and smartphone in her reticule] and crabby Julie Cole. Other ingredients include a proper pantomime cow, a bungling inventor, a hilarious sing-along, a gorilla ghost routine and a formidable Dame in the shape of Viv Abrey's Nanny Ivy.

Like many of us, she's going through an out-of-money experience, reduced to Tesco for a birthday teddy bear for young Rose. But she couldn't get better value entertainment than this friendly village panto, the latest in a long line stretching back to the first Cinderella in the early Seventies.

production photograph: Peter Travell

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court Theatre

The amateur version is different ...they like to give everyone a chance.”
The difference in this case is the tranny hooker sent as Customer Satisfaction Agent in Act Two – a memorable cameo by Tonio Ellis, in kinky boots and brazen G-cup falsies.
This throwback farce from the 70s is an uneasy encounter between Brian Rix and the Permissive Society. It demands sturdy doors, a breakneck pace and sit-com style performances that transcend the lame script.
John Mabey's production has some lovely details – the musical opening, the Teasmade, the rubber chicken and the pendulous tassel. Not to mention the foyer cards paying homage to the Confessions movies.
Some masterly performances, too. Good to see Jean Speller on this stage as the annoying mother-in-law. Losing their trousers to the manner born are Jesse Powis as the bank official Bromhead, and Terry Cole hilarious as Needham from Hounslow. And holding the show together, inhabiting the manic genre with aplomb, the excellent Simon Burrell as Runnicles the randy little cashier.
Working hard as the innocent newly-weds drowning in unsolicited filth sent “on approval” are Rebecca Segeth and Martin Baker, with Gavin Maclure as a kindly police inspector.

Enjoyable nostalgia for those who remember Dubonnet and decimalisation, though production values are patchy: the newspaper, the serving hatch, the stairs. No doubt the pace and the timing will be honed as the run goes on – no professional company would let this be judged without several audience previews.
More nostalgia next time from CTW, with an Agatha Christie from the wartime West End.

Friday, January 16, 2015



The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe


Hot on the heels of the rumbustious panto The Knight of the Burning Pestle, this dark erotic tragedy [with off-colour comic relief] makes equally imaginative use of the unique Jacobean space.

Literally dark, with total blackness to start before tiny lanterns half-light faces in a cinematic opening. A single taper for a soliloquy, the musicians moving through the action, iron grills keeping Bedlam's fools and madmen behind bars.

It's a story of adultery, lust and murder, with Rowley's subplot set in a private lunatic asylum. A popular play in its day [first done in 1622], it spent centuries in the wilderness before some successful revivals and adaptations in our own day.

It is not memorable for its poetry, though language is often a sharp weapon; the plot[s] are strong, the action compelling. Ironic “rewards” and just deserts give a moral dimension to the blood-fest.

Beatrice-Joanna is betrothed to Alonzo, She loves Alsemero, and recruits De Flores, her father's servant, to murder her fiancĂ©. But De Flores is not satisfied with pecuniary recompense … Meanwhile, in the madhouse, Doctor Alibius' young wife Isabella is courted by Franciscus and Antonio, who feign madness to gain access to her, with help and hindrance from Old Lollio, servant and keeper of the lunatics.

Hattie Morahan is a feisty Joanna, seductive yet vulnerable. Her Welsh De Flores is the excellent Trystan Gravelle [RSC and Mr Selfridge], bringing a potent blend of wit and wickedness to the role. A strong supporting cast includes Thalissa Teixeira as the servant who's a willing accomplice in the bed-trick.
Two Globe veterans – Peter Hamilton-Dyer as Pedro and Jasperino, and Liam Brennan as the father. And Pearce Quigley, who does Shakespeare's fooling better than anyone, has most of the laughs as Lollio.

In his second production for this stage, Dominic Dromgoole gives us an atmospheric, pacy piece, with plenty of humour, and not just behind Bedlam's bars. We can never know how those first playgoers in Drury Lane would have seen this piece, but we can believe it could have been something after this fashion. The edgy, dynamic score is by Claire van Kampen, whose new play about Farinelli comes to the SWP in February.

Saturday, January 10, 2015



The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden


It's a packed pit, for Minkus's romantic score, arranged for Carlos Acosta's 2013 staging by Martin Yates, who's conducting here.

A packed stage too, with a busy town square set, and the versatile corps de ballet rushing around as gypsies, bull-fighters, dryads and more. Amongst all this local colour, the more classical pink tutus of Quixote's dream are a welcome moment of calm, superbly staged to some of the work's most attractive music.

The prologue, with our hero visited, like Scrooge, by apparitions in his bedchamber is nicely staged with an effective balance of drama and slapstick. Christopher Saunders, who played an important part in this new staging, is the errant knight, touchingly characterized, with Philip Mosley padded up as his fat companion.

Alas, after this, Cervantes' central characters tend to be relegated to the sidelines, envious onlookers, wall-flowers at the dance. Though he does get to tilt at a windmill, and has an impressive entrance with a warhorse Rosinante on wheels. The action – I don't say plot – revolves around young lovers Kitri and Basilio. Rather as if The Merchant of Venice were rewritten around Jessica's love life.

Sarah Lamb does not look especially Spanish, but enjoys the humour and the sun-kissed silliness of it all, ably partnered by Federico Bonelli,, with fluent leaps and lifts. Eye-catching work in support from Ryoichi Hirano as the fop Gamache, and Lara Turk in the Gypsy and Fandango divertissements.

Not the greatest ballet – much loved by the Russians, whose style it suits perfectly. But in this colourful revival, danced with verve and style against Tim Hatley's charming designs, it can hardly fail to please the festive crowds in Covent Garden.

Thursday, January 01, 2015


Lucy Benjamin in Deadly Murder at the Queen's

The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch has revealed that Lucy Benjamin is to star in its first production of 2015, Deadly Murder, running from 30 January – 21 February.

Audiences will know Benjamin from her five years in EastEnders, where she played Lisa Fowler. More recently, she has appeared in TV’s The Detectorists, Holby City and Kingdom, the feature film Not Alone and on stage, the national tour of Hairspray

She takes the leading role of Camille Dargus in David Foley’s thriller Deadly Murder. She appears alongside the Queen’s cut to the chase... repertory company member Sam Pay (playing Ted), who audiences will know from the Queen’s recent hits Godspell, The Great Gatsby and Sleeping Beauty; as well as new cut to the chase... member Tom Oliver Cornish (playing Billy), whose recent credits include The Country Girl (Apollo, London/UK tour).

Deadly Murder is directed by cut to the chase stalwart Simon Jessop, who directed the Queen’s production of The Great Gatsby last summer [one of my picks of 2014] and co-directed Deathtrap the previous autumn. Mr Jessop is currently entertaining full houses as the pantomime Dame, Nurse Nellie.

Camille Dargus [Benjamin] a wealthy jewellery designer is taken hostage in her opulent Manhattan penthouse by Billy [Cornish], a handsome young waiter she picked up at a society party.  There’s more to Billy than meets the eye, however, and Camille summons her security guard Ted to get him out. But suddenly, she finds herself held hostage by a man who seems frighteningly familiar with the past she has struggled to forget...

Deadly Murder runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Billet Lane, Hornchurch, from 30 January - 21 February. Tickets cost £16.50 - £26.50. Audiences can save money by joining the Queen’s jump the Q scheme and watch all four cut to the chase… shows this season – Deadly Murder, Boeing Boeing, Elephant Man and Hot Stuff – from just £12.50 each.

When buying a jump the Q, customers have the choice between the flexibility and extra benefits of a WEEKENDER Season Ticket and the super value of a SAVER Season Ticket:
WEEKENDER £64 – Any night of the week for just £16 eachSAVER £50 - Monday – Thursday, previews and matinees only for just £12.50 each

Call the Box Office on 01708 443333 or book online at