Sunday, September 27, 2015



College Players at Brentwood Theatre


Pinter's dark classic is given a very impressive outing on the intimate boards at Brentwood.
Transformed, for just three nights, into a dingy 1950s dining room. Design-wise, the gold stars [pouffe, hallstand, lloyd loom] heavily outnumber the black marks [Evening Standard, hi-viz, shopping bag].
The serving hatch frames moments. Characters hesitate in doorways. A pocket torch makes masks of terror.
William Wells' production catches to perfection the latent menace, the absurd fantasies, the sexual tension. Wells himself plays Petey the deckchair man, and he is joined by a superb cast. Especially impressive are Lindsay Hollingsworth as dowdy Meg – her early scene with Stanley setting the tone marvellously – and Bob O'Brien as McCann, affable and scary, tearing strips off the Standard, staring at the broken drum.
And Gary Ball, outstanding as troubled, mysterious Stanley, mean and malicious at the outset, a broken, voiceless marionette at the end, before the slow fade on one final treacherous memory. The surreal interrogation, just before the interval in this version, his paranoia personified.
Claire Hilder is Lulu, flirtatious at the party, resentful the morning after, and Matt Jones plays Goldberg, sharp suit and insincere smile, whose briefcase she unwisely opens.
A memorable production of an important play; a huge achievement for this enterprising company.

Friday, September 25, 2015


at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

Robert Harling's classic tragicomedy, set in a Southern “beauty shop”, is cleverly constructed for maximum effect. Joy and despair, tears and laughter, with the one-liners, ripostes and put-downs equitably shared amongst the six ladies.

The Queen's do it proud. There's “pink plonk” for the interval, or an exclusive Pink Magnolia cocktail, and, on opening night at least, five dancers in jeans and check shirts for the wedding of Shelby and Jackson.

A superb stage design too [Dinah England], with a magnificent magnolia tree beyond the salon – see its petals fall, replaced by fairy lights as April turns to December. There's a practical pink basin, a proper hood dryer, a chicken door-stop and plastic bug blinds rippling in the breeze.

Liz Marsh's production manages the moods and keeps the pace lively. Some effective grouping, too, with the five ladies turning their curiosity onto newbie Annelle, or gathering eagerly round the baby photo. Or M'Lynn sitting quietly apart as the news of her selfless devotion to her daughter breaks. The salon falls still as Shelby's final struggle is recalled, before Clairee breaks the mood with a desperate joke.

Truvy's is as much a community support group as a hairdresser's, and the sense of strong, caring women coping with all that life throws at them is at the heart of the production.

Six excellent actors inhabit their roles: Queen's regular Sarah Mahony is Truvy, with bold eye-shadow and a restless energy, Lucy Wells her prayerful new apprentice. Shelby's warm, bubbly personality is beautifully suggested by Gemma Salter's nuanced performance; Claire Storey, as her mother, encompasses a huge emotional range, fussing and fretting at the beginning, raging at the unfairness of fate at the end. Their heart-to-heart in the gloom is the poignant turning point of the drama.
The two older ladies are nicely contrasted – Gilian Cally's wiry Ouiser, ankle socks and galoshes, and Clairee, former first lady of the town, glossily groomed, with racy red shoes. She's played to perfection by Tina Gray, who first appeared at the Queen's in 1971. Her every laugh is immaculately timed, her every word clearly audible. Elsewhere the accents – impressively authentic – and the wide stage meant that some lines were lost.
A lively, warm-hearted version of a favourite play, firmly set in “too colourful for words” 1980s Louisiana, but universal in its sympathetic portrayal of six remarkable women, sharing the good times and the bad in the humid intimacy of the beauty parlour.

photograph: Mark Sepple

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Thursday, September 24, 2015


CAODS at the Civic Theatre

A spin-off from the movie, this rather shallow show is a real crowd-pleaser. One great anthem, a silly plot, and oodles of Catholic kitsch.
CAODS give it everything they've got, and the packed houses are going home very happy. Sallie Warrington's production has pace, pizazz and some very nifty choreography. And it uses a huge cast to excellent effect, with nuns filling the wide Civic stage, decked out with some splendid scenery – the monumental Queen of Angels, the stained glass, the last supper, not to mention the police station and the night club, trucked and flown by a hard-working crew.
Plenty of scope for broad-brush characterization amongst a talented company. Stephanie Yorke-Edwards is the enthusiastic chorister Sister Mary Patrick, Jessica Broad the perplexed young postulant Sister Mary Robert. John Cox plays the priest who enthusiastically embraces the sinful world of show-biz [“The reviews are in !!”]. Curtis, the gangster boyfriend, is done with heavy menace by Jonathan Davis; on the side of the angels, Sweaty Eddy, childhood sweetheart now neighbourhood cop, is Oli Budino, slickly switching between policeman and fantasy star in his big number. And the three stooges [Ian Gilbert, David Gillett and Ben Wilton] have a ball, especially in their priceless Lady In The Long Black Dress.
Deloris, the wannabe musician around whom the plot revolves, is given a great larger-than-life characterization by Tessa Kennedy, suggesting a singer with more self-belief than talent, but making the most of the show-stoppers she's given, and showing touching loyalty to her new-found sisters.
Not much subtlety in this show, but Helen Hedin manages to make the Mother Superior a wonderfully believable character, long-suffering, with flashes of caustic wit, she represents the forces of tradition who're not convinced that soul and disco – putting the Sis in Genesis – are the way forward for the church.
The 70s musical idiom – lovingly guyed in Alan Menken's score – is excellently re-created by MD Robert Wicks and an outstanding twelve-piece band.

production photograph by Christopher Yorke-Edwards

Sunday, September 20, 2015


Vivid Theatre Productions at Brentwood Theatre

Ian Southgate pans for musical theatre gold in this fund-raiser for Brentwood Theatre, directed by Emma Jane Sweeney. Broadway and off, West End and fringe yield a fascinating haul: many of the numbers on offer will be fresh even to aficionados. Excellent singing throughout, and not a microphone to be seen.
The theme is happiness, symbolized by colourful balloons. Andrew Lippa's title song, which opens the first set, comes from the jinxed Betty Boop; it neatly leads into Pulled from The Addams Family, beautifully interpreted by Katie-Elizabeth Allgood. If I Didn't Have You – an odd couple/sunshine boys number from Monsters Inc – is impeccably done in relaxed style by Ben Martins and Bob Southgate.
Summertime has a bedtime story background, before the kids kick off the quilts to give us Naughty from Matilda.
Schadenfreude [bursting other people's balloons] from Avenue Q, then a revivalist conga from Bat Boy to end the first half.
Highlights of the second hour include Kerry Cooke's Good Times from The Little Mermaid, There, from the musical revue Closer Than Ever, with Emily Funnell giving the couple The Secret of Happiness from Daddy Long Legs. And a lovely a capella octet from Once.

It's amazing how much of this has something to say even out of its dramatic context. But the Juke Box Musicals have all the best tunes these days, and, as a spoonful of sugar to those who are waiting for something they recognize, two numbers from Carole King's Beautiful. Then, with trumpet obbligato from Becca Tofts, the joy balloons spread out into the audience and toes tap along to a couple of Disney hits.



Trinity Methodist Music and Drama


Trinity follow their “night-in-the-museum” Pirates with a surreal Trial by Jury. Part Wind in the Willows [remember the rabbit jury ?] part Alice in Wonderland, part panto, Tony Brett's production had Cinders suing her Prince for breach of promise. Buttons, who traditionally might have the better case, is the judge here, and of course gets his girl before the final chorus.
A riot of colourful costume – sugar-pink piglets for the bridesmaids, a presumably perjurious Pinocchio, Fox, Hedgehog and Toad, a Mole with cap and pink gloves, a Badger in a natty black-and-white suit. And the whole jury glued to their animal husbandry centre-folds. Many enjoyable performances, too: Gavin Jarvis the Prince, Kayleigh McEvoy his accuser, and the inimitable Patrick O'Brien playing the Learned Judge to the manner born. Directing the music from the upright piano: Gerald Hindes.
In the curtain-raiser concert – Savoy Opera snippets with a legal theme – O'Brien was the insomniac Lord Chancellor, Jan Moore a splendid headmistressy Fairy Queen, and Howard Brooks and Tony Brett the Mikado and Koko, an oriental fan the only clue, thank heavens, to their Japanese ethnicity...

production photograph by Val Scott

Thursday, September 17, 2015



CTW at the Old Court Theatre


Opening the new CTW season, Arnold Ridley's museum piece, a nod, perhaps, to the “crowd-pleaser” season just past.
Good houses, though I suspect that Wednesday's audience was “a difficult crowd to entertain”. But a fine cast, directed by Iain Holding-Sutton, with Caroline Froy, made an excellent job of building suspense and maintaining the period style.
Ryan Read-Gaterell, for example, made a believable Charles, with Caroline Wright as his blushing bride. The character parts have the best of it, and we enjoyed Robin Winder's grumpy old station-master Saul, and Christine Davidson's imposing spinster, sitting in state behind The Times, and toppling hilariously off the wagon thanks to Teddie's handy hip-flask. This “idiot with the feather in his hat” was memorably done by Tonio Ellis, pushing the pace and pointing the laughs. And Jade Flack stood out in the smaller role of the madwoman who is not all she seems.
The spacious waiting room is convincingly reproduced, with pre-nationalization grime on the windows; unfortunately lighting angles caused annoying reflections once the action started. Ridley gave long explicit instructions for the steam train effects; nicely done at the Old Court, though a little more sound and a little more smoke would not have come amiss.
The brandy was still pre-war, but the contraband had now become narcotics rather than arms.
An impressive curtain call had the cast of twelve standing like commuters on a platform, as the ghost train roars through Fal Vale station one last time.

Thursday, September 10, 2015



at the Criterion Theatre

Last day for Patrick Barlow's send-up of Buchan [and Hitchcock] down in the lovely little Criterion, where the tube trains rumble below and the rich Rococo ceiling glitters above.
A perfect setting for this small-scale shoestring production – it stands in for the Palladium [cue Sunday Night theme] in the dénouement, and its bare stage, fly-ropes and marker tape, a visible reminder of the absurd theatricality of this breathless canter through the familiar plot.
The 1935 film is a constant point of reference – the train [“Coronation Scot” on the soundtrack as the tiny toy chuffs across behind the footlights] and the planes, with Alfred himself one of the wobbly ombres chinoises.
Melodramatic over-acting, and a breathlessly physical style, keeps the pace lively for 100 minutes – the cast has changed almost as often as the Mousetrap since Charles Edwards brought his Hannay to these boards back in 2006. The pipe, the pencil moustache and the stiff upper lip now belong to Daniel Llewellyn-Williams, the women are [mostly] played by Kelly Hotten, and the quick-change broker's men – police officers, Scots matrons and travellers in ladies' underwear – are dazzlingly done by Gary Scotton [a memorably inaudible orator as well as Mr Memory] and understudy Darryl Clark.
This peerless production, directed by Maria Aitken, is off on tour; its place at the Criterion to be taken by Bert Bacharach, I believe.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015


Autumn at the Civic and Cramphorn Theatres

Drama, dance, music and brand new seating in the Cramphorn.

Two very different stage classics come to the Civic - Agatha Christies A Murder Is Announced (3 - 7 November) with Judy Cornwell as Miss Marple, and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot (19 – 20 November). Amongst the work on offer next door in the Cramphorn, Casting The Runes (28 October), two more thrilling ghost stories performed by Robert Lloyd Parry.
A chance to try out the new seating, which promises greater comfort, with new height and angles giving a better view of the performance area. And just like your local multiplex, you can have “luxurious and spacious” premium seating in the back row for just £2 extra.
The dance highlight has to be Ballet Cymru, bringing Prokofiev's Cinderella to the Civic on October 10
Music includes tributes to the Bee Gees - Nights On Broadway (12 September), as and Kate Bush - Dreaming Of Kate (19 September). And the much-loved M&G Orchestral Concerts return for another season, beginning with the BBC Concert Orchestra on November 15.
And booking is already heavy for this year's pantomime, Aladdin, opening its month-long run on December 2.

To find out about all the shows on at Chelmsford City Theatres and to book tickets visit or call the Box Office on 01245 606505.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


Outside In at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

The pomp and the pageantry are largely missing from this experimental move indoors for the “tourist friendly” Richard II currently playing to a packed, appreciative yard in the Wooden O next door.
The opening coronation was solemn but low-key; minions with banners in the galleries looked cramped, the knock-about fun with the unmasking of Aumerle was farcically crammed onto the tiny stage.
And, as ever, facial expressions were often hard to read by candlelight.
But there were plenty of compensations – Charles Edwards' superficial, self-centred king was very present in this intimate arena; his light touch with the text sounded confidential and carefree. And the transition from entitlement to despair was movingly suggested. The wonderful Old Gaunt [William Gaunt – casting as perfect in person as it must have seemed on paper] spoke the lines with grave sensitivity.
Simon Godwin's spirited production glosses over many of the complexities in Shakespeare's history play – but this rare opportunity to look into the heart of the piece made a valuable companion to the pomp and the bombast of the open-air experience.