Thursday, December 31, 2015



Deliberately scaled back this year, with the average weekly haul only three reviews.
But plenty of wonderful memories to share; here's a baker's dozen of performances I would happily have re-visited … and in some cases did so.
Nicely spread between London and the provinces, Essex and the rest, professionals and amateurs.
In Warwickshire, two very different pieces: Oppenheimer, with the always admirable John Heffernan, and the beautifully re-imagined Edwardian Love's Labours Lost [and Won].
Much more of the Bard at Shakespeare's Globe, but I've picked out All The Angels – about the genesis of Handel's Messiah, and the deliciously entertaining Nell Gwynn, now transferring [like Farinelli and the King] to the West End, but not, alas, with Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the title role.
Up and down the A12 to Colchester and Hornchurch, both enterprising producing houses still. The Elephant Man at the Queen's was superbly done, and Bully Boy made an auspicious opener at the Mercury's newly re-fitted studio.
Plenty of tasty seasonal fare this winter – my favourite perhaps The Little Match Girl at Sadler's Wells, due to travel up to Ipswich after the Christmas break.
Small- and medium-scale tours continue to bring theatre to all parts of the country. [And how wonderful to see Flintlock join their ranks !] Let The Silver Sword stand for them all.
Chichester Festival Theatre – getting a new Artistic Director in 2016 – fielded excellent musicals again this year – but the unexpected discovery was Somerset Maugham's For ServicesRendered, faultlessly revived in the Minerva.
A musical revival, not from the Chichester stable, was the Old Vic's hit of the year, High Society, with the bonus of Joe Stilgoe at the grand piano.
Classic musicals from local companies too: CTW's powerfully intimate Sweeney Todd, and a phenomenal Cats from CYGAMS in the Cramphorn, who also gave us a great Hairspray in the Civic.
And in the tiny, hard-working Brentwood Theatre, many impressive productions, including a beautifully realised Pinter Birthday Party from the College Players.

production photograph of CYGAMS' Cats by Barrie White-Miller


Royal Opera at the Linbury Studio


Philip Pullman's charming tale is set in a non-specific Orient. A fairy story of elephants, mountains and fireworks. Like all the best stories, it has something to say to everyone; the young children and the adults in the audience equally enchanted.
The novella, now 30 years old, has also been a successful play, and now it is a proper opera, with music by David Bruce and a libretto by Glyn Maxwell.
John Fulljames's colourful production is deliberately, delightfully simple – shadow puppets [by Indefinite Articles] on all sorts of screens, OHP projections, and some stunning costumes. All to relate the adventures of feisty proto-feminist Lila – the girl who never gives up. She's desperate to follow in the firework-making footsteps of her ageing father Lalchand. He's unwilling to pass on skills and trade secrets, so Lila embarks on a quest to find the fire-fiend. She's joined by her friend Chulak, by Hamlet the white elephant, and by the optimistic, kind-hearted pirate Rambashi.
In the end, of course, father and daughter are reconciled, Hamlet finds his long lost love Frangipani, and Lalchand's fireworks win the day.
Bruce's fine, bright score – infused by eastern influences - gives many opportunities to the young singers, accompanied by CHROMA with Alice Farnham conducting. Lalchand – sung when I saw the show by Nicholas Merryweather – has a lovely aria to his daughter. Most of the lyrical lines are given to Lila herself – the excellent Lauren Fagan [seen this year in Orpheus by candlelight] – and to the elephant, beautifully done by American counter-tenor Tai Oney. Peter Kirk brings a cheeky charm to the elephant boy Chulak, and Ross Ramgobin is the audience favourite as Rambashi, not to mention the King, complete with stilts, fingernails and the flashiest frock in the show.
The evening is crammed with inventive inspiration, starting with the Linbury foyer, with fly-away powder, Firework cupcakes and rockets in the ceiling. The Echoes on Cruel Mountain, Hamlet's billboard bottom, and the firework competition at the end, with Herr Puffenflasch using sand, Signor Scorcini oil, to finger-paint the pyrotechnics before our eyes.

It all feels refreshingly hand-made. A taste of the lyric stage for the ROH's youngest opera-goers, and a timely reminder that magic can be made without microphones or electronics of any kind.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Stondon Singers 
at the Priory Church of 
St Laurence

Full house this year for the Stondon Singers' traditional concert of carols and Christmas music. As usual, a bracing mix of old and new, the familiar and the discoveries, conducted and introduced by Christopher Tinker.
New to me was Jacob Handl, 16th century Slovene, whose Mirabile Mysterium was a challenging combination of the archaic and the modern. The evening ended with a favourite of mine since school days, Peter Cornelius's The Three Kings, sung from the west end of this ancient church.
A première: Alan Bullard's attractive setting of Shepherds Guarding Your Flocks, followed by Berlioz' Shepherds' Farewell. Two twentieth century pieces, beautiful in their simplicity, Rutter's Candlelit Carol and Britten's Hymn To The Virgin, with English and Latin alternating antiphonally.
Mark Ellis was the soloist in Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Christmas Carols, splendidly performed, with Michael Frith at the organ. It concludes with an old version of a well-known carol from Somerset – let the last verse stand as season's greetings to you all:

God bless the ruler of this house,
And long on may he reign,
Many happy Christmases
He live to see again!
God bless our generation,
Who live both far and near,
And we wish them a happy, a happy New Year.

Sunday, December 20, 2015


The Essex Group at Witham Public Hall

Gary Sullivan's Sleeping Beauty – bringing the shameless excitement of panto to Witham – takes some liberties with the tale, but gives generous opportunities to its performers of all ages. The script revels in some entertaining flights of linguistic fancy and rhyming fun.
The production has a professional feel – flashy merchandise, strong, outgoing performances, slick choreography, impressive pyrotechnics and a hi-tech mirror ball.
And there are some excellent people in the company. Engaging the audience and providing much of the on-stage energy, Josh Handley's lively Jester Jack, a perfect panto performance. A nice foil for the coarse-grained Nanny Sally of writer/director Gary Sullivan. 
Jackie Parry has all the menacing moves for a boo-able Maleficent, another strong characterization. Very promising work from many of the youngsters: George Bedwell as the Squire to Julian Harris's “stunning looking Prince”, Lily Downes as Subservient, sidekick to the Wicked Witch, and Ben Blackborow working incredibly hard as a bumbling aviator, a village idiot, Walnut and Dreyfus the Dragon.
Shona Ekins makes a charming, feisty Fairy Nuff, marshalling her tiny corps de ballet, “representing the whole fairy kingdom”. Nice, confident performances, beautifully costumed. Super frocks for the dancers, too, even for the trees in the “obnoxious forest”. And of course some gorgeous creations for the Dame, including a great super-hero reveal.
The musical numbers are polished and energetic – a Hairspray kick-line, something sweet from Anastasia, and for the happy-ever-after ending, Grease and Walk the Moon. A little more music would have been welcome, and a little less innuendo, perhaps.
Essex Group are back in panto mode next year – nine performances of Puss in Boots for Christmas 2016 – but before then, the ever-popular Oliver!, coming to the Public Hall in April.


Chelmsford Singers at the Cathedral

David Willcocks, doyen of choral Christmas, who died in September at the age of 95, was well represented in this upbeat selection box for choir, audience and brass.
Ding Dong ! Merrily on High, with decorative organ filigree from Laurence Lyndon-Jones, O Come All Ye Faithful, God Rest You Merry Gentlemen, and a rousing Hark the Herald to start, with fanfare from the excellent Westminster Brass. We were treated to four instrumental pieces from them, including a jolly Sussex Carol, two sleigh rides from East and West, and a Christmas Cracker which turned out to be more of a garland, a string of carols from Realms of Glory to Wenceslas.
The choral highlight was Cecilia McDowall's brand new Cantata for Christmas, A Winter's Night. An inventive sequence of five English, German and French carols linked by instrumental bridges from brass quintet, percussion and organ, given an impressive, joyous performance by the Singers. The quintet also featured in Rutti's Three Carols; the Presto climax a rhythmically exciting Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.

Plenty of opportunity for us to match our lung power against the might of brass and organ, including a lighter Willcocks arrangement of Jingle Bells. Musical Director James Davy, sporting a festive scarlet bow tie, confessed to blowing the entire budget for this Christmas Concert on the band, imploring us to jingle our car keys in lieu of Sleigh Bells ...

Saturday, December 19, 2015


Sadlers Wells at the Lilian Baylis Studio
for The Reviews Hub

Hard to pigeon-hole Arthur Pita's Little Match Girl. “Dance Theatre”, officially, but this unique entertainment embraces so many genres and influences, in a very satisfying hour on the stage.
It has a distinctly European feel – though Hans Christian Andersen's Denmark seems a long way from the fictional Italian town where the Pita sets the action.
As we file in, Frank Moon is already on stage, giving a foretaste of the live music which is such an important part of the show. Mandolin, violin, beatbox and much else besides, including a high-profile solo for the ethereal voice of the theremin. Echoes perhaps of Fellini and his house composer Nino Rota.
Just four dancing, singing actors take on all of the roles – and what splendidly drawn roles they are; some traditional, like Nonna Luna, the ghost of Fiammetta's grandmother, some less so, like Hank the Astronaut, whose LEM the matchgirl helpfully ignites for his return to earth. Audience favourites are the grotesque Donnarumma family, Fulvio and the two “ugly sisters”, who callously celebrate their Christmas while the starving girl watches their shadows on the window-blinds.
There are many such marvellous moments – the town's lights extinguished as Fiammetta knocks on each door, the bullying match boys, her competitors, their fistfuls of tapers (think Struwwelpeter) making menacing music of their own, grandmother's gravestone, the stepladder to the moon – a huge disc which turns at the scene change to reveal the earth seen from space. And, at the end, while on earth life has moved on, and lighters have replaced matches, in the heavens the Little Match Girl is lighting the stars …
Superb performances all round, with impressive quick changes of character and costume. Angelo Smimmo is Nonna Luna, whose Mai Più Freddo, Mai Più Pianti lullaby is a musical highlight, as well as Fulvio, the Donnarumma father. Valentina Golfieri and Karl Fagerlund Brekke are the OTT daughter and mother, as well as the match boys. Brekke is also the kindly lamplighter – a nicely imagined duet with his pole. In the title role, Corey Annand exactly captures the weary pathos of the dying girl – some beautiful solos as she tries to sell her wares, with tentative leaps and twirls. A gentle pas-de-deux on the Sea of Tranquillity with her astronaut (Brekke again). Even at the end, when she finds happiness at last, her joy seems tempered by shyness. A wonderfully compelling characterization, frail, waif-like and totally convincing as the little girl lost in a cruel world.
This is pure Christmas magic, with a strong moral message, and deserves to become as much a traditional part of children's festive entertainment as The Nutcracker or The Snowman.


at the Charing Cross Theatre


for The Reviews Hub

Above our heads, trains rumble to the southern suburbs. And on the compact Charing Cross stage, beyond the footlights, giant untitled tomes, which double inventively as doors and windows, with more books, pop-up this time, for the tree-tops.
Mandy Holliday's take on The Tinderbox is some distance removed from Hans Christian Andersen, though we do have the three dogs, and the cast, in narrator mode, sport seasonal Scandi pullis. 
Chief delight of the 70-minute production is the use of music – all carefully listed in the glossy programme, which also has the complete story for bedtimes yet to come. Against full orchestral backing tracks, the cast – some excellent voices here – sing new words in an unashamedly operatic style. A Valkyrie Mabel, Mozart's Horn Concerto, a Strauss trio, and, for the young lovers, a wonderful vocal pas-de-deux from The Sleeping Beauty. As they step forward to the footlights, there's a moment of pure Victorian romance, easily recognizable by the theatre-goers who first sought entertainment under the arches in the 1850s.
This production – directed by Abbi Pickard Price, with choreography by Lily Hone – is full of fun, with plenty of pantomime-style interaction: He's behind you !  Oh no you're not … There's a cracked mirror, a magic apron, a chain of paper men for the chorus. The little tinder box itself is magically transported all over the stage, the attractions of the big city - “OPERA”, “BALLET”, “SHOPPING” - appear in lights on the spines of the books. And, more randomly, a yoyo and a rubber chicken.
Mandy Holliday herself plays the Old Witch, with her tiny cauldron, plus Harry the Hound and the Wicked Queen. Samuel J Weir is Brian the Brave, dashing hero, flirting with the audience and generously sharing his gold coins. His Princess is Bridget Costello, and the Gold Dog is Ceris Hine. Everyone works hard to people the story – though we never meet Prince Wobblebottom from the Kingdom of Chaos; there are charming puppets, too, a minimalist horse, a slender ballerina, and the dogs are cleverly imagined.
The transformation is brilliantly if simply done; elsewhere the magic is spread a little thin. But young theatre-goers – too tiny perhaps for a full-blown panto – will appreciate the shouting and the silliness, whilst for the mums, grand-parents and au pairs, there's some lovely singing to proper classical tunes, and a vague memory of a fairy tale from childhood.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court

Sondheim's Sweeney ? At the Old Court ? Mine certainly not the only eyebrow raised when the listing appeared.
But the production – CTW's first full musical for many a year – has proved a resounding success both financially and artistically.
Catherine Bailey's take on the show is necessarily spare and intimate. Exactly the way Christopher Bond's drama was done when it first caught Sondheim's eye. We enter past the harmonium and the man-size meat grinder waiting in the wings. The set – built in the auditorium to accommodate the notorious salon above the pie shop – is a grim Dickensian façade, with ghostly dustsheets above. The action begins with a sombre procession, before Toby draws us in to the story.
A damaged child, huddled in a strait-jacket. Tobias Ragg is often a young boy in the melodrama, much less often in the musical, since for him, as for all the principals, the writing is a real challenge. Charlie Borg makes an excellent job of it – comedy and tragedy alike: his last appearance, hollow-eyed and grey-haired, sets the tone for the emotional finale.
No surprise to see the excellent David Slater nail the title role, a riveting performance which makes the character human in his deranged passion, and effortlessly navigates Sondheim's melodic lines. But a revelation to hear CTW regulars revealed as fine vocalists: Dave Hawkes as the “abominable judge”, Chris Edwards as the revolting Beadle. And Debbie Miles as a memorable Mrs Lovett, holding her own with Slater in the duets, with excellent comic timing as well as hidden depths in, say, Nothing's Going To Harm You. By The Sea is superb, with a grumpy Todd and a fetching pair of bathing belles.
Tom Tull's fine voice as Antony, blends operatically with Jade Flack's tragic Johanna. No operatic fireworks from Harry Sabbarton's Pirelli, alas, but a sprechgesang approach which works surprisingly well.
The chorus copes superbly with the challenges of the score – good to see figures slumped at the end of the alley, and the constant presence of the heap of rags concealing Marie McNulty's beggarwoman. Though more sensitive, oblique lighting might help her melt into the shadows. The uplighting for the barber shop is very effective, however.
I've seen many Sweeneys but the powerful intimacy of this version is something special. And, at the end, after the bloodbath and the curtain call, the Stage Manager rushes on to wipe the gore from the Fleet Street floor lest the Demon Barber claim another victim ...

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Dyad Productions at the Cramphorn Theatre

Three seasonal stories, all set upon Christmas Eve. Told by Rebecca Vaughan, severely dressed like a Victorian governess, in the customary setting of club armchair and candelabra.
Vaughan herself provides an atmospheric prologue and epilogue, evoking those ghosts of Christmases past, haunting the darkness and the silence of a winter's night; a candle is snuffed out as each story ends.
The first is Bone to His Bone, by E G Swain. In which a clergyman, plagued by insomnia, is prompted by a quarto Compleat Gard'ner to venture into the vicarage garden.
Then The Phantom Coach by Amelia Edwards [Vaughan's Female Gothic chilled us at this same address a couple of years ago]. A traveller, stranded on snow-covered moors, meets an old man with a lantern, and his reclusive polymath master, before taking the lonely road to head off the night mail.
A hot December, but no less chilling in E F Benson's The Step, set in colonial Alexandria. Heartless Jack Cresswell is pursued by his guilty fears, seeking sanctuary at last among the cowled Brothers of Poverty.
All beautifully acted, without undue histrionics but with credible characterizations and a myriad subtle movements and gestures, directed by Elton Townend Jones. The mood is considerably enhanced by lighting – candle, firelight, moonlit garden – and Danny Bright's sound design.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Broomfield Church and Community Choir
with Sandon School Voices
Broomfield Parish Church

Patrick Appleford's catchy cantata was first heard in 1992. This splendid revival, organized and conducted by Jill Parkin, raised funds for the restoration of the organ in St Mary with St Leonard's, which was packed to capacity for this very special event.
The work – for choir, soloists, narrators and congregation – tells the Nativity story in a series of icons [word pictures from the readers - Dick Petley and Val Vicary] based on the Gospel of Luke.
The choir – specially formed for the occasion – sang the crowd choruses; their Come and See the Baby was a comedy highlight. The audience was encouraged to join, chorale-style, in the four very accessible hymn tunes.
Jonathan Parkin was a commanding Gabriel, Neill Wiltshire the priest Zechariah. Good to See You was a lovely catch-up duet from kinswomen Elizabeth and Mary; Rachel Curren's Elizabeth had a superb solo – Sometimes I Wonder – backed by Val Hougham and the Satin String Quartet. Marvellous to hear Mary sung by the pure young voice of Emma Shorey; her What a Wonder-filled Day was especially fine. Her equally youthful Joseph was Louis Dearmer. Simeon, who welcomes the Messiah to the temple in Jerusalem in the final icon, was sung by Richard Lovewell.
Canon Appleford, who was in the audience to hear his cantata, uses an attractive variety of musical styles to stress the universal relevance of the Christmas story. There's even a nod to that other Messiah, 250 years older, also a notable fund-raiser in its day.


Brentwood Theatre Company

Mole, Ratty, Badger and Mr Toad – Kenneth Grahame's immortal characters come to the Brentwood stage for this year's children's entertainment, directed by Ray Howes.
This musical version, book and songs by American Michael Hulett, dates from the early 80s, sitting somewhere between the classic A A Milne adaptation and the NT's Alan Bennett version. The music is attractive – an atmospheric arrangement for Brentwood by MD Andy Prideaux – and the characters charming. There are cute puppet critters, too. The story comes off worst, with the villainous weasels replaced by a random Frenchman. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is shoe-horned in, as is In the Bleak Midwinter, sensitively lit and beautifully sung though it is. 
Excellent work from Francesca Burgoyne as the myopic mole, and Lucy Litchfield as all the humans, including a lovely Scouse washerwoman. Andrew Nance is the dependable Rat, and Stewart Briggs brings gravitas to the gruff Badger. Jackson Pentland's incorrigible Toad - “forever up to something new” - is a delight, unable to keep his hands off his new love the automobile, unable to express apology or remorse at the end.
The performance space is transformed – scene cloths around the auditorium, a clever camouflage webbing tree, the reeds and the willows, and Rat's cosy retreat.
Most of the youngsters in the audience were rapt; panto-style participation kept them involved right to the end.
A fresh look at the river bank from across the pond, and, for younger children, an accessible alternative to bigger, brasher festive entertainments.


A Made in Colchester Production at the Mercury Theatre

for The Reviews Hub

You'll believe a mat can fly …

Aladdin's magic carpet ride was just one of many delights in this carefully crafted panto, a near-perfect cocktail of glamour, silliness and fairy-tale romance.
Under the green-eyed gaze of the dragons rampant either side of the stage, the book, by Fine Time Fontayne and director Daniel Buckroyd, leads us through the timeless tale, allowing space for big numbers, classic routines and, most important, that special rapport that the best panto performances have with the punters.
And here we have Colchester favourites Ignatius Anthony and Dale Superville, giving us, respectively a suavely evil Abanazar and a silly, sunny Wishee Washee. Both seem effortlessly to elicit an enthusiastically noisy reception from the youngsters. Working the slow Sunday matinée crowd, with grumpy banter and outrageous ad-libs, Antony Stuart-Hicks' Twanky is a dame to die for. Singing and dancing in the production numbers, hilariously handling his “sons”, and opening his heart to the front stalls. Ruby, 9, is last on today's birthday list. “Isn't this the ultimate embarrassment,” quips the widow, “Welcome to life!”.
Glenn Adamson is a cool, boy-band Aladdin, hoofing very deftly in the opening number; he even manages to bring off the sentimental Thinking Out Loud duet, complete with pas-de-deux from ensemble dancers Colin Burnicle and Gracie Lai. His lovely Jasmine, the paper bag princess who gets a girl power moment defeating Abanazar, is Sarah Moss. Tim Freeman plays the impecunious Emperor Eric Wonton; Simon Pontin and Laura Curnick are kept busy doubling as Ping and Pong, the comedy policemen, and the bearded Genie and Siri – nod to Apple's knowledge navigator – the Slave of the Ring.
The music is carefully chosen, and cleverly reworked by MD Richard Reeday to suit the panto plot. Yes, we get this year's must-have number, Uptown Funk, but also, for the older audience, Billy Joel's original Uptown Girl. Jessie J's Bang Bang follows hard on the heels of Sullivan's Three Little Maids. And the singalong – vamp till ready, Uncle Richard – is Kung Fu Fighting.
In the Frozen Himalayas [rhymes with Walton-on-the Naze] Widow Twankey, dressed inappropriately a la Carmen Miranda, does a Copacabana spoof; this is also the setting for the Yeti Ghost Routine, which this show has the confidence to do properly and in full, despite the Dame's disclaimer - “I hate this scene ...”
The laundry – featuring the patent Twankomatic with its soft soap, mangle and steam press – gets a spontaneous “Wow!” from the stalls, and the split-screen cave, the palace perspective and the colourful market work well, too. 
The Junior Chorus is given plenty to do, and rises marvellously to the challenge of some super choreography [Charlie Morgan], sporting yellow Marigolds for Walks Like Rihanna.
All too soon, the wedding walk-down and a heartfelt All I Want For Christmas Is You.
The Mercury can feel justly proud of its Made In Colchester pantomime – one of our three wishes has to be for more of the same in 2016.

production photograph: Mike Kwasniak


One From The Heart at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford


Simon Aylin's snappy Aladdin begins with a prologue set in the Stygian super-villain's lair – the dastardly Abanazar appearing on his throne in a puff of smoke, supported by a team of black-clad avian minions from the excellent juvenile chorus.
After that it's a more or less faithful romp through the familiar plot, with many pantomime traditions honoured: the mangle gag, and Wishee shrunk in the wash. And because every panto needs an animal, an adorable elephant for Fake Your Way To The Top. More laughs, more mess, and more awful puns, would not have come amiss, with maybe a little less music.
A powerful soundtrack from MD Tom Curran and his three-piece band, with a gloriously varied musical mix. Olly Murs, The Addams Family, Jekyll and Hyde, Dreamgirls (twice), Hairspray, Memphis and Lady Gaga among the contributors. A lovely Mambo, The Macarena for the Ghost Routine, the ubiquitous Uptown Funk – featuring this year at Hammersmith and Hackney amongst dozens of others – and a well-received revival of that Gang Show staple If I Were Not Upon The Stage; shame that four performers had to cope with seven choruses, though.
Fizzing dance routines (Damian Czarnecki) from the principals and the ensemble – students at Laine Theatre Arts – Build Me Up Buttercup, for instance, or the Born This Way pre-nuptial entertainment.
And great performances from Millie O'Connell as the lithe, effervescent Slave of the Ring, and Shaun Chambers as a nerdy, beardy Abanazar. The widowed washerwoman is given a saucy persona by Tim McArthur, with his full frocks and neatly buttoned boots. Carried on horizontal at his first entrance, which makes a change. David Tarkenter gives a fine actor-laddie Emperor, and Neal Wright, back by popular demand, is a lovely cuddly Genie of the Lamp. No principal boy here, but a somewhat laddish Aladdin (Liam Ross-Mills, channelling Essex boy Jamie Oliver), not perhaps sufficiently distinct from his brother Wishee Washee, enthusiastically played by Samuel Parker. His princess is a striking Gabriela Gregorian.
The sets look a little old-fashioned, but there is an impressive magical carpet, and a beautifully animated digital front cloth.
A loud, lively panto, which delighted the Brentwood Beavers and the rest of the packed audience when we saw it, and provided a few embarrassing moments for Dean and Steve, mercilessly targeted by Twankey and Wishee.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


Charles Court Opera at the King's Head Theatre

It's not every panto that opens Act Two with a funeral. But that's typical of the alternative take on the genre offered by Charles Court Opera. This is their ninth “boutique pantomime”, decamped for the first time to the King's Head.
John Savournin's script has plenty of weird and wonderful twists – Snow White is the widow of the late great Barry – who flies in for a guest appearance. And following a “cease and desist” from the Disney Corp the dwarfs are carefully re-christened: Gleeful, Crabby and poor old hippy Half Baked, blown to bits just before the interval.
But there's plenty of traditional festive fun – familiar jokes [tainted money, full frontal lobotomy, we were so poor, a warm hand on your entrance …] and even a bake-off food fight escalating from mini buns to cream pies. An eclectic clutch of songs, too, the lyrics re-worked by Savournin's co-writer and MD David Eaton. Reach For The Stars, A Natural Woman and of course Man In The Mirror. Plus a brilliant One Day More mash-up. Since this is an opera company, we're treated to marvellous unplugged voices, too.
Andrea Tweedale opens the show – after a snatch of prog-rock Polovtsian – as the Wicked Queen, Matthew Kellett plays all of the little people, Nichola Jolley is Harry, the valet turned frog footman, Amy J Payne makes a superb Larry, the Black Prince of Pretzel in a prominent purple cod-piece and Savournin himself plays a wonderful dame Snow White, squeezed like Alice into the bijou dwarf house [William Fricker's delightful design]. Their cross-dressed Aretha Franklin duet one of many priceless highlights.
The script is sparing with the topical/local references, though we do get the Garden Bridge, and a couple of Frozen gags. The space is ingeniously used, with the vast mirror concealing the dwarf kitchen and the forest, and the furry critters of the chorus popping up from windowsill and suitcase.

As usual, a brilliant blend of the familiar and the fantastic, “shimmering and glimmering” at the King's Head well into the New Year.



Eastern Angles at the Sir John Mills Theatre Ipswich


Shanty Theatre Company shares many of the ideals of Eastern Angles. So it makes sense to do as many others have done, to share a production. And what better subject than the culture clash between the West Country and East Anglian invaders ...
Fresh faces and new ideas for Ipswich. But this first partnership does not quite hit it off, despite an interesting historical background and some very clever notions. There are token attempts to interact with the Christmas show's loyal audience in the Sir John Mills, but not everyone manages a real rapport, and the tricky acoustic means that some of the words, and the lyrics, are lost.
The improbable plot is based in fact. The Newlyn fishing riots of 1896 saw “Yorkies” from Lowestoft steal an unfair advantage by fishing Cornish waters on the Sabbath.
The excellent company of five work hard to bring all the characters to life, directed by Tim Bell. Writer Harry Long has the lion's share of laughs as Norman the Chosen One, not, as he admits, the sharpest spanner in the works, who ends up leading both the mighty armies in the battle of Newlyn. Christian Edwards is Brassy Balls, the wicked boss of the fleet; Daniel Copeland the Harbour Master and the local Methodist minister. Mabel Clements is the sweet young local girl Kerra, Louise Callaghan a feisty Mags. Everyone, though, plays more than one part, and we're grateful for the names beautifully incorporated into their costumes.
Verity Quinn's design uses the space well – three entrances, ingenious storage, sixteen suspended oil lamps and bits and pieces flown in in the traditional way.
The style is often surreal, and relentlessly meta-theatrical. Subtext, allegory, soliloquy are all knowingly referenced. Some of the silliness works well: the three bearded harbour masters, the excruciating stage wait, the dual control room with a window for each side. And, in a rare concession to Christmas, there's a welcome appearance from Bella the Cow. Stu McLoughlin's music, though cleverly conceived, often feels like a distraction – boy band, Police tribute ensemble pieces are polished, but add little to the plot. But I enjoyed Norman's Les Mis “What Should I Do” moment.
The tone shifts from far-fetched flights of fancy to genuine tenderness, whereas infectious fun might fit the bill better, in this slot, in this space. And I know it's not a documentary – Norman thinks Wesleyanism is a type of cheese – but even in non-conformist Cornwall I'd be surprised to find a crucifix in chapel, or even a vicar …

production photograph by Mike Kwasniak