Sunday, January 31, 2016


King Edward VI School Chelmsford

Not a show for the faint-hearted, Les Mis. The “School Edition” not noticeably less challenging than the full-fat grown-up version.
Director James French, in his first big musical for KEGS, gets 110% from his huge company of urchins, students, convicts, topers, dancers and ladies of the night. The battle of the barricade is stunningly effective, as is the stirring climax to Act One. The choral set-pieces – Turning, At the End of the Day, Look Down – are superbly sung, and the idealistic “schoolboys” are strongly characterized individuals.
The solo voices are excellent, taking the operatic scoring in their stride, led by Joseph Clark's haunted Valjean, Isabelle George's tender Eponine and Joseph Folley's cold, clipped Javert.
Musical Director Tim Worrall keeps everything tightly together, conjuring a satisfying symphonic sound from his prominent pit orchestra.

photographs: Essex Chronicle

Richard Broadway writes for the KEGS Newsletter:

Richard Broadway became the sixth Head Master of KEGS in the year Shakespeare co-founded his Lord Chamberlain's Men. More recently, he has ghost-written appreciations of performances at his old school. This is his last.

Masques in the reign of the Virgin Queen. A Victorian pantomime with songs. Niche shows on the new stage: Smike, Jennings Goes to School, the made-in-house Midas. And more recently the big blockbusters: Oliver!, Joseph, Anything Goes.
This marvellous Les Mis must surely top them all – a huge challenge bravely undertaken and triumphantly met.

House Full notices out, and we make our way into the already crowded hall as, on the extended stage, the convicts are already wearily breaking rocks.

The catwalk encloses the impressive pit band, and is inventively used for many of the scenes, allowing smooth transitions between the big set pieces and the more intimate moments. The powerful end to Act One an outstanding example, with the soloists ranged around in front as the chorus swells on the main stage.

The principal players give confident, engaging performances. And convincing vocal accounts of the challenging Schönberg score.
Not least the youngest actors: Elliot Harding-Smith as a cocky little “top-of-the-class” Gavroche, superbly sung. And what a treat to have such a good voice [Matthew Wadey] for Castle in the Cloud instead of the cute breathiness which has become the norm.
The cast is hugely strong in depth, too, with all the young revolutionaries in the ABC café neatly differentiated, and small roles like the Bishop [Benjamin Russell], or the tipsy Grantaire [Benjamin Kinder], given full weight.
Molly Sun-Wai brings an artless innocence to the tragic Fantine, Charlotte Abbotts as the older Cosette is girlishly charming, an ideal foil for Thomas Mitty's finely nuanced law student revolutionary Marius. Eponine, the first to fall in the uprising, is beautifully sung by Isabella George – her duet with Marius – A Little Fall of Rain – exquisitely done, the trio A Heart Full of Love another musical highlight.
The terrible Thénardiers are given broad-brush characterizations by Benjamin Southern-Thomas, blatantly watering the wine under the nose of his clientèle, and fishwife Hazel Ellender as his frightful missus. Nice to see them resplendently dressed as beggars at the feast.
Harry Clark carries most of the revolutionary fervour as Enjolras, waving the red flag, rallying his doomed troops with style and a strong will.
The legendary role of Jean Valjean is superbly taken by Joseph Clark. Fighting for justice, bearing his guilt, ageing and dying, this is a compelling performance by any standards. His face-off with Javert is an electric moment on front stage. Joseph Folley plays the obsessive Inspector with exemplary precision and panache. A tall, menacing figure, his black-gloved hands firmly behind his back, he draws the eye whenever he appears. Every word is clearly enunciated; his big number – Stars – is given a kneeling climax, a bold move which seems only to accentuate the emotional heft.
Given the inevitable budgetary limitations, the staging is thrillingly effective. On countless occasions, Joseph Thorogood's set design, George Twinn's lighting and James French's groupings form a thrilling fresco – notably at the barricade. The runaway cart – often risibly lightweight – is here, with its load of luggage, a believably weighty burden for Valjean. The scene changes happen seamlessly – the drunkards clear Thénardier's tavern, for instance; the inn – well frequented by underage drinkers – is another great crowd picture, giving opportunities to the colossal chorus; their distant singing behind the final deathbed scene makes another subtle transition.
The twenty-strong pit orchestra – surrounded by the cat-walk fore-stage – produces a stunning sound, generally well balanced with the voices. [Claire Greenwood's oboe heard to touching effect.]
Les Misérables is directed by James French, with the assistance of Elizabeth Hutchinson and Henry Sainsbury; the Musical Director is Tim Worrall, with sound design by Rafee Ahmed.

This huge company, on stage, in the band and behind the scenes, have earned the indelible memories they'll have of this milestone show. And they thoroughly deserve their moment of triumph at the end of Act One, to say nothing of the rapturous roar, the double encore and the standing ovation that greets their last bow. One of the many reasons that the performing arts are so vital in education. As Victor Hugo has it: '“Le beau est aussi utile que l'utile.” Il ajouta après un silence, “Plus, peut-être.”' 'Rien n'est tel que le rêve pour engendrer l'avenir.'

Friday, January 29, 2016


Theatre at Baddow
in the Parish Hall

Coward's timeless comedy was given an enjoyable revival at TAB, with the hall of the Cookham family home successfully recreated with nice art nouveau touches, and some gorgeous frocks for flappers and flirts, vamps and grandes dames.
True, the moves could have been a little more stylised, the vocal delivery a little more precious, but the beastly, bohemian Blisses and their weekend guests were well served by an octet of actors, ably supported by the domestic staff: Pauline Saddington's Clara and Joanna Lowe's brave Amy, setting breakfast and dancing the Charleston despite a raging toothache.
Barbara Llewellyn was an imposing presence as the matriarch Judith, Terry Cole her long-suffering husband. The young Blisses were given excellent performances by Vicky Wright and Tonio Ellis, camping up Love's Whirlwind, pointing their bons mots and playing up to Mother.
Outstanding in the queue for the Japanese Room was Diane Johnston's Myra Arundel – cloche hat, expressive eyes and enigmatic smile – who “uses sex as a sort of shrimping net”. Jim Crozier brought a quietly urbane charm to diplomatist Greatham; Donna Stevenson was the dim outsider Jackie, Kieran Lowe Judith's “perfect darling” Sandy.
Some of the best moments were the duologues – awkward small talk, playful seductions, desperate breakfasts. And the parlour games. “This room isn't big enough for that,” complained Simon. How right he was – avoiding the furniture a real challenge here. But in Sheila Talbot's sure-footed production the pace was good, the comedy sophisticated, and the artistic temperament carefully cultivated.

Miss Llewellyn's photograph by Nick Milenkovic
production photograph by Jacquie Newman

Thursday, January 28, 2016


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop
at the Old Court

Eve Ensler's docu-drama is twenty years old now. The world has moved on, and inevitably the piece sounds a little dated in places.
But this revival, directed by Sally Ransom with Ria Milton and given a simple but sophisticated setting in the Old Court, brings out the best in these very varied testimonies; one of the most consistently accomplished productions at this address in recent years. Star cloths around the auditorium, coffee tables and bar stools for the three leading women, red lipstick, red lip cushions on the soft sofas where the supporting cast “relax” before and during the show...
Confident performances in the round from those three leads: Laura Bradley, Kelly McGibney, Caroline Dunsmuir.
They all get under the skin of these anonymous respondents who opened up to Ensler all those years ago – superbly characterized performances. Scathing about “marital therapy” and shaving, holding a mirror up to nature, crying with embarrassment in the women's workshop, poignantly recalling a flood down in the cellar and a Burt Reynolds recurring nightmare, finding heaven with a sapphic secretary, reclaiming the c-word with neat capital letters on the blackboard, giving up tax law for sex work as a moaning dominatrix – variations echoing from all corners of the auditorium – angry about floral perfumes, thongs and invasive medicals. There was much laughter, very little of it embarrassed, entertainment as well as empowerment. Darker moments, too, with the memories of Bosnian rape victims and the homeless.   
The linking passages – quick-fire answers to questions about scent and dress sense – are polished, and bring the audience gently in to the performance. As a prologue, chanteuse Alice Masters does a lovely cabaret set, climaxing with the Mooncup Love Your Vagina song. And there's a specially written piece by Jo Green, very much in the VM style, performed by Gemma Robinson, Anastasia Niamh and Helen Quigley. “He Told Me He Loved Me” highlights the familiar tragic disillusionment of women tricked into sex slavery. Raising awareness of global movement Stop the Traffik. Which we can also support before and after the show with bespoke cocktails, cupcakes and chocolate. Now that does sound like a girls' night out ...

VM selfie by Kelly McGibney; Alice Masters pic courtesy of Ria Milton

Wednesday, January 27, 2016



Chelmsford's very own ballet company – first formed in 1949 – is bringing this classic ballet back to the Civic in March.
Tchaikovsky's majestic music, Annette Potter's re-working of the original Petipa choreography, outstanding young soloists and the corps de ballet tell the familiar story of the spindle and the kiss, the struggle between good – the Lilac Fairy – and evil – the wicked Carabosse. 

Andrei Iliescu of West End stature will be joining the company as Prince Florimund, Sleeping Beauty's suitor. Andrei performed in McQueen the Play and is a graduate of the prestigious Central School of Ballet in London. Emily Starling of Benfleet is rejoining the company as the Golden Vine Fairy, having trained at Bird College and danced professionally both in the UK and abroad.
Booking now at the Civic Theatre, where the performances run from 16 to 19 March.


at the Theatre Royal Haymarket


Last bow for Samuel Foote, and his biographer Ian Kelly, at the Haymarket. The final performance of this Hampstead transfer, almost 240 years since the real Foote walked out of the stage door of his Theatre Royal and into obscurity.
The play tells the crazy but [largely] true story of a born entertainer, stand-up, impressionist, true crime author, impresario, debtor, cross-dresser and friend of the great and the good.
The foul-mouthed backstage banter is amusingly re-created, with much to learn about the evolution of stage performance. Macklin and Garrick play leading roles, Peg Woffington – the first Polly Peachum – is wonderfully done by Dervla Kirwan. And of course we see Foote himself, in a splendid recreation by Simon Russell Beale. Outrageous en travesti, of course, but also vulnerable, both at the moment of his final defeat, and in the excruciating amputation that ends Act One. Wit aplenty, but clever references to the Bard – then, thanks largely to Garrick, undergoing a resurgence. George III gets his Prince Hal moment at the end. Madness recalls Lear, especially in the storm near the end. Jenny Galloway's grumpy, bawdy stage manager, has some Dresser-style reflections on being “the wife in the wings”, scrubbing gussets and making a career out of the worst bits of marriage ...
But this is not just a back-stage drama. We begin in “the charnel house of horrors” - anatomical specimens. And there's politics and philosophy, psychology and medecine. Benjamin Franklin speaks of the mind/brain problem; Foote suffers Locke's phantom limb, and loses his inhibitions after the accident – caused by a foolish royal wager – which also cost him his left leg, and opened up a whole new theatrical genre.
This is a very funny slice of history – directed with a sure hand but a light touch by Richard Eyre, no less. With wonderful designs by Tim Hatley, and beautifully judged performances by a brilliant ensemble. Joseph Millson is a superb David Garrick, and Kelly himself plays an impressive Prince George, later George III – what! What!. And there's a lot to think about, too – sending us to the book, also by Kelly, which preceded the play. But I wish I'd seen it in Hampstead first. Because, marvellous though it was to see Foote back in the Haymarket, though not on his own stage, the production did sometimes struggle to fill Nash's vast auditorium.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Blackmore Players at the Village Hall
for Sardines

A pantomime whodunnit ? One step up from the comedy thriller, and a refreshing change for Blackmore Players' traditional Christmas show.
And home-made through and through. Doubtless countless sparks and sound operators have been convinced they could do a better job than the playwright and the director. But at Blackmore they've gone one further and actually seen it through from page to stage.
Producer Andy Appleton – sound effects – and director Tony Pavitt and Dave Smith – lighting – are the creative team behind The Search for the Hooden Will, a gleeful blend of Dame Agatha and Dame Trott, with sly references to the classics of the murder mystery – not to mention Cluedo – as well as all the panto tropes we rightly expect.
The script has some very clever touches – the supermarket sequence, the ingenious dénouement – as well as a geeky Star Wars moment and a House Song nicked from The Kinks.
Like all the best pantos, it's a gender fluid affair. Patrick Magee is the lady of the manor, and Linda Raymond makes an excellent job of the Chief Inspector, supported by “the cream of the force”: a promising double act from the two coppers Rebecca Smith and Jenny Pavitt, and two cute police dogs, Jean Appleton's endearing Nickel and Christian Vince's puppyish, extrovert Carbon.
Keith Goody has fun switching between the Hood brothers, while Simon Haskell plays “every Tom, Dick and Harry” in support. Barbara Harrold and Martin Herford both bring impressive panto experience to smaller roles. Juliet Ware, Rhys Burrell and Emma Thwaite are the Hood children, with Charley Magee very watchable as the barrow-boy Freddy.
There's a train sequence, of course, a lovely street-scene backcloth, and, best of all, a duet with a phantom projected onto a bed-sheet.
The musical numbers range from the Music Hall – Underneath The Arches works very well – to Suzi Quatro, Born To Be Wild to Ilkley Moor. Where Did You Get That Hat is beautifully choreographed, with a Charleston big finish.
The pace could be slicker, cues picked up quicker. And the stage left exit proves annoyingly awkward [for the cast, too, probably]. But the show is often witty, wacky and clearly delighted the vocally enthusiastic first night crowd: “It's the theatre that people want!”
I don't think I'm giving anything away by revealing that the wedding walk-down is replaced by a jail sentence, and the last line is “Everybody duck!”. But if you want to know whose finger is on the trigger, or what's in the will, or what the Inspector's name might be, you'd need to get one of the few tickets left for this “universal première” or wait for the inevitable movie ...

Saturday, January 23, 2016


at the Civic Theatre


The Civic crammed to the rafters for this Cotton Club tribute, aiming to recreate the music and dance of the famous New York hot spot. Featuring not only the sounds of the Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra [Octet, to be pedantic] but also the lithe energy of the Jiving Lindy Hoppers.
Two hours of old-fashioned entertainment, evoking the crooners and the hoofers of the Twenties and Thirties. Billie Holliday, Mr Bojangles, Bessie Smith, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald.
Amongst the many highlights: Martin Litton's stride piano, a tap/drums showdown between Lee Payne and the band's powerhouse percussionist Graham Collicott, a breathtaking Charleston masterclass, the One Man Dance trio. And Collicott's impressive Drum Crazy neatly subverted by the boys in the band – paper tearing, clock watching, large print Beano reading ...
The sound system – the least authentic part of the evening – meant that some of singer Marlene Hill's lyrics, the Wrong Keyhole for instance, were hard to hear. Much more successful were her duets with an unplugged instrumentalist. And over-amplification also means that people who need to talk through the music must raise their voices to be heard.
Vocalist host for the evening was Megs Etherington, ragging the band, joining the jiving and treating us to vocal refrains.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Shakespeare's Globe at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Could this be the year of Cymbeline ? The RSC's production of the “rarely performed romance” [their words] – with a female Cymbeline – opens in April; the great Globe itself has Matthew Dunster's version, rebadged as Imogen, in September. In the meantime, in the candle-lit Jacobean space, Sam Yates' colourful production stresses the knockabout fun as well as the weirdly tragic.
It is very much Imogen's play – here she's Innogen, an old typo redressed – excellently done by Emily Barber, especially compelling when disguised as the youth Fidele. Her Posthumus is Jonjo O'Neill, her evil step-mother done with gleeful gusto by Pauline McLynn, who also appears impressively as the deus ex machina Jupiter, stretching the authenticity of the production to its limits in a wonderful moment of stunning stagecraft. Joseph Marcel makes a grave monarch in the title role.
There is blood, and pathos, but much comedy too, especially in the OTT dénouement. An impressive ensemble – Globe stalwart Brenda O'Hea is outstanding as the exiled Belarius, Trevor Fox an engagingly blunt Pisanio. Not without its disappointments: there is much more to the doltish Cloten than we get from Calum Callaghan, and Fear No More the Heat of the Sun, though credibly performed as a gauchely improvised eulogy, has little magic here – elsewhere Alex Baranowski provides some marvellous music, plangent cello to the fore.

Sunday, January 17, 2016


Little Waltham Drama Group
in the Memorial Hall

How to keep the village panto fresh and entertaining for everyone ?
This is one good idea: a new script with an ingenious twist on a familiar tale, and a keen young director to bring it to life.
I don't think we're in Waltham any more ...” Dorothy [Karen Allen] and her unlikely farm hands, not to mention Toto the pantomime dog, are transported to the Emerald City in search of brain, heart and wardrobe.
A lot of fun on the way: Axe Factor, Witch Factor and a sprinkling of local jokes. Music too: Showbiz, Les Mis, The Wiz. Blues Brothers, Fats Domino and much more, though not the ring-fenced Rainbow, represented only by some cheeky snatches of pastiche.
Excellent panto performances from Jenny Broadway as Aunt Em and the first witch, Momby, Viv Abrey cackling away as the green and warty Edna, Mike Lee as a bearded Wizard and Ken Little as a frisky Toto, though he would have benefited from another seasoned ad-libber to spark off. Nice character work from Kate Farrell as Munchy from Down Under, Ryan Chapman as the front-loader Tin Man, Ash Cobden as Aslan, Alex Lee as a likeable Scarecrow and Tash Wootten as side-kick Drip. Colourful chorus numbers from the Maids with neon hair, the Munchkins and the Crows in their boaters and giant specs, led by the brooding presence of Martin Final's King Crow.
Children of all ages in Aunt Em's garden had a great time joining in the mercifully short community singing, and enjoyed the fruity chews from the sweetie baskets in the traditional Waltham walk-about.
The Wicked Witches of Oz, penned by Peter Nuttall, is directed by Stuart Goodchild assisted by Jo Lee, with choreography by Kim Travell and musical direction by Chrissy Gould.

photographs by Peter Travell

Sunday, January 10, 2016



The Brentwood Philharmonic at Brentwood Theatre


The Brentwood Phil is one of the Mayor's charities this year, and this concert of orchestral pops raised much needed money for a new set of timpani.
Interspersed with genial, informative chat from conductor/arranger John Hawkins, we heard two pieces of Debussy, a jokey metronomic Beethoven and Grieg's marching Trolls, featuring two of those gleaming new timps.
The full symphony orchestra give their next concert on February 13; in the intimacy of the Brentwood Theatre they fielded two dozen players, led by Charles Clark – forces for a Palm Court or a theatre pit. And appropriately, they began with Sullivan's overture to Iolanthe. There were salon favourites, too: McDowell's Wild Rose, and Ketelby's Persian Market. And a splendid arrangement of Ezra Read's fast-moving fantasia Fire Fire, with plenty of work for trumpeter Colin Handley.
To finish, Viennese encores, including the Blue Danube – recalling the traditional New Year greeting from the Musikverein, which I endorse here with the necessary amendment: Die Brentwood Philharmoniker und ich wünschen Ihnen - prosit 2016!



Common Ground Theatre Company at the Wolsey Studio, Ipswich


Ipswich is well served for alternative pantos – besides Aladdin [starring Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee] at the Regent, we've been offered the rock'n'roll Sword in the Stone at the Wolsey, Holy Mackerel at the Sir John Mills, and now Justin and the Argonauts, ending its tour in the Wolsey Studio.
This year's offering from Common Ground is a typically off-the-wall, on-a-shoestring show, packing in loads of Greek mythology, tons of puns and groan-aloud gags, plus some catchy songs by director Pat Whymark.
All very enjoyable, even if still a little rough at the edges. The cast of five, all of them masters of the shameless style, is held together by newcomer Matt Jopling, who plays the narrator and hero, the weedy 1930s schoolboy Justin whose Aegean cruise somehow turns into a romp through the ancient world of gods and monsters.
The others all play countless roles. Julian Herries is the Ancient Greek Heracles, as well as Zeus, the old thesp Pelleas, a Gorgon, a Yorkshire Prometheus and many more. Lorna Garside is the tomboy Atalanta and Medea, Alice Mottram Hera and Acrustes, and Joe Leat is excruciatingly funny in a host of juicy character roles, including the groundsman [at Peggy Mount School], an Irish Centaur, a sulky Orpheus and a tiny Eros.

Running gags include lunch box delicacies and the “Interval” - the strait between Scylla and Charybdis. Lion wrestling, pickled onion jar opening, the golden fleece hairpiece, the squid and the kraken, all ensure a pleasurable quest round the wine-dark sea, an evening of merry myths and surreal silliness.

Monday, January 04, 2016



Civic and Cramphorn Theatres' Spring Season 2016

A busy season this spring for our Chelmsford theatres.
Drama highlights include Pinter's black comedy The Birthday Party (8-9 March), Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black’s West End and Broadway hit musical Tell Me On A Sunday (6 March), starring Jodie Prenger. Both classic pieces too rarely revived.
Smaller tours too, with the long-awaited return of Jubilant Productions with Romancing Miss Bliss (13 February), a wry look at the secret lives of those who write Romantic Fiction. Wilde Without The Boy (27 February) is a dramatisation of De Profundis, Oscar Wilde’s searing letter to his lover Bosie, John Godber is back with The Debt Collectors (19 April) and The Best Thing (29 April), is a swinging 60s story of unconditional love from the Vamos Theatre company – full mask and wordless.
Music of all kinds – Dillie Keane, Maddy Prior, Blake and the ever-popular D'Ukes. Not to mention those touring tributes, to, amongst other, Billy Fury, Elvis, ELO and Simon and Garfunkel. And the enterprising M&G Concert series continues with the Philarmonia Symphonic Brass, the Northern Chamber Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Swan, with guitarist Craig Ogden.

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.