Monday, October 31, 2016


M&G Concert at the Civic Theatre

Autumn mists outside, but warm Italian sunshine radiating from the Civic stage, packed with the versatile musicians of the BBC Concert Orchestra.
Under the baton of Jessica Cottis, they gave crisp, precise readings of some familiar scores, beginning with the lively Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers.
Bedfellows in the reference books, and now on the concert platform, child prodigies Rossini and Rota. The latter best remembered for his Fellini film scores, but a fine academic and classical composer, represented here by his Bassoon Concerto, with John McDougall as soloist. An accessible, if episodic, work with a lyrical, melancholy inner movement before the dance Variations which form the finale. Beautifully performed here, with fine work from piano, percussion and oboe in support of the agile soloist
After Beethoven's Romance No.2, with the orchestra's leader Stephen Morris as soloist, another trip to Italy composed by another prodigy: Mendelssohn's Fourth Symphony in the “sunshine key” of A Major. Lashings of local colour, in the solemn procession, and in the fleet-footed Saltarello which brings the work to an exhilarating close.
This opening concert in the new M&G season was recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 3.


Shakespeare's Globe at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Masques make themselves very much at home in the Playhouse.
Milton's Comus gets the full dramatic treatment in Lucy Bailey's brilliant production, the first show of Emma Rice's first indoor season at Shakespeare's Globe.
As with All The Angels – getting a return run after Christmas – there is a behind-the-scenes frame, in this case a gently subversive, richly comical look at how the masque came to be staged, all closely based on the historical facts, it appears. The commissions, the family scandal, the children and the servants pressed into performance. And Mr Laws, deferentially directing, and taking the Prologue and the Attendant Spirit.
Patrick Barlow's brilliant script – fear not, Milton survives almost unscathed – and Lucy Bailey's imaginative direction make for a fascinating 100 minutes.
There's a fine cast, including Globe regulars Philip Cumbus as Laws, and Danny Lee Wynter as the satyrish Comus himself, somewhere between Prospero and Caliban. The youngsters are Rob Callendar and Theo Cowan as the brothers, and Emma Curtis as daughter Alice who plays the Lady, and takes Comus' tabor at the end, refusing to accept the subservient conclusion Milton might suggest - a “different lesson” indeed.
Lots of magnificent Playhouse effects – the Spirit flies in, the Monstrous Rout – dissolute dryads, hideous-headed monsters of the woods - are all but washed away by the stream that runs from beneath the stage and flows through the pit and out into the foyer. It's also the home of Natasha Magigi's splendid Sabrina.
Warped and wonderful” is how it's being sold. And so it is, a very promising start to the winter of Wonder Noir.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


Derby Theatre and Colchester Mercury
at Colchester Mercury

Never have those strident organ chords sounded so menacing.
They herald a dark, powerful production from the Mercury's Artistic Director Daniel Buckroyd. Behind a grimy grey tarpaulin, Sara Perks' compact set waits for the action to begin. On the revolve, parlour, pie shop. bake-house and Sweeney's sinister salon, plus a lovely pageant cart for the street mountebank Pirelli. In the shadows beyond, inn signs to suggest the rest of Fleet Street. Outside in the foyer, the columns have barber-pole stripes, the ushers have aprons stained with gore ...
The cast of ten is supported by a local community chorus – they shine in the big scenes: the satisfied customers, the gibbering maniacs. This means that much of the other chorus work has a chamber feel – the quartet at the end of the first act, the trio after the first murder,
An impressive cast of principals, led by Sophie-Louise Dann's nervy, playful Mrs Lovett – clutching her cleaver as she hatches her new business plan - and Hugh Maynard's brooding, obsessive barber, his anger simmering beneath the surface and exploding in moments of terrifying rage. Kara Lane makes a strong beggar woman, Julian Hoult a reptilian Beadle. Outstanding singing and acting from David Durham as the corrupt Judge Turpin, and from Simon Shorten as Daniel O'Higgins, aka the fake Italian barber. The two young lovers, who pale slightly in the writing against all these grotesque villains, are engagingly played by Jack Wilcox and Christina Bennington. The boy Tobias is given a charming, ingenuous character by Ryan Heenan, and Daniel Buckley is Jonas Fogg, proprietor of the lunatic asylum. And, like most of the company, he's a versatile member of the ensemble.
Buckroyd's production is hard-hitting, uncompromising in its handling of the darker themes. But of course there is humour here too, notably from the eccentric Mrs L – the Little Priest number a show-stopping delight, as it invariably is.
Michael Haslam is the Musical Director, tucked away with his band in the upper darkness. Like those opening chords, the general tone is harsh and loud. Not all of Sondheim's clever, tricky lyrics were audible, though, and it was noticeable that one of Sweeney's most successful numbers was his tender hymn to his long-lost razors.
This was an uncut “musical thriller”; while it was good to have the – agonisingly realistic – tooth-pulling sequence, for instance, three hours, including interval, is a long time to concentrate on the complex lyrics and elaborate settings of Sondheim's operatic penny dreadful. Could do with just a little trim, perhaps.
Production photograph: Robert Day

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Read Not Dead at Gray's Inn

A pretty hall, this … “ A welcome return visit to the historic Gray's Inn, after this summer's stylish Comedy of Errors.
This Beaumont and Fletcher was first published 400 years ago. It's almost entirely forgotten now, but for many years it was a staple of the comedy repertoire; Sam Pepys was a fan; he saw it several times, both with an actress in the title role and in the original version with a cast of boys.
It was done by one of the very profession children's companies, who boasted among their number specialists in old men [and women], young lovers and everything in between.
The piece was also a favourite with amateur actors, so it was appropriate that this staged reading featured members of the Inn embedded in the cast of players from Shakespeare's Globe. Most notably High Court Judge Sir Michael Burton relishing the role of Abigail - “sweet bratch”, ageing and lecherous maidservant to the Lady in question [Emma Denly]. Sighing, chewing the cud – a posset – he won over his audience with practised ease. As did the “talking nightcap”, Sir Roger the curate [Roger Eastman].

Flighty wenches, merry companions, Savil the Steward [kin to Malvolio], the Loveless brothers [Alex Mugnaioni and James Askill], a cross-dressing suitor [Robert Heard], a trio of hangers-on – a rich cast of characters in a complex, and rather long, intrigue of misogyny, deceit and sexual politics, directed by Read Not Dead regular James Wallace.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


WAOS at the Public Hall Witham


A sprightly Spamalot from WAOS, with a great chorus and some very amusing animations.
So alongside the colourful live action, there's a crashing chandelier for the pastiche number, useful glosses for the Chosen People song, a Wikipedia entry for The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, a wheel of fortune for Camelot, and much more. The back-drops, too, are digital.
No shortage of proper Pythonesque performances either. Amongst the knights in woolly tights, Kris Tyler's bold Sir Lancelot and Michael Mundell-Poole's spineless Sir Robin – both sounding more Essex Yeomanry than upper crust - and Phillip Spurgeon's Melchett-moustached Sir Bedevere. Craig Tyler – a convincingly radical Dennis – is the dashing Sir Galahad.
His old mum is played, a la Mother Riley, by Edward Groombridge, who's also a French taunter and a priceless Prince Herbert [another hundred people just contracted the plague...]. This kind of imaginative doubling is crucial to this show: Nik Graham is the other taunter, Tim, and the Knight of Ni, Harry Tunningley an irrepressible Not Dead Fred and Lancelot's trusty Concorde. Even Richard Cowen, an amusingly Starkey-ish Historian, is the tedious Brother Maynard in Act Two.
Camelot's first couple are Constance Lawton's diva Lady of the Lake, and David Slater's impressively sung Arthur – a genial, formidable presence. His hang-dog Patsy, a brolly in his knapsack, is Trevor Marks.
Similar umbrellas for the big production number, with tap-dancing playing cards. The chorus is brilliantly used, from the campest copacabana for the out-of-the-closet Lancelot to the athletic cheerleaders. Good to see Marcel Marceau with the onion seller amongst the French People.
The audience on opening night were enthusiastically appreciative – whistling, singing along and laughing immoderately at the excellent guard panto routine, the snippet of vintage Python, the Brexit joke.
An impressive production of a cult classic, directed by Nikki Mundell-Poole, assisted by Gemma Gray, with Geoff Osborne in charge of the music. A good omen for another off-the-wall show next spring – Bob Carlton's Return to the Forbidden Planet, Shakespeare's forgotten rock'n'roll masterpiece.
production photograph: Matilda Bourne

Saturday, October 22, 2016


Leigh Operatic and Dramatic Society at the Palace Theatre Westcliff


A very British blend of Python and panto, it's curious to think that it was born on Broadway.
The show certainly seems very much at home in the lovely old Palace Theatre; good to see one of the stage boxes used briefly.
LODS, directed by Sallie Warrington, give it their all, playing up the silliness, the high camp and the parody in a gloriously enjoyable couple of hours of escapist laughter.
It helps to have a company of consummate musical theatre performers, of course.
The excellent programme lists thirty named characters, so please forgive only a passing mention for Nathan Gray's Nun, Bradley Gull's Monk and Mick Felgate's Sir Not Appearing. Surely some mistake – he sneaks on for at least one other cheeky cameo.
Intellectual high point of the show is Anthony Bristoe's bow-tied historian right at the start; he also gets to play Brother Maynard and a lovely Mrs Galahad, mother to Stuart Woolner's superb knight, “dashingly handsome” with his Cavalier curls. A somewhat less convincing wig for Peter Brown's Sir Robin, clutching his rubber chicken; a great comedy performance, with a chance to relive his Man in Chair triumph for the Broadway number. The fleeting scenery gag is a particular delight.
His unlikely pair is Lewis Sheldrake's Sir Lancelot, transformed for the finale, outed in a disco number, ready for his “still controversial” wedding to David Shipman's Prince Herbert.
Paul Ward makes a perfect Patsy, the Baldricky side-kick to the King of the Britons. His coconuts carefully placed, always in the moment, especially in the Act Two All Alone number.
Overacting like hell” as the Camelot couple, Neil Lands' flamboyant Arthur King – I never saw Simon Russell Beale in the role, but I imagine it was something after this style – and Helen Sharpe's unforgettable Lady of the Lake, wringing every last drop of gold top out of her big numbers: the Grail Song, the meta-theatrical front-cloth lament and of course The Song That Goes Like This.
The music – and the essential slapstick sound effects – are excellently done; the MD is Rachael Plunkett, with Clare Penfold waving the stick in the Palace pit. Amateur productions have the edge in the chorus numbers, fielding a stage-full of song-and-dance people: the lovely, hard-working Laker Girls, plus assorted peasants, nobles and Knights of Ni.

The scenery, and the shrubbery, are [deliberately?] uninspired – the code set in stone, for instance – and I find the camel gag works best with a gap, and the E at the end. But the Wooden Rabbit is impressive, and the Black Knight the best I've seen. And the show has so many clever, delightful touches: the entry of the Knights stage left, Fantine amongst the French extras, the slapping of the fish echoed by the head-banging Friars ...

production photograph: Gareth Poxon

9 TO 5

9 TO 5
Brentwood Operatic Society
at Brentwood Theatre


Dolly Parton's “spankin' new musical” - based on the 1980 movie – was a sell-out success for BOS.
Ms Parton did the music and the lyrics; the book is by Patricia Resnick. It's a feel-good feminist-lite workplace story, in which the MCP CEO is ousted, first in fantasy, then for real, by a feisty trio from his office.
The music is big-hearted and brassy, excellently handled by the Ian Southgate's off-stage rock combo. The story is simplistic, the samey songs sometimes slow the action, and the first act seems far too long. But the BOS company give it their all, with outstanding performances by Rachel Lane as the widowed mother, Louise Byrne as the Backwoods Barbie - “too much make-up, too much hair” - and Juliet Thomas as the band-box neat newbie. An amazing character turn from Mandi Threadgold-Smith as dear old Roz with the hots for her boss; her Heart to Hart routine, backed by a chorus of look-alikes, is a highlight of the show.
Apart from Martin Harris's splendidly loathsome “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot”, the men are mostly ciphers, though we have a nice cameo from Bob Southgate as deus ex machina Tinsworthy.
Emma Sweeney's staging is inventive and stylish: the opening title number, the I Just Might trio, the power-dressing One Of The Boys. The scene shifting – everything is on castors – is impeccably choreographed, making the most of the stage area and bringing welcome variety to this uneven crowd-pleaser of a show.

company photograph: Brentwood Gazette

Friday, October 21, 2016


Kathryn Barker Productions / London Classic Theatre

Cramphorn Theatre Chelmsford

Henry Naylor's three-hander looks back to Iraq in 2003. Much has been written since about the abuse of prisoners, the plight of the Iraqi interpreters.
Here, three monologues are interwoven, the actors move around the three simple stools, naked light-bulbs above them recalling the interrogation rooms where much of the imagined action takes place.
The verse prologue takes us to the land of Sinbad and Saddam, an Arabian nightmare; the epilogue deplores man's greatest enemy, his own brutality.
The three actors give intense, horrifyingly believable performances.
Anna Riding is Zoya, a young Iraqi woman whose fiancé, Nasir, whom we never see, is pivotal to the story. They meet through music, “proper music”, Eminem, Ludacris, Dr Dre. He's something of a subversive, but leaps at the chance of translating for the Americans in their prison.
It's run by Kasprowicz, played by William Reay, a veteran of the first incarnation of the piece on the Edinburgh fringe. Foster,”a woman in the war zone”, is an interrogator who believes that a psychological approach - “pride and ego down” - will get the best “intel”. She's played, with a searing honesty, by Olivia Beardsley, making her UK début in this production.
These three actors, story-tellers really, bring the other characters to life too: Valle the sadistic loudmouth grunt, Faisal the war-lord and many more. And their words paint a terrible picture of darkness overcoming enlightenment, of treachery and humiliation. Kasprowicz, brought down by the sexual chemistry between him and Foster, must watch powerlessly as Saddam's notorious gaol sinks back into inhumanity at the hands of the occupying US Army. And his own liberal patriotism is shaken by the traitor he once trusted.
A powerful piece, part history, part tragedy, given a strong production in this LCT tour, directed by Michael Cabot.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


A Made in Colchester production
at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester
for The Reviews Hub

No hint of the romance or sunshine of Messina here. We're in the spartan canteen of a British regiment – motto Perfer et Obdura. There's a telly in the corner, a servery, tables for mess and for ping-pong.
A chorus of Homeward Bound, and Don Pedro marches his men in, to be greeted by Essex girl would-be military wives.
It's a bold concept, and Pia Furtado's production does bring some modern insights to what is often considered a romantic comedy. But the 21st century is not a perfect fit, the quick-witted banter sits uneasily amidst the non-verbal popular culture, and of course these men are career soldiers, not aristocratic adventurers. And the harsh lighting casts distracting shadows across faces in the closer confrontations.
But the mischief and the music are very much to the fore. The fancy dress party, with genuinely impenetrable disguises, and the karaoke Sigh No More, are both very successful, (composer is Rebecca Applin) even if there's a bit too much aimless cavorting to pulsing disco beats. The gulling scenes are hampered a little by a lack of camouflage in the canteen – the pleached bower for Beatrice has to be brought on in pots, and Benedick's arbour is a ledge above the servery, where he later dons a tabard and some marigolds. The plot to discredit Hero is brilliantly done, with a borrowed bridal gown in flagrante on the upper level.
After the interval – well into Act Four – things are much darker, both literally and emotionally. The grim reality of the canteen is replaced by a dreamlike shrine to the “dead” Hero. The Madonna – and the bath – have moved down from the light boxes above. The lament at the tomb is movingly sung by the whole company, and the final wedding disco affords an upbeat ending, though, given the effective changes of mood in this production, it's a shame that the party-pooping news of Don John's capture is one of the few significant cuts.
Some lovely performances on offer: Peter Bray and Robyn Cara (making her professional début) are young, ardent lovers, Polly Lister a brooding villain, though the gender switch seems awkward.  Paul Ridley brings gravitas to the older officer, and Emmy Stonelake makes the most of the impassioned Friar. Kirsty J Curtis is Hero's maid, Margaret, a typical TOWIE young lady, chewing gum and glottal stops. (Generally the text is well served, although “Yeah” for “Yea” grates.)
The hi-viz vigilantes of the Watch eschew slapstick and easy laughs, and there's a sad lack of chemistry between Danielle Flett's Beatrice and Jason Langley's Benedick, though they bring clarity and passion to the verse, and Flett does a lovely lapwing.
Some striking stage pictures in the later scenes, and the undeniable local resonance, are not quite enough to make this a memorable Much Ado.


RSC/Chichester Festival Theatre
This joyous double bill is revived here before touring to Manchester and coming into the West End.
Christopher Luscombe sets the two plays in a country house – Charlcote, a stone's throw from Stratford-on-Avon, just before and just after the Great War.
Love's Labour's Lost I reviewed in Stratford, but this time had the enormous pleasure of seeing them both on the same day.
Love's Labours Won may or may not have been an alternative title for Much Ado About Nothing. But the pairing works beautifully, especially since Edward Bennett and Lisa Dillon takes the leading couple in each play.
Like the LLL, LLW is quite heavily cut, which allows for Nigel Hess's gorgeous music [Harry Waller singing Sigh No More] and pacy progress through the complex plots.
Perhaps taking a hint from Biron's “twelve-month in a hospital”, the Big House is, at the start, commandeered for the wounded. And the war is never quite forgotten: Don John [Sam Alexander] is clearly a broken man, and poor old Dogberry [Nick Haverson, a wonderful Costard in the afternoon] is probably shell-shocked. He is left alone and weeping for a moment - “a fellow that hath had losses...”. But still manages to get more laughs than most from the clowning, especially a hilarious physical routine in the cramped prison.
Bennett has his share of pantomime too – not a dirty word, Luscombe made clear in his pre-show interview – eavesdropping on his deceivers from within the tall Christmas tree in Charlecote's imposing parlour.

Sunday, October 09, 2016


Ballet Cymru at the Civic Theatre


This enterprising Newport-based dance company is touring its award winning Romeo a Juliet round England and Wales this autumn and winter.
A young, international cast brings energy and elegance to the familiar tragedy, set to a reduction of the Prokofiev score in a recording by Sinfonia Cymru.
The design, by Georg Meyer-Wiel, uses projection to enhance the depth of the stage and add interest to the simple white shapes of bed and balcony. The costumes, too, are imaginative: monochrome menace for the Capulet gang, a dash of scarlet for Mercutio, gothic black for the Friar.
Andreamaria Battaggia makes a boyishly charming Romeo. He has many touching moments with his Juliet, Gwenllian Davies: the dawn duet, the shared intimacy of the silken sheets. She brings an awkward tension to her work with Mark Griffiths' Paris, and at the end, after a heart-rending pas-de-deux with Romeo embracing her lifeless form, she crawls over the tomb which separates them, vainly reaching for a farewell touch.
Excellent work too from Miguel Fernandes as an extrovert Mercutio, agile even in his death agony, and from company apprentice Ann Wall as a very youthful Lady Capulet, haughty on pointe.
Among the original ideas from choreographers Darius James and Amy Doughty, clogs to add percussion to the dramatic Dance of the Knights.


Chichester Festival Theatre at the Minerva

The set starts as we leave the Minerva foyer. Wood panelling, and inside “the chamber” realistic – and surprisingly comfortable green benches, ranged either side of the acting area. Not to mention the Strangers' Bar, to the left of the Speaker's Chair, which is pressed into service in the interval – 70s bar snacks, overflowing ashtrays and a nice half of Sussex Prospect.
But in James Graham's taut, desperately hilarious drama, most of the action takes place in the “engine room”, the smoke-filled offices where the Whips and their deputies keep their members in line through the turbulent, traumatic days of the Labour – and briefly Lib-Lab Pact – government of 1974-79.
The big names are mostly kept off stage - Wilson, Callaghan and Thatcherthough we do see Hezza brandish the Mace, and Norman St John Stevas fobbed off with the Arts.
For the lobby fodder, it's often a life and death struggle - Doc {Christopher Godwin] and Joe [David Hounslow] amongst those who die in office; a sobering sequence has Phil Daniels singing Bowie's Five Years as they drop one by one.
Daniels plays Bob Mellish, “token Cockney geezer”, sparring with his Tory opposite number Humphrey Atkins, played with laid-back disdain by Malcolm Sinclair. Mellish's successor is the subtler, but just as steely, Michael Cocks, played with increasing weariness by Kevin Doyle.
But the key relationship is between their two deputies, Steffan Rhodri as Walter Harrison, Nathaniel Parker as Jack Weatherill, two men who understand the need for compromise and horse-trading.
Ann Taylor, a feisty new girl in the labour office, who eventually rose, many, many years later to the rank of Chief Whip, is played by Lauren O'Neil, while Sarah Woodward plays all the other women, including wives, widows and the formidable Audrey Wise.
There's a live duo, belting out hits of the era, and changing their costume to reflect the passing years.
Huge changes in the British political scene since those politically incorrect days. And indeed since the piece was first seen at the National just four years ago ...

Photograph by Johan Persson

Monday, October 03, 2016


Shakespeare's Globe at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This is the Globe touring production that's been delighting audiences all summer. Now it's back home, stuck slightly awkwardly in the candlelit playhouse. It's too big, bright and bold for this intimate space; it's a pity there was no slot for it in the great Globe itself.
Nonetheless, its charm, its passion and its sense of fun survive.
Set in 1966, it begins with a beige group of youngsters bopping to the hits of the day, merging seamlessly into the daft plot. The onstage band – this is a company of actor/musicians – are in a garish booth at the back of the stage. Its roof, accessed by vertical ladders, is a further acting area. Both Kate Sykes, the designer, and James Fortune, the composer, have embraced the flavour: a telling contrast between Verona, that beige backwater, and Milano, where it's at, fashion capital then as now.
Performances are excellent, the timing honed over a long tour. Guy Hughes and Dharmesh Patel are the gents in question; both give hilariously silly interpretations. The girls [Aruhan Galieva and Leah Brotherhead] have a bit more depth, especially at the tearful end with its touching lament.
Amongst the rest, doubling furiously and reaching for their instruments to form the backing band, Amber James gives us a lovely Thurio and a cheeky Lucetta. Charlotte Mills takes Launce by the throat, with musician Fred Thomas as the dog Crab. And, taking over from Adam Keast, injured in a stage fall [those ladders], T J Holmes works the audience wonderfully as the other fool, Speed.
As the Swinging Sixties declined into the safer Seventies, there was a Broadway musical based on this same comedy. Very much of its time, I recall, and not nearly so faithful, or as much fun, as this stylish summer show.

Sunday, October 02, 2016


The College Players at Brentwood Theatre

Jim Cartwright's 1989 classic passes a typical evening in the Unicorn, a pub somewhere up north. We meet the publican and his wife, and a cross section of regulars and strangers, rendez-vous and couples, coppings off and fallings out. Lubricated by double Dubonnets and pints of Old Mayor.
The College Players bring a strong cast and a superb set to the piece. Anchored by the landlord and his missus, their life devoted to this place, pulling pints, exchanging banter with the punters, nipping out to fetch glassware or replenish supplies. But it's clear from their snippy bickering that there's little love lost between them; it's not till the unexpectedly dark dénouement that we learn why. This emotionally charged final scene, though it seems to belong in a different play, is excellently done by James Wild and Lindsay Hollingsworth – facing off over the bar, finally united in silhouette, lit only by the neon sign behind them.
Fine cameos from those who drift in and out of the bar. Notably from Jacqueline Parry – memorably fantasising about big men before she's joined by her feeble cloth-capped runt of a husband [Nick Wilkes] – I don't think it helps to have him on early, though. And Pat Gunton as a resentful carer and the butcher's secret admirer; a moving performance of one of the best pieces of writing in the show. Elliott Porte, too, a natty widower outwardly quiet and lonely “having a good time within”. Comedy gold from Bob O'Brien and June Fitzgerald, plus-size pensioners who've come in to eat crisps and watch a Western on the telly [that dates the piece, doesn't it?].
There's Moth from Merseyside [Matt Hudson], with his Liverpool shirt and his roving eye, with his bird Maudie [Kirstin Devlin]; a loathsome bully [Mark Griffiths] and his mousy, abused wife [Lauren Bracewell], and, after closing time, a promising début from Millie Waters as the lost little girl who prompts the publicans to confront their past.
Beautifully written, often poetic, Cartwight's classic is given a polished, enjoyable outing by this talented company, directed by Claire Hilder.

But, like Ayckbourn's Intimate Exchanges – also sometimes done with a larger cast – it is, as the title suggests, a two-hander. So a major element of the theatrical experience – the versatility, the lightning changes of mood and costume – is inevitably lacking. And it does seem strange to have the busy bar peopled by invisible drinkers, while the turns drift in by ones and twos.

Saturday, October 01, 2016


TWAS Theatre at St Martin's Church, Colchester


Old tyres, the obligatory traffic cone, discarded toys. Could be another part of Butterworth's Jerusalem.
But no, this is the French court, re-imagined as a community of Travellers, where Orlando is “rustically at home”. This bold transposition, though it sits uneasily with talk of noble birth, successfully suggests the passion and violence of the sibling rivalry, and evokes the exotic aristocracy of the Travellers.
Most of the play is set in the Forest of Arden, and this is delightfully transformed into a Folk Festival, allowing scope for the many songs [composer and MD Adam Abo-Henriksen] and for Jacques' open-mic stand-up Seven Ages, compellingly delivered by Thomas Edwards.
Shakespeare's text survives the transition very well, with excellent verse speaking across the company.
Roisin Keogh makes a superb Rosalind, setting off with a bed-roll for the Festival, sharing confidences with her friend Celia [Charlotte Luxford], dressing as Ganymede in baseball cap, bomber jacket and hosiery cod-piece. We can see in her open, honest face how deep she is in love; she has some lovely chemistry with her Orlando [ a youthful, assured Alec Clements] – taking his hand, offering her services, snatching a kiss.
Though we lose Touchstone and Audrey in the forest, there is inevitably some serious doubling. Most bizarrely Charles the red-masked wrestler and Phoebe the Proud Shepherdess, both memorably done by Benjamin Power. Phoebe, a vision in pink, certainly not for all markets, even steals the Epilogue from Rosalind. And milks her Adele moment in the best known number.
A little too long, perhaps, as are some of the other songs. Generally the pace is good, and the cuts bring this touring show in at under two hours, plus interval.

Just eight actors, which seems to be the magic minimum for most of Shakespeare. It's the number that Shakespeare's Globe tours with, and they could do worse than to borrow Tom Foster's lively, contemporary take on the pastoral – it would work wonderfully with a picnic in the open air.


CAODS at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford


What a trooper !
Phineas T Barnum, showman extraordinaire, master of flim-flam and humbug, is, he might boast, a role in a million.
And here's charismatic, cheeky Simon Bristoe thwarted at the final hurdle by an unfortunate accident. In the West End, of course, that'd be another big-name no-show. But not for CAODS. Brave Mr Bristoe limps gamely through the show – no high-wire for him, of course, and limited dance, but a performance of admirable pizazz and pathos as the legendary impresario. He has an excellent voice for the role, too, though microphone problems robbed us of the opening Sucker number.
Not quite a three-ring circus, but by no means a one-man show. Stand-out performances from Rachel Summers as the Swedish Nightingale, Oli Budino as a lively Tom Thumb [an excellent number with a giant chair and stilt-walkers] and Claire Carr as PTB's long-suffering proto-feminist wife. Great work too from Barry Hester's Ringmaster and Bailey, and Tamara Anderson supplying smoky vocals in the impressive Black & White number. Brad Wendes contributed his circus expertise and some thrilling stunts.
Ray Jeffery's energetic production was a treat for the ear [Bryan Cass the MD] and the eye: the gilded chorus girls, the bright, breezy Follow the Band, and, amongst the quieter moments, the reprise of Colours of My Life, with the passing of Charity poignantly suggested by a muted chorus of jugglers.
The show-stopping Circus number was a carefully crafted crescendo of tricks and tumbling, stopping just short of the circle of fire …
Excellent work from a huge company, colourful and constantly enjoyable. Much more impact than the recent Chichester production; as Colonel Tom Thumb reminds us, Bigger is not always Better.

production photographs Christopher Yorke-Edwards