Sunday, December 10, 2017


Eastern Angles at The Sir John Mills Theatre

Another helping of seasonal jollity and surreal fun, this time from the pen of Harry Long. Not a spoof on the original, he insists. Perhaps an hommage.
Just as hilarious, and still recognizable, but with a very different feel, not least because the string quartet has now become a troupe of luvvies, putting on their Oscar Wilde as a front for some serious house-breaking. And, unlike their predecessors in the Ealing comedy, these jailbirds are really talented musicians.
Sean Turner’s set is one of the best we’ve seen at this address, with a staircase, and a perilously small upper floor for the little old lady’s easy chair. The upright piano doubles as the counter at the local nick, where weary coppers listen to Mrs Blaine’s imaginative accounts of wrongdoing on Ipswich’s “glorious boulevard”.
She’s wonderfully created by Emma Barclay, who thanks to some smart quick changes and a life-size cardboard alter ego, is also Cow Crusher, the brains of the gang. Todd Heppenstall is a menacing Left Eye, Alex Prescot the stage-struck Smithy – a touch of tap for his Chorus Line moment – as well as Mr Overlock, theatrical costumier. The depressing pessimist Kim, who finally finds love and a crystal chandelier, is played by Keshini Misha, and the strangely named Scar Feet – One Round in the original – is the excellent Daniel Copeland, last seen here, with Long, in Holy Mackerel.
Dominic Conway’s music includes On the Run, for the five convicts, the title number [“too charming to blame”], and a Les Miz tribute – One Job More – as they prepare for their last heist.
Veteran of the barricades Michael Ball is the subject of an often saucy running gag, Binkie’s friend Gladys makes a last minute cameo appearance on lead guitar, Michael Fish the pet penguin descends in his cage from the flies. There’s an inspired use of Lapsang Souchong, a very nice effect with vintage footlights and some stage curtains, and, as an Act Two warm-up, a chance for the capacity crowd to have their moment of fame in some innovative digital audience participation.
Not perhaps the finest “Yeasty Mangles” vintage, but in Laura Keefe’s fast-paced production, a warming feel-good tipple, enhanced of course by the traditional hot punch and mince pies in the interval.

From Gatacre Road the show travels to Woodbridge in January, and is finally re-located to Orton Brimbles for its Peterborough run.

production photograph: Mike Kwasniak

Saturday, December 09, 2017


CTW at The Old Court Theatre
Shakespeare’s problem comedy – a star vehicle for the fat rascal - seems to cry out for music; there’s a long roster of adaptations from Salieri to Sullivan, Verdi to Vaughan Williams. And only a few years ago the RSC did a musical version, not too successfully.
Peter Jeary’s take is a very different kettle of pickle herring. A juke box musical, with songs of the sixties to provide interludes and insights into plot and character.
The idea was prompted by the Whitehall farce, a genre both apposite and ripe for parody.
It all works disgracefully well, despite some challenges in the execution. Not hard to imagine this being suggested for a professional company of actor/musicians.
CTW fields a strong cast, who generally cope well with the sometimes conflicting demands of Shakespeare and the Sixties songbook.
Stock characters, many of them, from David Johnson’s Robertson Hare vicar to Bruce Thomson’s hilarious Gallic Caius. Sarah Bell – a char with hoover and drooping ciggie – is a fine Mistress Quickly. A lovely, dense Slender – parka and Brummagem – from Alexander Bloom; the young lovers are Charlotte Norburn and James Fletcher. But it’s old lust rather than young love centre stage here, with Dave Hawkes’ lubricious Falstaff, sporting some outrageous 60s military clobber, clumsily courting the two married ladies of the title. They are excellently done by Nikita Eve and Rachel Curran. Musically secure, with a real chemistry between them, they are particularly successful in letting Shakespeare speak, and making sure the Bard gets the laughs he’s written. Their husbands are Simon Hirst, giving a nice period performance as Page, and Tom Tull as the jealous Ford, making the most of his numbers, including a powerful Delilah.
Some songs work better than others. Ring of Fire fits perfectly for the fancy-dress fairies in the forest finale, with “marvellous night for a moondance” to set the scene. An ironic Look of Love opens the second half, Presley’s Suspicion is ingeniously staged, with three smoking lovers seducing Ford’s wife behind his back. And was that Wimoweh for the wives’ “confession” in dumb-show – brilliant !
The music - all of it live - is done by Nick Mayes – who also plays Slender’s servant Peter Simple. Some issues with balance between backing and vocals, and between dialogue and songs, meant that the unplugged pieces worked rather better in the context of the play.
The costumes and the set both very evocative of the period, though the set – split by a strange black hole in the centre – finds it hard to melt into the background.
Despite some dumbing down and desperate double entendres, this is a very enjoyable take on Shakespeare, all done in two hours. By the sing-along Everlasting Love line-up the audience will include some new converts to CTW and, we hope, to Shakespearean comedy.

Monday, December 04, 2017


One from the Heart at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford

A portentous start, with Richard Strauss, a star cloth and a flying mirror, but One from the Heart soon get into their panto stride in a show, directed by Kerris Peeling, that’s packed with comedy routines and high octane musical numbers.
The USP this year is The Man in the Mirror – not Michael Jackson, but Louie Westwood’s silver-suited camp dynamo, combining the role of narrator and Good Fairy – with the pyrotechnics to prove it. A very engaging performance, his That’s The Way I Like It catch phrase (courtesy of KC and the Sunshine Band) quickly getting the young audience on side. He proves a decent song and dance man, too, in his opening number, Live in Living Color from Catch Me If You Can.
He’s backed by four lithe chorus boys, students from Laine Theatre Arts and Bird College. An ensemble of eight in all, including three local dance students, who pop up to contribute some excellent steps – choreography by Chris Whittaker – behind practically every number: Someone in the Crowd from La La Land, Wake Me Up, Cut to the Feeling from Ballerina, Nothing Holding Me Back, and another triumph for the Man in the Mirror, now sporting a rainbow hat, Sweet Charity’s If My Friends Could See Me Now. Though musical theatre buffs will point out that although “food” might make more sense than “chow”, it doesn’t actually rhyme …
Some choices seem more relevant to the plot than others: Holding Out for a Hero works well in context, with a cheeky nod to Les Miz at the end.
Useful to have these extra bodies to fill the wide Civic stage, not to mention the “seven fun-sized helpers”, the synonymous dwarfs excellently done by the Green Team of local boys and girls on Press Night. “Ho Hi, we cry,” they sing, in an impudent gesture to Disney. Because there are only six actors to cover the characters; no king, no attendant for the hunky Prince Henry (Dominic Sibanda, another fine dancer).
Abigail Carter Simpson is a lively Snow White in her “classic black bob” and puff sleeves, Dickie Wood an energetic comedian as a streetwise Muddles, silly son to Andrew Fettes’ Nurse Nellie. A rather shouty dame, perhaps – the decibel level high on both sides of the footlights, but brilliant in the demanding comedy routines. The wicked Queen Grizelda is done with a touch of the Valkyries by Jenny-Ann Topham.
Simon Aylin’s script is patchy – a few desultory topical gags, and a puzzling reference to Dukes, which as Chelmsford clubbers will know, has been closed for five years. But he does include some lovely panto favourites. The man-scoffing skeletons from the ghost routine let loose in the auditorium, a super tongue-twister based on the Prince’s homeland of Asfaria, the echoing wishing well, the classic quick-fire Three Houses nonsense, and two novelty numbers, The Music Man, with gestures, before the wedding, and an energetic Twelve Days, giving the crew time to set the cottage, and finishing with another favourite, the wicked super-soaker water cannon to drench the punters.
James Doughty’s pit band gives superb support to all those punchy numbers – even Agadoo, once voted the worst song of all time …
The big finish has fresh frocks for all, five treads for the walk-down, and a smashing megamix finale for the whole company. Leaving the audience happily exhausted by another enjoyable Civic panto.

Sunday, December 03, 2017


Mercury Theatre Colchester
for The Reviews Hub

This sparkling Snow White – Daniel Buckroyd’s fourth panto for Made in Colchester – is a delightful cocktail of glamour, glitter and good old-fashioned fun.
David Shields’ designs feature giant candles, surrounding the flown title, and later the magic mirror and the Princess’s glass coffin. There’s an impressive dungeon laboratory, as well as a charming cottage for the Dwarfs, which opens out like a book as Snow White walks in. The pyrotechnics are safely in the ceiling, and there’s a stunning mirror-ball above our heads.
We begin traditionally, with a stand-off between Good and Evil, familiar banter from Fairy Blossom and wannabe Maleficent, the tamely named Enchantress. Both, incidentally, excellent singers, more than capable of selling their big numbers to a noisy opening night crowd.
Then a wordless waltz behind the gauze - “the artistic bit”, as Nurse Nellie has it; she makes a low-key appearance (how hard must that be!) in this scene-setting backstory.
Antony Stuart-Hicks – his third time out on the Mercury stage – is the Dame - “back to lower the tone”. A masterclass in this unique genre, much harder to nail than many people think. He takes the audience by the scruff of the neck, with quick-fire gags of varying degrees of smut, and astounding audience skills. A late-comer, quite far back in the stalls, is the target for some acid remarks, before Nellie charges up to him, inspects his hands, berates his lateness, and in a priceless pay-off discovers he’s a police officer. And doesn’t forget ...
Other Colchester favourites are back, too: Simon Pontin is promoted to Chamberlain this year; Dale Superville is Muddles, another perfect panto personality. A beautifully youthful Snow White, spirited and excellently sung, from Megan Bancroft. Her “true love” who wakes her with his kiss, is the bookish young Rupert, Alex Green. The ageing king, bewitched by the wicked queen and trapped in the mirror, is James Dinsmore.
The good fairy is a cuddly, bubbly Gbemisola Ikumelo, more than a match for the Enchantress of Carli Norris. This is a remarkable performance, her dialogue peppered with hashtags, managing the evil as well as the vocals and the comedy (a nice bit of business with the apples). She looks stunning too – the devil has all the best gowns here. At the end, of course, she sees the error of her ways, when the frog is snogged and everyone is Walking on Sunshine.
Although the script does not shy away from the darker elements of the Grimm story – the poison, the deer’s heart, the tomb - most of the traditional tropes are in place: A Ghost Routine in the Spooky Wood – no mere king-size sheet here, but a splendidly costumed spectre – a classic mirror number, complete with vibraphone underscore, an audience song (Wiggly Woo, in case you want to practise beforehand) and a shout-out for Lorna the birthday girl and the Rainbows and Brownies packing the front stalls. And scarcely any topical gags – Adele and Theresa May the only victims.
Richard Reeday leads a band of three in the pit, with a nicely eclectic playlist, from Positive Thinking – a great duet that could have come from any panto over the last forty years – to Bieber’s Puerto Rican hit from earlier this year. The Disney songs – now 80 years young - are strictly off limits, of course, though the Dwarfs sail pretty close with the Spanish Jai Ho, and an ingenious reworking of a Jeff Beck hit from the 60s, Hi Ho Silver Mining. There’s even a cheeky Hi Ho at the end of the Wizzard festive encore.
And what of the Dwarfs ?  Not the junior chorus (these talented Apples and Pears, nicely choreographed by Charlie Morgan do the cute woodland creatures and general ensemble) but new and original characters – the Captain, a Scotsman, a French chef, Windy, the last to arrive … done as puppets by Abigail Bing, voiced and moved by members of the cast. Though panto lighting (Mark Dymock) is not perhaps best suited to puppetry, this is a refreshingly original touch in an otherwise traditional treatment.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


lunchtime concert at the Cramphorn Theatre

One of my resolutions for 2018 will be to go to more lunchtime concerts.
Jumping the gun here, for this very enjoyable selection of twentieth century music for clarinet and piano, part of the Environ Music series curated by Jeffery Wilson.
His Arioso was the encore in this programme, which had two suites by William Blezard at its heart.
The Suite Francaise included a soporific Berceuse, and a playful, punning Partie de Hocquet. Clarinettist David Chivers clearly shared the composer’s sense of humour, evidenced again in the Three Cabaret Pieces, ending with an exuberant Piece of Cake Walk.
Italian composer Alberto Tempestini’s Memories proved a charmingly lyrical piece, after the fashion of movie music, with some virtuoso passages for Mary Blanchard’s piano.
After Essex composer Alan Bullard’s laid-back Blues, the programme ended with the Concertino of Keith Amos, its three movements proudly labelled with English markings – Bright, Expressively, Rhythmically – an impressive piece of accessible chamber music, respecting Amos’s twin trinities: Melody, Harmony, Rhythm, Composer, Performer, Audience.
A manifesto not always followed in the musical circles of the second half of last century, but very much in evidence in this generous serving of lunchtime entertainment.