Sunday, December 10, 2017

THE LADYKILLERS OF HUMBER DOUCY LANE

THE LADYKILLERS OF HUMBER DOUCY LANE
Eastern Angles at The Sir John Mills Theatre
09.12.17

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

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR – THE MUSICAL

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR – THE MUSICAL
CTW at The Old Court Theatre
08.12.17
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

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
One from the Heart at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford
02.12.2017

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

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
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

DAVID CHIVERS AND MARY BLANCHARD

DAVID CHIVERS AND MARY BLANCHARD
lunchtime concert at the Cramphorn Theatre
29.11.2017

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.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

THE SECRET THEATRE

THE SECRET THEATRE
Shakespeare’s Globe at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
24.11.2017

Like last season’s Wonder Noir White Devil, this atmospheric production opens in complete darkness, and the tale of deception and surveillance is intimately lit by hand-held candles and oblique winter daylight from the Playhouse windows.
The design ingeniously suggests the spymaster’s trade, with built-in concealed filing cabinets and a round window - between the obscured musicians’ galleries – framing eavesdroppers and a lovely London diorama.
Anders Lustgarten’s new piece tells of a nation divided, with the whiff of treason mixed with the candle smoke, the threat of terror and a hostile Europe over the Channel. This is 1585, and a nervous, vindictive Queen, is forced to rely on the powers of darkness to deal with her perceived enemies.
So no shortage of contemporary resonances; we hardly need the crowd-pleasing comments about the tennis. We see the dark arts practised here not by spin doctors and civil servants but by the spymasters Cecil [Ian Redford] and, chiefly, Walsingham. Vague threats are embellished, double agents are rife, dissent spreads from the highest to the lowest in the land.
The playwright is at pains to emphasise the relevance to our own day; we have inherited, he maintains, the system of surveillance set up in sixteenth century London - “an apparatus of security which will never be dismantled”.
Aidan McArdle is Walsingham, a quietly determined man, racked by illness at the end, rising, like Mantel’s Crum, from comparatively humble origins to be the power behind the throne, emerging black-clad and menacing from the darkness. Tara Fitzgerald, a strong presence in richly ornate gowns, white-faced, is an arrogant, often earthy woman in this version of history, while the torturer Topcliffe is given an even less likely persona, semi-literate sadist combining his “interrogation” of Robert Southwell [Sam Marks] with take-away chicken and musings on the Queen’s quim. In fact Topcliffe was an educated landowner and MP, whose association with Cecil and Walsingham is not supported by any historical record.
A fine performance by Cassie Layton as Walsingham’s daughter, Frances, whose eventful life is usually confined to the footnotes of history, and might well be deemed worthy of a drama of her own ...

production photograph: Marc Brenner

Monday, November 27, 2017

THE OLIVE BRANCH

THE OLIVE BRANCH
Harry Christophers and The Sixteen 
at Chelmsford Cathedral
25.11.2017

Their seventeenth Choral Pilgrimage, and once again Chelmsford is lucky enough to be on their camino.
The programme this year is a blend of Palestrina and Poulenc, two composers separated by more than 300 years, each writing in a very different musical idiom. But both creators of sacred choral music that is sublime, expressing a deep personal belief.
The bookends were both Salve Reginas – Poulenc’s tender setting to start, in a beautifully balanced, perfectly enunciated performance, and Palestrina’s renaissance masterpiece to end, performed with the polish and commitment familiar from the series of recordings devoted to this composer - “allowing Palestrina to breathe”, as Harry Christophers puts it.
It’s a fruitful combination, providing new perspectives on each of these giants of choral music. But it is the Poulenc that is the real revelation here – the “moine” and the “voyou” in Rostand’s familiar phrase. Although one of the finest things on offer was the secular “Un Soir de Neige”, written during the final Christmas of the war, it was the “moine” who was most in evidence, in the exquisite Agnus Dei [from the Mass in G of 1937], and the Four Motets from a year or so later, excitingly varied in their approach, and beautifully shaped by Christophers, with the silences given due weight.


Another imaginative pairing for the 2018 Pilgrimage – Benjamin Britten and the Tudor composer[s] William Cornish. Sacred and Profane begins its journey on March 14 in St Alban’s. At the time of writing, no sign of Chelmsford on their tour schedule ...

Friday, November 24, 2017

QUIZ

QUIZ
Chichester Festival Theatre at the Minerva
23.11.2017

“What is truth and what is lies, what is fact and what is fable ?” ponders the Headmaster in Daniel Evans’ first play of the season, Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On.
The same philosophical puzzles are posed in his last, a new piece by James [This House] Graham.
He gets the meta-theatricals in early, as one cast member hesitates before taking the oath in court. The whole truth ? Nothing but the truth ? Is truth really in the eye of the beholder ? There is much musing on the media, the image not the message, Psy-Ops, confirmation bias, the nature of memory and the very British tendency to build someone up only to knock them down. The issues raised run much deeper than popular television.

It’s a remarkable entertainment – funny, thought-provoking, nostalgic, and, famously, interactive. We get a keypad to vote with, as well as a clipboard for the pub quiz questions posed by warm-up man Paul Bazeley.

In the more light-hearted first half, we get, as well as our pub quiz – TV themes, zodiac signs, brother to York and Wessex – a voting key pad, a potted history of the TV game show from Take Your Pick through Bullseye to Mastermind, and an introduction to the incestuous “community” of WWTBAM, including Diana Ingram, her husband Major Charles and her nerdy brother Adrian.
The narrative, and the courtroom snippets, here are skewed to the Production Company’s prosecution case, and the audience vote at the commercial break is 90/10 against the Ingrams. But after the interval, we see the “facts” from the defendants’ perspective. We’re being manipulated again, of course, but less blatantly – the shooting of family pet Buffy the cat – and there’s a wonderful speech by the Portia for the defence [Sarah Woodward]. This time, the vote clears the trio by 57 to 43 – conspiracy theorists might note that, in 20 shows, this is the fifth time these exact percentages were recorded.
It’s given a glossy production almost in the round. “Just like the telly,” with shiny black studio floor and a neon cube centre stage. The intimate family moments work well, and less naturalistically, the choreographed coughing as the couple are hounded on the tube, the talk-back whispers, the invention of the Machine, rising like Frankenstein’s monster to the sound of Handel. As the Major is coached in the closed book of popular culture, there’s a brief glimpse of Coronation Street, and several excruciating visits to a Karaoke in Daventry.
Uniformly excellent performances – Bazely is the prosecution’s QC as well as the pub quiz man, Henry Pettigrew the pathetic brother, Jay Villiers the Judge as well as ITV boss Liddiment, a witness, and an unsympathetic police officer.
Mark Meadows plays Tecwen Whittock who allegedly did most of the coughing, as well as the Major’s commanding officer - a lovely moment where they share a love of G&S “I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral, I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical” ...
Stephanie Street gives us a likeable, though quiz-fixated and determined, Diana – Gavin Spokes squirms and sweats in the hot seat, a man out of his depth and his league. And Keir Charles plays not only Tarrant, all his mannerisms magnified on the huge monitors, but, his quick changes done at the edge of the stage, all the other smiling, smarmy quiz inquisitors [no, not Michael Miles, [who now remembers him?] but Des O’Connor, who took over Take Your Pick in the 90s], even briefly Brucie on VT.
As the show’s sales pitch has it:

Is Quiz:
A) The world premiere of a new play by acclaimed writer James Graham?
B) A provocative re-examination of the conviction of Charles Ingram, ‘the coughing Major’, for cheating, following his appearance on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
C) A hilarious celebration of the great tradition of the British quiz show?
D) A razor-sharp analysis of the 21st century’s dangerous new attitude to truth and lies?

All four, of course, is the correct answer, though I might have voted for B – based on the book Bad Show: The Quiz, the Cough, the Millionaire Major – the play shines an unflattering light on the media, the police, the production company and makes a cogent case, if not for exoneration, then at least for a re-examination of this curious affair.


production photograph: Johan Persson

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

LES MISÉRABLES

LES MISÉRABLES

BOSSY at Brentwood Theatre

21.11.17

A huge challenge to fit Victor Hugo’s epic onto the tiny Brentwood stage. BOSSY, who have been here before, wisely choose to emphasise the human stories rather than the wider picture.
The barricades [anyone for tennis?] are effective, with smoke and flashing lights from the battle beyond. Good work from the student militants here, and in the stillness of Drink With Me, the ante-bellum atmosphere poignantly suggested. Huge commitment from the ensemble for At the End of the Day, and the wedding ball looked good too – lovely gowns and convincing choreography. The ending makes a real impact: the simple tableau of Valjean’s death, with the newly-weds seated in front, before the company join in one last anthem, the youngest revolutionary up aloft, desperately waving the red flag of freedom.
Props and costumes vary in their impact – the map of Paris was excellent, the red tablecloth under it somewhat too small. The gates to Valjean’s garden on the rue Plumet, as so often, prove problematical, but once they are in place, there are some fine stage pictures for the operatic quartet and trio.
An excellent cast this time out, with some fine voices, despite the relative youth of these performers. Sam Harper makes a compelling Valjean, wonderfully sung with real emotional impact – Bring Him Home predictably moving. Joe Folley is Javert; a portrait of a man obsessed, with every word carefully shaped. He even convinces us that he is staring into the abyss before his final descent into the Seine.
Katherine Dodds plays Cosette, working well with her imposing Marius [Dan Pugh]. I might have liked a less introspective Empty Chairs – the phantom faces behind, strikingly lit, should not capture all our attention. Jodie Tarrant is the tragic Fantine, giving us a well-phrased I Dreamed a Dream, though it was a shame her eyes were obscured by her hat and the lighting. A superb Eponine from Tia Stack – one of the best On My Own I’ve seen, simply staged but with 100% emotional investment. As student leader Enjolras Jamie Wilson is in fine voice, and gives a captivating depiction of youthful idealism.
Enjoyable comic relief from the Thenardiers [Rosie Griffiths as the nasty Madame, Lady Macbeth to Michael Percival’s coarse, well-sung Monsieur]. Two nice little dance numbers for them, before each is dumped to the floor.
And Sam Johnson makes a great Gavroche – more Artful Dodger than innocent Oliver – a cocky young urchin engaging with his audience and making the most of his dramatic role in the uprising, even in his violent death, left largely to the imagination.

Not the ideal venue for the musical theatre MD, but Cathy Edkins provides solid support for her young singers, mostly on keyboards, though oboe and trombone are also prominent. Les Misérables is directed by Gaynor Wilson, bringing the familiar story to life, and encouraging some fine performances from soloists and ensemble.

Monday, November 20, 2017

THINGS TO COME – CHELMSFORD BALLET COMPANY’S SNOW QUEEN








THINGS TO COME CHELMSFORD BALLET COMPANY’S SNOW QUEEN

Chelmsford City of Culture ?
One of the strongest recommendations, surely, would be that rare thing, an amateur ballet company performing regularly to the highest of standards.
Chelmsford Ballet Company has been established in the City for almost seventy years, and for 2018, they’ll be following up their successful Alice with a classical piece, Snow Queen, from 21st to 24th of March.
We’re promised glitter, sparkle, gorgeous costumes and music by Alexander Glazunov, who arranged Chopin’s piano works for Les Sylphides.
The story is based on Hans Anderson’s fairytale, a battle between good and evil as Gerda seeks to break the cruel spell cast by the evil Snow Queen; her adventures take her on a thrilling journey north through enchanted forests, encountering fantastical beasts and a colourful band of gypsies. She must find the Snow Queen’s Palace of Ice, rescue Kay, and break the curse of Eternal Winter. This production is choreographed by CBC’s Artistic Director Annette Potter.
Tickets for Snow Queen are now on sale – book at the Civic Theatre, by phone [ 01245 606505] or online - www.chelmsford.gov.uk/theatres/  

photograph by Andrew Potter: Samantha Ellis as the Snow Queen

Sunday, November 19, 2017

THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS

THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS

The Waltham Singers at Chelmsford Cathedral
18.11.17

This is the best of me,” - words of Ruskin quoted by Elgar at the end of the manuscript. Andrew Fardell and the Waltham Singers made a strong case in support of this assessment.
It is a great work, both in its conception and in the forces required.
As in their Lenten concert earlier this year, the instrumental accompaniment was provided by Ensemble Orquesta.
From the Prelude, with its fortissimo climaxes, it was clear that Elgar’s vision of the soul’s journey to the afterlife was in safe hands.
The first entry of the choir – as the Assistants, the friends who pray with him at the last – was beautifully judged. The women [the Angelicals] sang the contemplative passages to great effect - “O Generous Love”. And the final prayers of those left behind “Spare him, Lord” were movingly done. But they could not hope to replicate the huge choral societies that Elgar had in mind, and the “sullen howl” of the Demons struggled to make much impact against the thundering brass and percussion.
Jeremy White’s bass brought gravitas to the Priest and the repeated exhortations of the Angel of the Agony. Rebecca Afonwy-Jones’s pure mezzo was perfect for the Angel; this was a truly uplifting performance – her phrasing of the Alleluia and the moving passage in which she speaks of the fleeting sight of the Almighty were wonderfully expressive. As Gerontius, Joshua Ellicott was superb, a committed, dramatic interpretation, with every word audible, his virile tenor cutting thrillingly through the chorus and the orchestra.

photograph by Martin Cuthbert

Thursday, November 16, 2017

LADIES IN LAVENDER

LADIES IN LAVENDER

Hutton Players at Brentwood Theatre
15.11.17

A charming period piece, with two juicy roles for the more mature actress, two stock characters, and two cyphers for the younger generation.
Hutton Players – directed here by Patrick Stevens – field a fine sextet. The Widdington sisters, set all a-flutter by one Andrea Marowski, the Angel, the Greek God, the Polish violinist washed up on their Cornish shore, are Kathy Smith and Lindsey Crutchett, the latter especially moving as long suppressed desires are rekindled, and sibling rivalry upsets their tranquil lives. The scene in which she finishes reading The Little Mermaid as Andrea sleeps on the floor is beautifully judged.
Ruddy cheeked, outspoken Dorcas, who enjoys making a fuss and baking, is given a lovely comic performance by June Fitzgerald, while the local doctor, widower and amateur fiddler, is confidently played by William Wells.
The “artistic visitor”, sketching the shoreline and helping Andrea launch his performing career, is Louise Bridgman – her subplot scene with Dr Mead excellently played - and the enigmatic shipwrecked Pole himself is Lewis Symes.
The set is a delight – Aunt Elizabeth’s counterpane, the azure seascape simply suggested, the pre-war wireless, inhabited by Vernon Keeble-Watson’s BBC announcer, doubtless dinner-jacketed. Only the garden gate jars – better left to the imagination, perhaps.

There is, of course, much music, including a little of Nigel Hess’s splendid score for the film. It might have been better to record the first extract especially [without piano], but the frozen, spotlit solos for Andrea are very effective. Even for the unlikely Toccata of his London début, the sisters listening in at home, dressed in their Sunday best.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

SOHO CINDERS

SOHO CINDERS
Springers at the Cramphorn Theatre
14.11.17

Soho’s Old Compton Street has a chequered, sleazy history. Nowadays it’s best known for its gay bars, the Admiral Duncan, and the Prince Edward Theatre.
It provides the setting, and the opening number, for this Stiles and Drewe musical, very loosely based on the Cinderella story.
A flat brick wall, with Ian Myers and his band just visible over the top, with the Glam Amour strip club in front, and the Sit and Spin launderette trucked on and off stage centre.
The pre-show sees the street peopled with a “promiscuous pot-pourri”: cops and joggers, tourists and Mormons. There’s a hen-do, too [my second this week].
Justin Clarke’s engaging production, with choreography by Kat McKeon, has many inspired touches: the Spin number, the slomo movement for Gypsies of the Ether, the circling paparazzi vultures, the excellent chorus work in Who’s That Boy.
Some impressive performances, too. Kieran Young is the young man who goes to the [political fundraising] ball, and loses not a slipper but a smartphone – a nicely nuanced approach, and lovely vocal work, in his Glass Slippers solo, for instance.
Catherine Gregory makes the most of Sidesaddle – her rickshaw becomes the Coach – while Gareth Locke relishes the sexist Campaign Manager [a cheer from the audience when he got his just deserts] to James Prince, the personable ex-swimmer who hopes to be elected as London’s next mayor. Ben Miller catches the angst of the ambitious man who’s desperate to play it straight. His fiancée, who suffers more than anyone when it all goes wrong, is Amy Serin; she has a moving duet with Velcro, “fag hag to the West End”, Robbie’s best mate and confidante, beautifully captured by Mae Pettigrew.
Favourites with the crowd, though, as often in the panto, are the Ugly Sisters – Sophie Lines and Becky Watts. Shameless, homophobic, greedy for profit and celebrity, they light up the stage every time they appear, and certainly deserve their Fifteen Minutes big number.
A lectern narration is not the best dramatic device – even when given by Stephen Fry – and often seemed redundant in a fully staged production. The lyrics and the dialogue do not always live up to the music; Hard to Tell a witty exception.
The show was warmly received [at the Soho Theatre, round the corner on Dean Street, and no bigger than the Cramphorn] in 2012, but it has yet to break through into the mainstream. So we should be grateful to Springers for this opportunity to enjoy this edgy alternative fairy tale.


production photograph: Aaron Crowe