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06 November 2012


Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford
Tuesday 6th November 2012
From the moment the audience enter the Cramphorn auditorium this week, the "Wow!" factor is waiting to greet them.  An exuberant, imaginative and well-constructed set covers the whole stage and climbs the back wall towards the band, without ever inhibiting the relatively limited acting space.  Immediately setting the mood for this surreal musical, the programme is also wonderful with some excellent imagery throughout, thoughtfully designed to fit perfectly into the style of the show and whetting appetites with beautifully simple adverts for Springers next events.
With the mood well and truly set, there are some lovely off-stage successes elsewhere too - the lighting is suitably colourful, with a brave attempt at follow spotting in the studio-style theatre mostly well executed, and the sound levels were spot on.  As far as I could tell voices were not miked, but the excellent live band did not overpower the vocals - a difficult balance in such a small space.  There were successes with the costumes too - the birds were full of gorgeous chorus girl glamour with an excellent contrast between Gertrude and Mayzie, The Cat in the Hat looked like he had stepped straight out of the book, the General looked perfectly smart and authoritative and the colour theme for the Whos worked very well.  For me, a few of the characters looked a little unfinished - Elephant ears attached to Horton's hat, Monkey tails trailing out from the Wickersham's trousers or a Turtle shell backpack on Yertle.  Only small additions, much like the pouch on the Sour Kangaroo, that could have stepped these costumes up a notch - worth the effort for such a visual show.
Mat Smith played the iconic Cat in the Hat, cheekily creeping about the stage causing mischief and narrating us through events with humour and charm.  Young thinker JoJo was given an excellent portrayal by Aaron Crowe who remained entirely in character throughout, complete with cheesy grins and wide-eyed innocence, and sang with clarity and control.  Horton, the naively lovable elephant, was skilfully played with notable physicality and a very strong voice by Ian Pavelin.  Deborah Anderson was eminently watchable as Gertrude, with superb characterisation and a beautiful singing voice.  Melissa Smart strutted in her beautiful costume as Mayzie Labird, bringing class and glamour to the stage as well as a pretty singing voice and considered characterisation of the selfish party bird.  Natalie Petto belted her soulful number as the Sour Kangaroo and her sour pout was well maintained, although her facial expression could have gone even further into a grimace to suit the over-the-top style of this exuberant show.  Embracing the outrageous on the other hand, Barry Miles was gloriously audacious as General Genghis Khan Smitz - face contorting and eyeballs rolling continuously.
This is a deceptively difficult show to sing, and the cast coped admirably with the tricky changes in timing and pace throughout the production.  The group numbers were sung with a smooth mix of vocals, and were well choreographed so as not to make the stage seem over-full - especially during the final court scene. 
With the curtain call taken at exactly 9.30, the performance times remain accessible for families with children to attend the weeknight performances - an essential consideration with the target audience for this show.  "When can we come here again Daddy?" was the question on the lips of the cute little girl who left the theatre on her Dad's shoulders just in front of me - what higher praise can there possibly be?

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