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27 January 2012


A Few Good Men
Great Baddow Memorial Hall, Chelmsford
Friday 27th January 2012

A hugely popular motion picture, Oscar-nominated in 1993, and starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson & Demi Moore amongst others, not to mention a cast of 16, 15 of whom are written to be played by men, this was a brave choice for Theatre at Baddow to take on. 

After entering past the armed Marines at the door, an almost bare stage greeted the audience in the busy Memorial Hall, with lots of different levels and a US Marines crest lit against the back wall.  The minimalist staging worked very well with the varying locations required.  Furniture and props were kept down to essentials, which helped to keep the scene changes crisp and quick, and to draw attention to the wonderful costumes worn by every single character.  Attention to detail went as far as cutting the Marine's hair to a uniform length, and this really added a reality to the style of the piece.

This is essentially a courtroom drama, with the action following a junior military lawyer, who is allocated the defense in a murder case against a pair of Marines at Guantanamo Bay accused of killing a fellow Marine. 

Military lawyer Lt. Daniel Kaffee, Ben Salmon in the iconic Tom Cruise role, was a triumph.  He mixed a likeable air of cool with a believable passion and conviction in the case.  Ben's delivery was charming and confident, and his accent immaculately consistent.  A real find of a performer in his first time with TaB. 

He was soundly backed up by family man Lt. Sam Weinberg (John Mabey) and the annoying Lt. Cdr. Joanne Galloway (Kelly McGibney), who both also gave strong performances. 

I was especially impressed with the accused, Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson (Bruce Thomson), who acted each moment of stony silence without losing control or concentration.  Every flicker of tiny reaction in his facial expression was considered and engaging.  A clever and memorable performance considering the relative lack of lines.

Jesse Powis was wonderful as Col. Nathan R. Jessup, conveying his angry, warped sense of honour with relish.  The delivery of iconic catchphrases can be daunting, and he successfully maintained his character and control throughout his courtroom examination. 

Amongst the rest of the cast, performances were generally very good across the board.  Success with the accents was varied in the smaller roles, but largely pretty consistent, which is impressive in such a numerous cast.  An excellent start to the year from TaB.

25 January 2012


Anything Goes
Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch
Wednesday 25th January 2012

This was my first visit to the Queen's Theatre, and after a shaky start (the Box Office clerk was on her phone throughout my transaction), it was a very enjoyable one.

The band opened with a superb and energetic Overture, and maintained an extremely high standard throughout.

The large, impressive set of the SS America proved it's worth, with some ingenious hidden sections that were pulled out variously to reveal a fully furnished first class cabin, a sparse third class cabin and a ship's jail cell.  Unfortunately the ship's second level was a little too high for the stage, making the upper space difficult to light.  There was some questionable follow-spotting too, especially in the opening scene.  All the costumes were well chosen for the period and characters, never an easy job for an amateur group of varying shapes and sizes.

Reno Sweeney (Gemma Nye) was strongly played, drawing attention each moment she walked on stage, even if her hands defaulted to her hips slightly too often.  I thought her especially good in the title number, tapping us into the interval, and she looked fantastic in her red dress for "Blow Gabriel, Blow".  She seemed to lack confidence when stretching her upper vocal range, as her projection weakened, but she was generally on the money and could have belted those notes to really instil the impact of her excellent performance.

James Sinclair as Billy danced gracefully, and although his voice didn't quite fit the variety of the role, which was especially prevalent during the fairly high "Easy to Love", when singing close to his comfort zone in "You're the Top" his depth was very pleasant.  He was full of energy and conveyed his character with easy charm.

The costume team outdid themselves with Hope Harcourt (Hannah Matthews-Jones), who looked effortlessly beautiful in each of her many changes.  Her voice was not quite as developmed as some of the other leads, but her dance scene with Billy in "It's De-Lovely" was elegantly appealing.

Moonface Martin (Bill Jaycock) was wonderful as the loveable "Public Enemy #13", his gravelly voice suiting the character perfectly, and being well maintained throughout.  His "Be Like the Bluebird" number from the ship's jail was a charismatic highlight.

Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Rick McGeough) was well played for laughs, even if his high-class accent sounded slightly too Essex-based.  The audience loved "The Gypsy in Me", where the most was very much made of this peach of a part.

Other worthy mentions must go to the wonderfully played Elisha J Whitney (David Cormack), bumbling around after his stolen glasses, and Maria Coston as Mrs Harcourt with her brave handling of a real dog, who was impeccably behaved. 

The groups real strength was in the chorus numbers, which were solidly sung and staged, without exception.   “Blow Gabriel, Blow” and “Anything Goes” being particular stand outs, as well as the crew doing a lovely job with “There’ll Always Be a Lady Fair”. 

Every single cast member conveyed the feeling that they were having a jolly good time, which is a sure fire way to leave your audience feeling just the same.

22 January 2012


The Wizard of Oz
Keene Hall, Galleywood
Sunday 22nd January 2012

No reference in the programme to an author of this piece, but remarkably close to the original film, this Pantomime version of the old classic musical was the Galleywood Theatre Group’s second foray into the seasonal genre, and their first production at Keene Hall.

This major step for the fledgling group (onto a full stage, with all of the additional technical paraphernalia that requires, such as a lighting board and sound desk) must have been daunting, but was well worth taking.  Although they still have plenty of learning curves to steer, this was a vast technical improvement on previous GTG productions. 

Suggestions that spring to mind for future include finding a way of positioning or hiding the technical crew and band so they are not part of the action, and taking photographs in a Dress Rehearsal, or gathering the cast to pose pre-show, rather than standing in front of the paying audience on the last night. 
However, there were other production elements that were excellent.  The sound and lighting was all well executed, the minimal pieces of set that were used were all soundly constructed and decorated, and the costumes were exceptional.

Dorothy (Lisa Manuel) was a confident and reliable lead, with a pretty voice and lovely expression.  She was flanked by the bumbling Scarecrow (Beverley Eary), the pragmatic Tin Man (Graham Anthony) and the cowardly Lion (Jean Speller), all of whom were played with great aplomb and easy appeal - the Lion’s makeover wig being a particular highlight of the evening!

The Good Witch, Glinda (Caroline Fernandez) was charming and the Wicked Witch (Annette Michaels) was very well done, with a melodramatic style and creepy cackle whom it was easy for the audience to enjoy booing.  Her sidekick Riff Raff, the only addition to the traditional cast, was played by last minute replacement Caroline Bradley, script in hand.  An awfully brave thing to do, Caroline excelled with a difficult character – not quite bad enough for a boo, not quite good enough for a cheer.  Her delivery was engaging and charismatic, and it is a struggle to imagine how she could have done much more, even if she’d had the part through rehearsals.  I look forward to seeing her in her own part in future productions.

The supporting cast were all good, and the pace of the evening generally kept up nicely.  There were too many to mention individually, but I was especially drawn to Jake and Silas Powell, who both danced well and delivered their lines with maturity.

It is always disappointing when any group considers the curtain call to be the right time to show their own appreciation of their Director and Crew.  The audience know there are many hardworking people who go into producing amateur theatre, not just those on stage, and their applause is implicitly meant to extend to those people too.  Hauling them all up on stage to say thank you, whether they are willing or not, feels self-indulgent and should be saved for the after-show party.

However, GTG did a very decent job overall, and if they continue to make this progress we should be in for a treat next Panto season.

21 January 2012


An Inspector Calls
UK Tour directed by Stephen Daldry
Theatre Royal, Norwich
Saturday 21st January 2012

Staging a well-known piece, such as An Inspector Calls, in a new and exciting way, without losing the power and impact intended by its original mid-20th century playwright, requires brave decisions and an audacious imagination.  Stephen Daldry and his team display this in spades in this multi-award winning production, which was first staged at the National Theatre in 1992 and has since enjoyed several seasons in the West End.  It is visiting Norwich on its eighth national tour which runs until June 2012.

The Edwardian setting has been shrewdly compounded with the setting of the first ever performance year of 1945, with high production values.  The Birling’s stylised dolls-house home set high on the stage above a Blitz-torn street, with real rain adding gravitas to the street children’s games. 

We hear the family’s early dinner conversation literally behind closed doors, making occasional acquaintance with family members as they step onto the balcony, the scale such that they are grotesquely outsized - an immediate caricature.  Inspector Goole’s silent wait by the lamppost, his shadow cast long and high against the side of the house, created an atmospheric impact with those opening minutes that did not abate throughout.

The action handles some intense emotion, making you feel both distaste and a lamentable empathy for the succession of guilty reactions exhibited by the accused characters, despite their increasingly shocking revelations.  There but for the grace of God. 

All of the extended family members were handled with immense skill and conviction.  Sheila Birling (Kelly Hotten) is especially engaging, with the reaction we all believe we are being asked to take away – a shocking lesson to nurture the milk of human kindness within ourselves.  However, it is the magnetic intensity of the electric Inspector Goole (Tom Mannion) about whom we are left wondering.  Who is he?  And most importantly, does it matter?