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29 February 2012


My Favourite Summer
Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford
Wednesday 29th February 2012

Dave (Matthew Booth) introduces himself directly to the audience, warning us that this is the story of the worst summer of his life, drawing attention to the obvious misnomer in the title.

We are very much in the 90s, with Dave's Oasis t-shirt and blasts of Blur and REM on the radio.  There is a strong feeling of autobiography from this piece as we discover more about it's protagonist, the struggling actor straight out of Drama school.  He narrates us through the action, switching to become part of the scene in a moment, wry looks at the audience, witty asides.  A very relaxed, confident performance.

All the other character's are shared between Fiona Organ and Keith Hukin, variously Dave's parents, love interest, co-workers, etc.  Each a unique and well-formed comic character, with only fairly subtle quick-changes of costume to differentiate between them.  These two supporting actors worked hard and helped to keep the pace lithe.  Hukin's interpretation of Melvin, the disgusting co-worker, was inspired and had the audience both wincing and laughing in equal measure.

We find ourselves rooting for the underdog in this story of lost-love, although the inevitable unhappy ending was echoed from the very beginning in the explanation of the ironic title.

A wonderfully written piece of comic drama, which could only have been made better if only a few more people had taken a chance on it on it's brief visit to Chelmsford.  This reviewer will be keeping an eye out for the Harrogate-based Reform Theatre Company next time around.

17 February 2012


The Ladykillers
West End Premiere
Friday 17th February 2012

Joining a West End full of plays and musicals transferring from the screen to the stage, this new production of the old Ealing Studios comedy film has come to Shaftesbury Avenue with a high profile cast and big budget staging.

Following a gang of criminals planning their next robbery while lodging in the house of old Mrs Wilberforce, the production really has something for everyone.  

Peter Capaldi plays the gang leader Professor Marcus, strong and reliable in the part, rushing around the wonky old house, never without his extra-long scarf, plotting the intricacies of their robbery.  The other members of the gang included the General (James Fleet) with his cross-dressing tendencies and bumbling charm, Louis (Ben Miller, completely excellent and dryly hilarious) the Romanian with the violent glint and aversion to old ladies, Harry (Stephen Wight) constantly popping various pills and manically cleaning the house and the lovably dim One-Round (Clive Rowe). 

The undeniable star however must be Marcia Warren as the doddering old Mrs Wilberforce.  She executes the role with grace and ease, is entirely engaging and wonderfully funny.

Full of humour, a very clever multi-layered set and some great special effects, all coupled with impressive performances make this a really great night out in town.

10 February 2012


Man & Boy
Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
Friday 10th February 2012

An intricately designed, fully detailed basement flat is the setting for Rattigan's Man & Boy, realised in true CTW style with great attention to detail, including "up" stairs outside the window.

The play centres around the fictional entrepreneur Gregor Antonescu, a ruthless sociopath on the brink of collapse, and his son, on the eve of a last ditch attempt at a large-scale business deal.

The play is slow and involved, and yet other than the protagonist, little availability is given for the characters to develop any depth.  Although there is a certain degree of empathy possible for the son dealing with his overbearing criminal of a father figure, none of the characters have any thing about them for the audience to like, or even care about.  

That said, Antonescu is a highly complex character, and CTW had him skillfully portrayed by the excellent Dave Hawkes, constantly engaging and full of depth of understanding.  

The supporting cast were generally good, with special mention going to debutante Amanda Drury, who was very engaging as the son's girlfriend.  An increasingly common feature among the younger performers at CTW lately was shared in both James Christie and Tony Ellis, in that their delivery was far too garbled, speaking each word with such alacrity that the overall effect is to lose the attention of this audience member completely.

Overall, a play that I won't be rushing back to see in production again, but a decent production by the popular Theatre Workshop.

09 February 2012


The Monkey's Paw
The Horrible Thing in the Garden
Christ Church, New London Road, Chelmsford
Thursday 9th February 2012

A warm welcome greeted the impressively decent-sized audience, considering the snow flurries outside, at Christ Church this week.

The evening began with The Monkey's Paw, a spooky tale about a remote family being visited by a Sergeant-Major friend, who bestows on them a cursed talisman in the shape of a monkey's paw.  The paw is said to grant the holder any three wishes, although the family are warned that the granting of those wishes comes at a terrible price.  Of course, the family wish anyway, with horrific results.

Father and Mother, Mr & Mrs White, (Syd Smith & Julie Lissamore) were played with subtlety and emotion.  Mrs White's distress when discovering the ill-fate that their wish had brought them was very dramatic.  Their son Herbert (Richard Langley) was played with jovility, creating a pleasant juxtaposition to the later scenes.  Geoff Hadley as the mysterious, gruff-voiced Sergeant-Major was excellent in a brief role, bringing a real gravitas when delivering the exposition of the plot.  The final visit from Mr Sampson (Les Leeds) delivered the climactic final result that fate had dealt the family.

The second half brightened the atmosphere, whole new cast, minor changes to the set, with The Horrible Thing in the Garden.  A black comedy centred around Miss Violet Throstle (Helen Langley) and her sister Miss Rose Throstle (Angela Gee).  About to settle down to afternoon tea, their peace is shattered by Rose's discovery of a "horrible thing" under the rhododendrons.  Suspicions reign, not least of their morbid (cleaner? maid? housekeeper?) Mrs Honeybun (Joan Lanario), with her delight at horror novels.  The denouemont is finally revealed by Mrs Honeybun's sensible daughter Marlena (Leila Francis), of course a scarecrow all along.  A stronger overall cast than Act 1, or perhaps just more at home in Phoenix's comedy comfort zone, all these talented actresses created a frantic and funny end to the evening.

07 February 2012


The Taming of the Shrew
RSC Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon
Tuesday 7th February 2012

The premise of The Taming of the Shrew is one that, fortunately, has not stood the test of time in its relevancy to the audience.  A story of the persecution of a young woman because she is headstrong, willful and uncontrollable.  She is married off by her worn out father to the first man who asks, who then precedes to emotionally beat her into submission.  And all this is offered as a lighthearted comedy!  But perhaps I am a cynic.  The Director of the RSC's latest production has taken a more romantic view of the story, where the two main characters are misfit lovers, who would otherwise be lonely if it weren't for their being drawn to one another.  

The entire acting space of the RST is transformed into an over-sized bed, complete with pillow-like mounds for the actors to climb up and down at one end, and an enormous blanket to cover the whole space.

Our Shrew, Kate (Lisa Dillon), was played with hateful venom and energy, at one point relieving herself directly onto the stage, and was a believable menace to behold.  Her Tamer, Petruchio, played by David Caves, was calm and strong and seemed to take much amusement from the wrath of his young Shrew.  Their scenes together were electric, performed with speed and grace.  I did not, however, feel any of the love between them at any point in Kate's progression from Shrew to Wife, that should be the saving grace of her ordeal.  At no point did their fighting take on an edge of flirtation on her part, and what could almost have been such from him came across as smug supremacy rather than affection.

Bianca (Elizabeth Cadwallader) and her trio of love-interests were wonderful.  Amusing, energetic and typically Shakespearean in their confusion and disguise, all the scenes in this storyline were engaging and enjoyably comical.

The real winner comically however was outside of the play-within-a-play, which dominates the vast majority of the action, in the character of Christopher Sly (Nick Holder).  His deception and subsequent confusion in the very first scene were hilarious.  He remained on stage throughout the entire first act, laying under various sections of the stage-bed watching the action.  The removal of his underwear and resultant running around half-naked was a simple, inspired idea that left the audience laughing into the interval.

06 February 2012


The Heresy of Love
The Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon
Monday 6th February 2012

On walking into The Swan theatre, we are immediately transported to the warmer climes of Mexico with the warm lighting and smells of exotic spices, which helped our imaginations melt away the snow outside.

The action depicts the real story of Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz (Catherine McCormack), a remarkable 17th century woman of Mexico, or New Spain as it was then known.  The nun is firstly celebrated and later persecuted for her writing talents, often being commissioned to write plays and poems for the Mexican court, but being equally threatened and cautioned by her Archbishop that to do so is heretical.  

Throughout the play, it becomes clear that her brilliant mind and unrelenting inquisitiveness, coupled with her new Archbishop's zealous rigidity and extreme sexism is going to become her downfall.  At this, the time of the Spanish inquisition, it could hardly go any other way.

The instigator of her destruction, Archbishop Aguiar (Stephen Boxer), was played with self-flagellating menace and conviction, and his mouthpiece and connection to Sister Juana, Fray Antonio (Geoffrey Beever) backed him up with  believable loyalty as well as displaying the truth of his affection for the young nun.

The true villain of the piece however is the turncoat Bishop Santa Cruz (Raymond Coulthard), whose early unyielding support for Sister Juana is so easily forgotten when planning his retaliation to her fictional betrayal, which is so complete in its viciousness.

The play was triumphant, if a little over-long.  It succeeded to bring to life the striking story of this remarkable woman, for whose sad ending one couldn't help to feel overwhelmingly sad but mostly angry at the executors of her unjust persecution.