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31 March 2012


Dave Gorman's PowerPoint Presentation
National Tour
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Saturday 31st March 2012

A PowerPoint presentation could easily become a tool for an unconfident comic to hide behind, a boring reminder of forgotten business meetings, and if poorly executed a distraction for the audience. 

Dave Gorman ensures it is none of these things in his latest show, turning the medium into a highly effective comic device, using it variously to illustrate stories, explain observations and deliver punchlines, and only ever to enhance the true focus of the evening - the comedy.

Gorman's obsession with the trivial, his pedantic nature, and his thirst for reason, turn typical observation, such as the need for 48 hour deodorant, into a spiralling and ever-developing incredulity of the choices made by marketing departments.

His love of technology is clear (with some key material assuming a working knowledge of online newspapers and Twitter) and his enthusiasm for it is infectious - those who didn't already read the responses to online news stories certainly will now!

A very entertaining half hour from a very good comedy-song-writing support act (Jay Foreman), followed by 75 minutes of Gorman himself, and a gracious meet and greet by both in the foyer, makes for a great value night out.

28 March 2012


The 39 Steps
Wednesday 28th March 2012

A classic novel, a legendary Hitchcock film; with such a pedigree it may not be surprising that The 39 Steps has transferred to the London stage.  Patrick Barlow's adaptation however, rather than recreating the previously explored depths of suspense and mystery, lovingly mocks the tale and the theatre's limitations in trying to recreate the expeditious drama required.

Hugely energetic, and consistently humorous, the four actors (Andrew Alexander, Catherine Bailey, Stephen Critchlow and Ian Hughes) between them create a raft of different characters, often switching between them via just a change of hat.  Armed with furniture on wheels and strategically placed ladders, they speedily create each distinct scene, supported more than a little by well-timed sound effects and lighting changes.  

This frenzy of comedy sketches overpower the story somewhat, so although the jokes are well setup and executed, and are rewarded by appreciative laughter among the audience, the progression of the plot is neglected.  Perhaps this isn't the point, but one is left feeling as though having attended a sketch show rather than a play.

That aside however, the show is throughly entertaining, excitingly fast-paced, and cleverly staged to make the most of every comic opportunity, all performed by a very hard-working group of talented actors.  A fun, and funny, evening.

25 March 2012


Sunday 25th March 2012

Vivid Musical Theatre's first step toward their aim of producing "exciting and imaginative theatre productions" was taken today with this initial concert in a series of three, which will showcase respectively women, men and a battle between the two, all via the medium of musical theatre.

The plethora of talented ladies making up the eight strong cast were all very impressive.  Led by MD Ian Southgate, and covering twenty two expertly chosen numbers between them, there is only room to pick out a handful of highlights. 

Louise opened the solos with "Everything I Know" from In the Heights, an emotional and touching performance of a beautiful song exploring the loss of a motherly figure from a young woman's life. 

"Three Friends" from Closer than Ever was brought to life by Diana, Emma & Roslyn, a wonderfully acted comedy song, performed in full character throughout, about a group of ladies who resolutely remain friends throughout their lives despite growing apart - a sentiment understood by the wryly appreciative audience.

Diana went on to perform Chicago's "Me And My Baby", prop cigarette in hand, with great energy and comic timing, which worked well outside of it's executioner-evading context as simply the connection between a questionable mother and her unborn child.

The group numbers were all excellent, but "I Just Wanna Dance" from Jerry Springer : The Opera led by Sarah was definitely a high point, and "Mabel's Prayer" from Fame led by Katie was a gutsy yet sparkling climax to the concert.

Vivid Musical Theatre can clearly back up their self-professed passion for new and interesting songs with the knowledge and talent required to produce them to a high standard.  I look forward to seeing what they do with the men in April's Him concert.

24 March 2012


The Passion Play
Conglomeration of local acting talents
Saturday 24th March 2012

Reviving the 450 year old tradition of producing the Miracle Plays at Chelmsford Cathedral two years ago with The Nativity, this week the tradition continued with The Passion.

The production team gave themselves something of a challenge, not least with such a numerous cast in the intimate space within the cathedral, but also to stage a practical crucifixion!  All of the technical production elements, led by Brian Greatrex, were well considered and executed.  I liked the fire used in Peter's denial scene, and was impressed how smoothly the erection of the cross was carried out.  The professional lighting and sound were very effective, and well worth the effort to transform a space which may not otherwise suit a theatrical production.

Patrick Appleford's original music joined the scenes beautifully together, directed by Katie Miller, with the sparkling voice of cantor Kathy Sheils bringing the melodies to life, ably backed by members of the cast.

The cast were evidently a mixed bag of theatrical experience levels, but all gave the beautifully poetic Harrison script a good go, to generally great effect.

Jesus was portrayed by Jakob Kelek, handsome, strong and likable in the pivotal role he was well cast and enjoyable to watch.  Jim Crozier's Judas was stoic and contemplative, keen in betrayal but complete in remorse, his death before the interval was delicately staged - a strong performance.  The dramatic highlight however was the crucifixion scene, the Knights (Kenton Church & William Snagge) charged with carrying out the execution were led by a masterful James French, and all took great delight and pride in their bloody work.  Using the whole space, the energy and enthusiasm they brought to this scene made the juxtaposition of the subsequent raising of the cross even more poignant.

Thoughtfully directed by Alison Woollard, and regardless of any religious aims there may also have been, this was simply an intelligent and well considered theatrical production.

23 March 2012


Sweeney Todd
Friday 23rd March 2012

Sondheim's musical thriller, recounting the tale of the infamous Fleet Street barber, has seen many revivals since it's 1979 opening on Broadway, but I'd be surprised if any can compare to the truly thrilling current West End production, enjoying a limited run at the Adelphi.

Brought forward in style to the 1930s, the dark, seedy streets of London believably house the sordid activities in Mrs Lovett's Pie Shop and the barber's shop above. An industrial, ingenious, set gives depth and height to a naturally fairly static show, paired with subtle lighting changes to highlight key areas and more importantly retain a shadowy darkness over the stage.

The key performances are a complete masterclass in dramatic musical theatre.  Todd, played by an almost unrecognisable Michael Ball, is tantalisingly horrific, with sudden changes of mood and a mesmerising conviction in his search for bloodthirsty revenge with a seductively resonant voice.  Ball's talent is given a real test in this dramatic role, which he excels at effortlessly. 

Imelda Staunton could have had the part of Mrs Lovett written for her.  Played with more than a touch of comedy, she steals every scene, bringing just enough villainy and a constantly mad gleam in her eye to explore every aspect of a complex character.

The rest of the cast are strong, with particuar note to Tobias (James McConville) whose duet with Mrs Lovett for "Not While I'm Around" was a touch of true sentiment to juxtapose with the surrounding horror beautifully.

A wonderful night at the theatre - don't miss it!

16 March 2012


Oedipus The King
Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
Friday 16th March 2012

This well known Greek tragedy by Sophocles gets an awkward re-working this week as the Theatre Workshop's latest brave step into unusual waters.

Some traditional Greek devices were kept, a Greek chorus being the most obvious, but the co-Director's decisions to incorporate brash modernisations did not always sit comfortably.  A more confident interpretation may have modernised the piece in full, or may have gone the other way and delivered a fully traditional Greek tragedy, but instead of elements of both we really ended up with neither.

This confused Direction means one can forgive the cast some of their awkwardness - we are told in the programme that the company had to deal with some last minute cast changes too - and they did very well with learning the wordy Berg & Clay translation, with some enormous passages for the lead characters.  However, when one character is going to be delivering such a lot of dialogue at once, more light and shade is needed to make the passages interesting.  This critisism does not apply to all of the actors, with particular credit to Karen Pemberton's doubled roles of Teiresias and Messenger, and Ben Fraser's Kreon, who both used their voices well, and found interesting characters to portray within the verbose text.

A courageous choice for CTW to try, and the hard work that went into this production was evident, but it simply did not hit the mark.

15 March 2012


Private Resistance
Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford
Thursday 15th March 2012

Suffolk.  1940.  The Nazis have advanced through France to the coast and have taken Dunkirk.  They are on their way.

The premise of Eastern Angles spring tour is a thought-provoking one.  How would England have fared under German occupation?  

We were specifically introduced to the local Auxiliary Unit, Churchill's real secret guerrilla army, who under the fictional occupation in this show were very much activated.

The smaller scale, yet no less dangerous, resistance of a small Suffolk family is the major storyline, and one can believe and admire the British pluck in their underground pamphlet writing and secret radio sessions.  The radio was an integral device, as it conveyed to the audience the state of the country under occupation - the Royals escaping to Canada, the trains-full of Jewish families being taken out of Manchester, the looting of the rich households.

"Freedom is in peril, Defend it with all your might" is the legend on the posters, commissioned by Churchill for use if the German's were to invade, and is bedecked all across the simple yet ingeniously effective set, which allowed for two distinct locations to be cleanly realised, even at the same time in one split scene.

Some dramatic lighting changes saw the characters switch to asides, describing the events surrounding their deaths, mostly too young and awfully brutal.

An evening up to Eastern Angles usual high standard in both subject matter and execution, I can't wait to see what they come up with next.

12 March 2012


The Comedy of Errors
Olivier Theatre, London
Monday 12th March 2012

Having navigated our way around the guts of the National, the impressive Olivier stage housed a towering dockside for the opening of The Comedy of Errors, which transformed variously into the multiple locations throughout Ephesus, brought up to the minute with high-heeled prostitutes and thuggish snooker halls.

This is typical Shakespearean comedy, with lots of recognised devices; twins, a shipwreck and oodles of mistaken identity.

The pace was quick and punchy and was maintained well throughout by the energetic and experienced cast.  The Antipholus', Lenny Henry of Syracuse and Chris Jarman of Ephesus, were strong, commanding presences in wonderful contrast to their short, bouncy Dromios, Lucian Msamati and Daniel Poyser respectively, compact and clownlike.

The four musicians, covering scene changes with their accordian led interpretations of popular tunes, were an amusing and entertaining device, excellently executed.

The final 'reveal' scene was a delight, with confusion written on each brow across every member of the numerous company.  A great interpretation of one of Shakespeare's least thought-provoking, but most entertaining comedies.

07 March 2012


Ghost the Musical
West End Premiere
Wednesday 7th March 2012

Adapted from the hugely popular, Oscar-winning, film of 1990, Ghost tells the harrowing story of the murder of Sam Wheat, and the subsequent efforts that his ghost makes to ensure justice is done to those he discovers to be the culprits, alongside the heart-wrenching love and loss felt by he and his partner Molly.

All the numbers are performed with gusto, whether the ballad style love songs or the up-tempo chorus numbers, and although none of the songs are particularly memorable each does fit perfectly into the plot and succeed in telling the story, and all are delivered faultlessly by a very talented cast.  The choreography in each of these numbers is both varied and entertaining - the relatively large chorus are used to great effect throughout, flanked by multiple different props.

The Ghost, Sam Wheat, has recently been taken over by Mark Evans, who worked hard in an excellent performance, a clear and powerful voice and masculine stage presence made for a convincing portrayal as the revenge-seeking young man, and did not give over to sloppiness in the love scenes.

Siobhan Dillon, as the grief-stricken partner, carried her loss powerfully, played with enough sentimentality to be believable while maintaining the audience's sympathy - the overwhelming sound of tissue-covered snuffling at the end is a testament to the emotion conveyed to the audience.

The performance of the show however, and not simply because it is easier to like the comedic element of an emotionally-heavy production, is delivered by Sharon D Clark as Oda Mae Brown.  Constantly energetic and engaging, many of her scenes illicited spontaneous applause from an appreciative mid-week audience.  A part which could easily be treated as simply the light relief from a melancholy plotline, is treated with all the enthusiasm of Whoopi Goldberg's Oscar-winning performance in the film version, and is the performance highlight of the evening.

Putting all of this aside however, which is nothing you wouldn't really expect from any good West End production, what makes this show stand out from the crowd of movie-to-musical adaptations that are flooding the market at the moment is the astonishing magic of the set, projections and illusions.  An highly imaginitive set, with multiple automated parts all seamlessly moving around in every scene, is entirely digitalised to show both moving and static images of everything from the streets of New York, to an abstract binary depiction of Wall Street, to a moving subway train.  Projected images on various gauzes add a depth to many of the scenes, especially memorable early on, when Sam and Molly's live dance routine was simultaneously projected as shadows to five times the height.  The real treat on top of all this however is the wonderful illusions created for the integration of the "ghosts" into the real world.  Walking through doors, arms passing through objects, bodies raising up to heaven, people disappearing.  Effects that a modern movie-going audience could easily overlook, as they are seamlessly integrated into the action, are achieved live on stage.  An astonishing accomplishment, designed by illusionist Paul Kieve.

03 March 2012


Legally Blonde
UK Tour
Theatre Royal, Norwich
Saturday 3rd March 2012

With the West End run at the Savoy coming to an end next month, the feel-good, energetic, pink and blonde musical is on a "Road Trip!".

Full of catchy songs, big dance routines, and sparkling script writing, this show captures the audience from the opening number.  Fans of the original film are not disappointed - the storyline follows the same plot, and all the original characters get a musical makeover, including (to a chorus of ahhs) Bruiser the chihuahua.

This tour's blonde-bombshell Elle Woods is being played by fresh-faced Faye Brookes, who shows unfailing stamina, as she is rarely off the stage.  She is smiley, engaging, witty and eminently likeable, with a wonderfully maintained stength to her beautiful voice. 

Her early and subsequent love interests, Warner and Emmett respectively, are strong supports.  Warner is being played by Ray Quinn in the tour, although we saw his understudy, a very confident performance with just the right amount of arrogance.  Emmett (Iwan Lewis) is a much more loveable character, played wide-eyed and entirely laid-back, with a strong, clear singing voice.

Harvard lecturer Professor Callaghan, is being played by Les Dennis.  This popular show seems to no longer rely on the draw of a "name", but I see no other reason for having cast Dennis in this crucial role.  An all-round poor performance, made more of a shame when you consider what a great part this could be in which to cast a stalwart of professional musical theatre, rather than simply a celebrity.

However, no matter what your theatrical taste, I defy anyone to see this show and not leave with a smile on your face and a spring in your step.  Omigod!