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30 April 2012


Doctor in the House
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Monday 30th April 2012

After recent successful tours of 'Allo 'Allo, Dad's Army and Porridge having visited Chelmsford to much acclaim, it is with anticipation the audience awaited another TV-to-Stage adaptation of a "Classic British Comedy" on it's local opening. 

The difference however is that the aforementioned true "classics" have stood the test of time.  Period comedies, certainly, but with legendary characterisation and brilliant script writing, resulting in catchphrases still quoted by the modern young audiences they continue to reach.  This level of timeless success cannot be claimed by the 1950s-based Doctor in the House, and with this adaptation we are reminded why we are not graced by constant re-runs of the original series on "Gold".

Set in the run-down flat of a group of trainee Doctors (the single-set was implausable but excellently designed), dated, sexist jokes that do not shock or amuse a modern audience, are the basis of the majority of the comedy. 

Joe Pasquale as Tony Grimsdyke leads the cast, retaining Joe Pasquale shamelessly in a very panto-esque performance.  He rattles through his lines so quickly it's a struggle for even the most willing audience member to buy into the feeble plotlines, but his natural comic ability saves the production as, regardless of what else is happening on stage, he can win the audience back on side with a single look.  

The supporting cast are hard-working, I especially liked Emma Barton as Vera, but there is little they can do.  The only moments of release we do see are the addition of some rehearsed-ad-libs and semi-scripted audience banter shoe-horned in to introduce some laughter.  What a British acting hero like Robert Powell is doing in this cast is a mystery.

Fawlty Towers is booked in to the Civic in September.  As a show that much more comfortably suits the "classic" label, and without trying to be sold on the basis of an ill-fitting star studded cast, lets hope it returns these popular adaptations back to form.

27 April 2012


Public Hall, Witham
Friday 27th April 2012

With a number of successful revivals both in the West End and Broadway, as well as a classic film, since its 1951 original production, this vintage Loesser musical with its depiction of the sinners of Broadway and Miss Sarah Brown's Mission to save their souls, has captured the imaginations of audiences for half a century.  

WAOS did a more than decent job with the familiar show, directed by Jacqui Tear, MD'd by Geoff Osborne, generally grasping the New Yorker accents well. 

The modest stage at the Public Hall did feel overcrowded in some of the group numbers, with the opening scene not quite choreographed enough to avoid obscured bunches of action, although the stylised colours in the costumes looked great.  The choice of including an ultraviolet Luck Be a Lady routine unfortunately did not come off, with the stage not dark enough or the UV not bright enough to obtain the desired look.  The chorus of Hot Box girls were, however, excellent - choreographed by Lindsay Bonsor - consistently glamorous and voluptuous, exuding confidence in their risque costumes.

There were a couple of stand-out performances from the principles, and it was the "Dolls" who stole the show. 

Sergeant Sarah Brown was played by the operatic Corinna Wilson.  With a classic style that is rarely seen in modern musical theatre, let alone amateur musical theatre, her beautiful and gutsy soprano could be picked out amongst the entire cast.  I doubt whether Corinna would be suited to a more modern, character-based role - say, Elphaba in Wicked, or Elle in Legally Blonde - but in this casting she certainly shone.

The consummate Deborah Anderson took on the iconic role of Miss Adelaide, complete with a wonderfully bunged up nose, and succeeded in stealing the comic crown for this production with her charming, secure performance.

My favourite piece however was the beautifully heartfelt "More I Cannot Wish You", sung in Act Two by Arvide Abernathy (Nicholas Clough).  A skillful voice and ardent delivery made for a particularly moving number. 

Among the supporting cast, kudos must be given to Jeff Babbs as The Drunk who probably saw the most stage-time despite his lack of dialogue, and was admirably never for a moment out of character - so much so he stole my attention completely in some of the slower scenes.  A confidently animated Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Stewart Adkins) was a delight throughout, with an exuberance and energy that belied his large frame.

There were some sections of WAOS' Guys & Dolls which lacked the drive to whip the audience up to the energetic heights of a bustling 1950s Broadway.  A more assured, pacy delivery by some of the cast would have better contrasted with the slower moments, giving the light and shade that could have heightened the overall success of the production and the audience's delight in the denouement.

That being said however, as this is a long-established society of high standards, with a talented pool of members, who all clearly work very hard.  Well produced amateur musical theatre is safe in their hands. 

22 April 2012


Sunday 25th March 2012

The Him & Her trio of concerts by this fledgling musical theatre company continued to another sell-out crowd at the Audrey Longman Studio this weekend with Him.  Designed to restore the balance after the success of Her back in March, the concert is the second in the series which will conclude with Him & Her - a battle between the sexes.

The cast of six accomplished gentlemen performed an assortment of numbers chosen to represent what it is to be a man.  Musical Director Ian Southgate conducted the group through a first half of much frivolity, leaving the audience to assume that to be a man must be carefree fun, but brought out enough raw emotion after the interval to elicit tears from performers and audience alike.

"Why" from Tick, Tick...Boom! is a reflective piece about sacrifices made in order to pursue a musical career, hauntingly sung by Jon who brought a relaxed style and depth of meaning to his performance.

Steve relished his performance of "If You Were Gay" from Avenue Q, after opening the first half with "I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today" from the same show.  He displayed a wonderful comic ability, coupled with a comfortably powerful voice.

It was MD Ian however who led the company by example, with a strikingly velvety performance of "If I Sing" from Closer than Ever.  This beautiful song describes the inspiration of a supportive father in the life of a young musician, and his moving performance was a particular highlight.

There seemed to be fewer group numbers this time than we enjoyed from the ladies, but those we heard were all a treat.  "Epiphany" from Altar Boyz, led by Steve, closed the first act and left the audience humming about their religious tendencies throughout the interval.  Reiss confidently led the company to the concert's conclusion with "I Went Fishing With My Dad" from Make Me A Song, a tender but lighthearted way to end.

The future looks bright for hardworking producers Emma & Ian at Vivid Musical Theatre, who continue to impress with this series of concerts.  They have gathered a wonderfully talented group of men and women who cannot fail to sparkle in an exciting finale to Him & Her in June, and I can't wait to see what they come up with next.

21 April 2012


Sister Act
UK Tour
Theatre Royal, Norwich
Saturday 21st April 2012

Since closing a successful run at the London Palladium, this upbeat, feelgood musical based on the hit film of the same name has been entertaining audiences on a nationwide tour.

Cynthia Erivo is a triumph as Deloris Van Cartier, the soul-diva witness hidden in a convent under police protection.  Bringing just enough sass and attitude to be believed, but plenty of charm to win the audience over from the start, her performance was assured, enthusiastic and brilliant fun to watch.

The strict Mother Superior, portrayed by Denise Black, exuded a straight-faced wry quality throughout, which contrasted superbly to the brash incomer.  Her voice did not match up to the quality of the lead role however, and some of her numbers felt somewhat flat in comparison.

Michael Starke shone in his cameo as Monsignor O'Hara.  Some wonderful sparkly costumes, and a hilarious Barry White moment made this small supporting role a memorable one.

The true stars of the show though are the wonderful group of sisters.  With each actress capturing a separate individuality and fully maintaining her commitment to the character, from the meek Sister Mary Roberts and jolly Sister Mary Patrick right down to each of the unnamed chorus nuns.  Sister Mary Lazarus, the ancient rapper, was an especial highlight.

Although full of joyous toe-tapping company numbers, as well as some heartfelt solos - Sister Mary Roberts' Life I Never Led being a particularly lovely ballad - not all the songs hit the mark.  I wasn't convinced by Curtis and his band of 'baddies', and even less so when they sang When I Find My Baby.  However, overall a feel-good night out which left the audience humming the catchy tunes as they bounced from the theatre.

20 April 2012


Titus Andronicus
Artisans Drama Society
Brentwood Theatre, Brentwood
Friday 20th April 2012

A play much maligned through history for being bloody and tasteless - although in my opinion King Lear is emotionally crueler, and certainly more people die in Richard III - Titus Andronicus is an unusual choice to see produced in a modern theatre.  Chosen as part of RSC Open Stages however, Artisans have clearly chosen to stretch themselves with something different, and different this production very much succeeded to be.

The direction of the piece portrayed the story by way of a nightmare. Abstract scenic design coupled with the title character reverting to an on-stage bed whenever not involved in a scene, sought to emphasise his dreamlike state.

Explored using various masks in the style of a Greek-tragedy, a recurring chorus in expressionless white supported the main cast, who wore larger versions detailed with exaggerated features.  Although some of the main cast's masks were not individual enough to easily differentiate each character, the overall effect of the chorus was one of unity.  This was further emphasised by periods of chanting and physical theatre which was used throughout to assert selected elements of each scene.  In a large cast, all of the actors seemed to well understand the art of acting with masks, magnifying their energy and presence through expressive body language.

Neil Gray was a capable and effective Titus, descending into madness with an energetic gleam.  As the only character to remain unmasked throughout, his facial expression was diverse and engaging, and his performance maintained an attention-holding presence.

Aaron the Moor, played by Matt Jones in a dark grey mask contrasting with the stark white of the rest of the cast, was a standout villain in a production awash with evildoers.  The almost cavalier attitude of the majority of characters to their crimes began to diffuse the impact somewhat, (the brutality rises to a point where some members of the audience began to laugh.  Not a compliment to the repetitively savage storyline - is this really Shakespeare?!) whereas the delight taken by Aaron in the execution of his atrocities made his evil all the crueler.

An adventurous and well-executed dramatic production by Artisans, showing real commitment and support by the whole company to all of the many bold artistic decisions.

18 April 2012


Sense & Sensibility
Rosemary Branch Theatre National Tour
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Wednesday 18th April 2012

A refreshing and far from traditional Austen adaptation graces the Civic stage this week, leaving behind any stuffy sentimentality and instead offering a pacy, character-led look on the tale of the Dashwood sisters.

Dismissing the majority of the outdated Georgian propriety that can make Austen so stifling to a modern audience, this version is left to focus on an engaging exploration of the emotional lives of the young siblings.  A far more interesting and rewarding audience experience than is offered by most Austen adaptations, in any medium.

A fairly minimal yet functional set design allows for scene changes to be integrated into the action, executed stylishly by the actors, keeping the momentum from dropping.  Empty white picture frames are held up to outline poignant moments in the sister's progression and focus the audience with a moment of stillness amid the energetic plot.

Performances are lively and lighthearted, and the script maintains the beauty of Austen's original words without feeling overdone.  Elinor (Bobbi O'Callaghan) and Marianne's (Emma Fenney) innocence and naivety are played with charm and individuality, and the characterisation of each of their suitors is particular and distinctive.  Aunt Jennings' (Lainey Shaw) interfering presence is made wonderfully known each time she drifts on stage - immediate light relief to keep the plot from becoming overly emotional.

With an overall result which may seem superficial to Austen purists, the charm and appeal offered instead makes this an accessible and entertaining piece for a modern audience.

16 April 2012


Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford
Monday 16th April 2012

This adaptation of the well-known Hans Christian Anderson tale, The Ugly Duckling, won the Best New Musical Olivier award in it's debut year in the West End, beating off a couple of little shows called Mamma Mia! and The Lion King. Quite an achievement, although seemingly the audiences didn't agree, as Honk! falls into the lesser known obscurity of musical theatre, while Mamma Mia! and The Lion King are still packing out their West End houses 12 years on.

Aimed most definitely at children, but speckled with some humour for their parents to appreciate, the show follows the story of Ugly, the last-hatched son to Drake and his wife Ida.

Ugly is played by a bespectacled and splendidly awkward Bart Lambert, wringing all of the naivety and appeal out of the captivating lead character.  His voice is strong and importantly his diction is very clear - a worthy achievement from which some of the supporting cast members should learn.  Despite too little variety in facial expression to reach out from behind the heavy glasses, this is an accomplished performance.

Drake (Sam Toland) is played with smarm, but likable charisma, delivering his array of jokes with style and a cheeky grin.  Sam is an established local talent, and the strength and control in his singing voice belies his tender years.  Perhaps a little too relaxed in this opening night performance, momentarily slipping out of character to ironically smile at sections of the audience, he nevertheless is undoubtedly destined for a life in the limelight.

His wife Ida (Sophie Walker) was worrying in her first number, but was perhaps let down by a lack of warm up or first night nerves, for once she had relaxed into the part she was delightful.  Full of expression and heartfelt warmth, her portrayal of the unconditional love of motherhood is tender and believable.  Her pretty voice is well maintained, although at time lacks the guts to match up to the male leads.

The villain of the piece is the suave, covetous Cat, played by an excellent Luke Higgins.  Luke's lithe physicality and feline characterisation is absolute.  His voice is not the strongest in the cast, although it suits his numbers more than adequately, but the commitment to his performance in this gem of a role is the standout accomplishment of the night and I looked forward to every time he slunk on stage.

Among the supporting cast, there were some particularly successful numbers.  The Wild Goose Chase was a very funny section, and if James Bantock as Greylag had only slowed the pace of his delivery so we could understand everything he was saying, he and his bushy moustache would have stolen the scene.  Warts And All, led by Elliott Elder as Bullfrog whose adept performance was full of charm, eventually built to include the entire ensemble dressed as frogs in a number that seemed to delight the cast as much as the audience.

It feels a shame for the hardworking young actors that the opening night was barely half full.  A reasonably late end time however does seem obstructive for their target audience of little'uns, as does the almost professionally high ticket prices for their paying parents.  Nonetheless, it is certainly not the cast letting CYGAMS down, and those who do get to see Honk! will be treated to some very enjoyable performances.

13 April 2012


A Midsummer Night's Dream
Middle Temple Hall, London
Friday 13th April 2012

The majestic venue of this production is a sight to behold.  With records suggesting the premiere of Shakespeare's The Tempest took place in the exact room, the atmosphere of the long wood-clad hall and vaulted ceiling couldn't be more suited.

Traditional though the venue may be, Antic Disposition did not concede to expectation with a prescribed production of one of Shakespeare's most popular plays.  Heavily abridged, the action was fast-paced and energetic, streamlining the result to just two hours, although often compromising the characterisation that could have been better built in a wordier version.  Various heights of purple ladders were placed across the performance area, providing the cover and height of the Forest of Athens, with an ever present moon towering over one end.

Theseus and Hippolyta were briefly seen, but strongly played, although Egeus seemed rather weak willed to be demanding the death penalty for his headstrong daughter.

The brutal compression of the parts of the "Lovers", meant they fell short of capturing the hearts of the audience and were instead condensed to a sub-plot - merely a set of playthings for the fairies.  Performed with verve and intent, the traverse staging allowed for the progression of their chase through the forest to be frantically followed, often at break-neck speed, with their gradual dishevelment shown through the removal of clothing layers and the ripping of tights.  The intention of the revealing nature of the costumes chosen for both Helena and especially Hermia was unclear, but succeeded only in providing unnecessary distraction for a certain section of the audience.

Each of the Mechanical's scenes, which were not subject to the same severity of abbreviation, were a delight.  Well developed, individual, comic characters were masterfully constructed and portrayed.  The denouement of their storyline with the performance of The Lamentable Comedie of Pyramus and Thisbe, although unfortunately not suiting the traverse staging style, certainly left the audience laughing.  Nicholas White as Nick Bottom gave the performance of the night, despite being restricted by his ass costume - as visually suitable as comedy teeth may be, if they restrict the actor's mouth they should be avoided!

The Mechanicals actors doubled up as the chorus of fairies, their costumes barely changing to simple purple hues.  Cheeky and surprisingly sprightly, they continued to impress.  They were quite rightly out-frolicked by a mischievous Puck, whose agile, gleeful portrayal was pitched just right.  Oberon and Titania managed to balance the antics in the fairy world with an ethereal quality and almost menacing power.

An enjoyable production, made all the more enjoyable for the fantastic venue - I would rush back to see Antic Disposition for that alone.