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30 June 2012


The Full Monty
Saturday 30th June 2012

Having taken all of the plot and spirit of the original Sheffield-based British film, and re-set it in Buffalo, New York, The Full Monty is a fun, feel-good show about a group of unemployed men who gather with the idea to imitate the Chippendales for a quick buck. 

The various locations required meant the sets were fairly simple with a black cloth backing many of the scenes.  This was complemented by some excellent set pieces such as the toilets in Act 1, the upright piano, and of course the enormous extra-bright back lit title for the final "reveal".  The lighting was clear and timely - especially important at the very end of the show, of course.  The sound levels however were not good.  The band were far too loud, meaning the actors were struggling to be heard when singing and failing to be heard during the underscored dialogue.  As soon as the band stopped the individual microphones seemed fine, but should have been turned up during the numbers.  The band were very talented but it must be remembered that in musical theatre, without absolute clarity of vocals, the audience can lose the story.

CMTS have brought in talents from all over the county for this show, and the performance standards were high.  The vocals I caught were generally very good, complemented by some worthy acting, especially from the leads. 

Jerry Lukowski was played with a laid-back charm by Peter Spilling, who sang the very demanding range of numbers with style.  Distracted at times by the over-enthusiastic Saturday night audience, he gave a convincing portrayal in a challenging role.  Dave Bukatinsky, delightfully characterised by Simon Brett, not only suited the role physically, but sang the tricky harmonies with ease.  He brought the most energy to his choreography, and dealt delicately with the emotional depth in Dave's back story, in the performance of the night.  Neil Murphie made a lovable Harold, Alex Lockert an endearing Malcolm, and Charlie Vaughn an energetic Ethan.  A fabulous performance in a gift of a part from Marley Njie, despite being at least 50 years too young to play Horse.  Helped by some grey chest hair and long underwear he gave one of the most entertaining performances of the night, sustaining his characterisation throughout.  Absolute respect must go to all these men, who seemed to relish in the excitable anticipation from the warm audience, and gave confident performances of their excellent final routine, choreographed by Ashleigh Masters.

They were backed up by some good supporting performances too.  Jerry's ex Pam (Emily Aldis), was feisty and defiant without ever becoming cold.  Dave's loving wife Georgie (Katie Leech), loyal and tender but also full of spirit, with fantastic 80s hair which almost masked her during some moments and could have done with being pinned back.  Harold's frivolous wife Vicki (Sharon Giles), did a wonderful job with her zestful number.  Chain-smoking Jeanette (Tracey Williams) who had been around the block and back, was dryly hilarious delivering some great one-liners.

Such a shame to bring an evening where CMTS seemed to be striving for as professional a standard from their company as possible, to bring it crashing back to distinctively amateur status again after the curtain.  It is a pet hate of mine when amateur groups choose to give any kind of speech in front of their paying audiences.   Applause is implicitly meant to extend to all involved in a show, so there is no need to list everyone by name or, even worse, haul them up on stage.  Save it for your party.  Then we stepped back 100 years and sang the National Anthem?  Bizarre.

However, until the curtain I enjoyed CMTS's take on The Full Monty.  A bravely unusual show for this Society, and long may they remain as courageous if it will produce musical theatre of such entertaining value.

24 June 2012


Cineworld, Braintree
Sunday 24th June 2012

Ahead of his Olympic-sized commission in charge of the 2012 Opening Ceremony, Danny Boyle directed this sell-out production of Frankenstein at the National Theatre.  Adapted by Nick Dear, the play tells Mary Shelley's story of the genius young doctor and the creature he brought to life, but turns the story on it's head and begins with showing us the creature's first experiences in the world from his own point of view.

National Theatre Live is an unprecedented scheme for bringing new audiences to the exciting work of the National Theatre.  At cinemas across the country, and the world, screenings of different productions at the NT are shown live as they happen, and Frankenstein was no exception.  Now more than a year on, due to popular demand, the recorded screenings are being shown again for a limited few showings.

In this groundbreaking production, Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternated the roles of Doctor Frankenstein and The Creature.  My screening saw Johnny Lee Miller as The Creature, in an absorbing performance of physical and emotional embodiment.  Electric from his first moments, as we watch him learn to stand and walk, and developing steadily in voice and movement throughout he is entirely captivating.  Unforgettable.  

Benedict Cumberbatch, as the doctor whose brilliance inspired the creation of a monster, was just as mesmerising.  Played with more than a hint of madness beneath the genius, his performance was fraught and exciting.  Supported by a strong cast, the production was everything that should be expected from the National Theatre, and more.

A wonderfully imaginative set manages to be both grand and sparse with ingeniously smooth changes between a variety of locations.  The lightbulb ceiling was beautifully symbolic, and the site of young William's murder around lake Geneva was simple but excellently realised.  The physical theatre used to create the entrance of a train was breathtaking on screen, and must have been even more striking in the theatre.

A fantastic production, which having sold out so quickly last year, it was only possible to see again via the NT Live season of cinematic showings.  Long may this continue.

23 June 2012


The Tiger Who Came To Tea
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Saturday 23rd June 2012

This much loved children's story by Judith Kerr has been sensitively adapted into an hour long tour de force of ideal children's entertainment by David Wood OBE.  Currently on national tour, it stopped in Chelmsford for a couple of days, playing to three packed out houses of appreciative young families.  

Beautifully crafted songs are woven artfully into the familiar story, engaging the children with actions and sing-a-longs throughout.  The bright, simple set housed some wonderfully staged moments of cupboards being magically emptied by the hungry tiger, to gasps from the absorbed young audience.  

Consistently excellent performances from the small cast played every moment to the children, without feeling patronising.  The mischievous tiger of the title was much anticipated through the early part of the story, but was well worth the wait as his presence brought squeals of excitement throughout the theatre.

A fantastic adaptation, produced and performed perfectly for their target audience, this wonderful production is well deserving of it's family entertainment Olivier award nomination.  

18 June 2012


Avenue Q
National Tour
Monday 18th June 2012

Almost ten years since it's original Off Broadway opening, Avenue Q is still capturing audiences imaginations, willing them to suspend their disbelief at the portrayal of humans and puppets living side by side.  This comical, often satirical, musical is very much aimed at the current generation of twenty-somethings as the larger-than-life characters battle unemployment, sexuality, relationships, homelessness, racism, and much more.  Styled like a late-night episode of Sesame Street, this quirky show has almost hit cult status, and after becoming one of the longest running shows on Broadway has run in a number of different productions worldwide.

Southend host the current tour, which continues the UK production of this popular show with all of the necessary shine and pizzazz.  With the simple street frontage scenery and descending television screens all unchanged from the original production, the uncomplicated, solid set tours well and all of the effects are effortlessly and hilariously achieved.

The performances from this multi-talented cast are all exemplary.  Particular merit must go to the extraordinary puppeteer performers though, with Sam Lupton's strong and versatile voice characterising both Princeton and Rod excellently; Katherine Moraz bringing sweetness to Kate and sex-appeal to Lucy the Slut; and Chris Thatcher constantly hilarious as both down-and-out Nicky and everyone's favourite pervert Trekkie.

Containing musical numbers entitled "It Sucks to be Me", "If You Were Gay" and "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist", it is easy to see how these innocent looking puppets manage to shock and surprise audiences throughout - and delight them in doing so.  A must-see musical!

16 June 2012


All Shook Up
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Saturday 16th June

Springers have chosen some new or unusual musicals to produce in recent years - Bad Girls - The Musical, The Full Monty, Noah - The Musical - and less than a decade since it's Broadway close, All Shook Up is no exception.  I hugely applaud this ethic and am always surprised and pleased to see Springers next choices, which often include shows that I have not seen before.  However, with it's predictable, laboured plot and shoe-horned numbers, this was not one of my favourite choices.

That isn't to say that the company did a bad job with it, which is not the case at all.  Some very strong performances directed by Drew Shepherd, coupled with the wonderfully talented band led by MD Ian Myers, made for an entertaining evening, despite the hugely cheesy story.

The set was innovatively minimal, with a flexible scaffold-style construction adding some height interest throughout, and tall panels decorated with stylised black and white line drawings lit up at each scene change, allowing for simple and smoothly integrated changes across a huge variety of scenes.  Some lovely additional set pieces too, including the wonderful two-dimensional bus and a much straddled motorbike.  Costumes were mostly 50s in feel, with lots of A-line dresses on show to match the ladies flamboyant hair, as well as Dennis' nerdy too-short trousers and tank top.

The technical side of the production was not as successful.  Too many sound cues were missed considering this was the final performance, and levels were very mixed with occasions when the lead vocalist could barely be heard at all.  Also elements of the lighting design left certain scenes far too dark and crying out for a followspot.  Such a shame when the cast's performances are so good, that basic needs like being able to see and hear the action are not fully achieved.   

The principal performances were exemplary.  The roustabout lead Chad, portrayed by Ian Pavelin, was the cheesiest of all.  Played in caricature, but entirely straight-faced throughout, he was at times ridiculous and always hilarious.  With a beautiful, strong voice, he sang the wide-range of musical numbers with a relaxed ease in a very entertaining performance.  

Chad was chased by the local grease-monkey Natalie, played by Alison Gosling.    Quite a dramatic range required, from tomboy to girly-girl to cross-dressing lad, which was well achieved and prettily sung.  My favourite character was Dennis, excellently characterised by Jon Newman.  Constantly the archetypal geek, his cliche portrayal was adorable, fitted the style of the show perfectly and was also sung excellently.  Object of multiple affections, Olivia Gooding brought a sophisticated energy to the role of Sandra.  The young couple of potential runaways, Bethan Anderson and James Knapp as Lorraine and Dean, were bright and innocent, and the more mature couple, Colin Shoard and Sara Mortimer as Jim and Sylvia, brought a reliable sweetness.

The show-pickers at Springers manage to choose a wonderfully varied and eclectic range of productions that suit their youthful, talented membership.  This choice was fun and feel-good, and although the plot did not challenge, the delivery was joyously received by the audience.  With Seussical - The Musical in the Cramphorn in November, and then very excitingly The Sound of Music when they return to the Civic next June, the future looks just as bright and varied for Springers.  

15 June 2012


Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
Friday 15th June 2012

CTW's latest project has been the Bard's fabled Scottish play, in their take on the famous tale of ambition and bloodshed.  

An entirely black set offered a striking contrast against the colourful, youthful witches (Emma Ritchie, Sarah Chandler, Andrea Smith-Valls).  Faces lit by frequently referenced iPads, their prophecies were delivered with the throwaway frivolity that a remote virtual world allows us in our modern society.  An unusual take, but it worked well to disconnect the weird sisters from the rest of the cast, and to offer a modern audience a technological medium for the sister's knowledge that would once have only been reasoned as magic.

The black of the set was echoed throughout the rest of the cast, with all of the warriors donning long black coats with black t-shirts, jeans and boots.  This relatively modern style was coupled with traditional weapons of swords and daggers, keeping the well choreographed fight scenes (arranged by Steven Braken-Keogh) close handed and intense.  A switch to grey t-shirts at the arrival of the English was simple but effective, to show the new alliances that had been so swiftly formed.  A hint of regal purple was also introduced to distinguish the status of King Duncan, and later for the Macbeths too.

Director Lynne Foster, assisted by Mick Foster, stated that they aimed for a pacey, uncluttered production.  This was achieved superbly, without compromising on delivery which maintained a well pitched light and shade throughout.  Diction was consistently clear and some hard work must have gone into certain members of the cast whose speech I have, in previous productions, struggled to understand.  There were some scenes that could have made more use of the traverse staging, where I found myself craning my neck towards the stage end for too long.  It was also a shame that nothing had been done about the creaky steps from the auditorium to the stage.  Such a simple element that, considering the frequency with which they were needed, became quite a distraction.  Saying that, there were moments when the entrance from the foyer was used with wonderful impact, and the large acting space was certainly needed to give the numerous actors the room not to seem cluttered.

The title role was taken by Jim Crozier, who showed his worth as an experienced and dependable Shakespearian cast member.  A considered performance, demanding a huge range and depth of emotion.  His speeches were delivered with all of the gravitas demanded, but maintained a steady pace without either the need for rushed thoughts, nor drawn out pauses.  His wife in both cast and character, Beth Crozier shone in a study of the ambitious Lady behind the man who would be King.  Her Lady Macbeth developed from the beginnings of a ruthless but rational wife, resourceful and full of purpose, and descended into the depths of guilt-ridden madness completely in a haunting sleepwalk scene.  An exemplary performance.

Among the rest of the populous cast there were some stand-out performances.  The female Thanes, Karen Pemberton's fated Banquo and Vicky Pead's Ross, though perhaps unconventional were both particularly strong and full of conviction.  Dean Hempstead as Macduff was a powerful presence and brought a strength and energy, particularly to the scene of Macbeth's final demise.  Bart Lambert was entirely captivating as the wronged heir Malcolm, and seemed to understand the drama in remaining motionless when being convinced to return to Scotland.

An absorbing production, with a clarity of style that also made it accessible.  Congratulations to the long list of names involved on an entertaining and intelligent accomplishment.  

10 June 2012


Him & Her
Sunday 10th June 2012

After building an initial interest with Her, and maintaining the excitement with Him, the culmination of Vivid Musical Theatre's first concert series grew to a thrilling climax this week.  A second performance of the final Him & Her concert was not only added, but managed to sell out too.  A remarkable achievement for a company set up only six months ago, and testament to the impressive talent on display.

In this concert, both the girls and the boys from the first two concerts came together in a cast of 14 to portray a smorgasboard of new and unusual musical numbers.  In a packed programme I will pick out my highlights, although every number was presented with style and skill by the consummate performers, who were entirely without a weak link among the whole ensemble.

The comedy songs lit up the room, with lots of light-hearted choices dotted throughout the programme.  Carolyn got the best of the laughs in the first half, doing a wonderfully quirky job with Dan in "We're Just Friends" from I Love You Because, and then teaming up with Steve for the hilarious "Baptize Me" from the Broadway smash The Book of Mormon, which opens in the West End next year.  "Can That Boy Foxtrot" from Side by Side, a group number by Diana, Emma and Roslyn was another particularly funny choice and the male company opened the second act clenching comedy props for "Single" from The Wedding Singer

There were some beautiful choices too, such as the tender "You Rule My World" from The Full Monty, performed with heart by Louise and Sarah and the sentimental "The Next Ten Minutes" from The Last Five Years hauntingly sung by Sarah and Ian.  Ian, this time teamed up with a suave Bob, also gave a charming rendition of "Pretty Women" from Sweeney Todd.

My pick of the show came quite early on however, with one of the relatively few solos in the production.  Katie gave a belting performance of "See I'm Smiling" from The Last Five Years - a truly spine-tingling moment.

A simple theme running throughout all three of these concerts allowed for a huge range of song choices, but tied the whole series together with a clear, strong connection.  Such thoughtful creativity and intent will stand the company in good stead for their future endeavours.  The resounding success of this production is inarguable, and Vivid Musical Theatre's diligent producers should be very proud of their achievement. 

09 June 2012


A Midsummer Night's Dream
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Regent's Park, London
Saturday 9th June 2012
(Earlybird Preview)

A Midsummer Night's Dream has long been synonymous with Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, and this summer ushers its welcome return after a 5 year absence.  Director Matthew Dunster's production of this quotable play is almost unrecognisable however, brought bang up to date set in the heart of a gypsy community on the edge of a construction site.

The stage has been rebuilt with a thrust to allow multiple entrances and exits front of house, and the magnificently designed set (John Bausor) is strewn with construction debris, caravans, a crane, a white van, all while maintaining a generous acting space for the energetic and numerous cast.  An ingenious transformation from Athens into the forest is one of the many highlights of the show.

Costuming across the board, by Laura Hopkins, is especially captivating.  In a theme that called on some imagination to create an appearance that did not simply look scruffy, each cast member is characterised perfectly.  I particularly liked Bottom's T-shirt, and the gradual deterioration of the slogan on Lysander's tracksuit.  The fairies would not have looked out of place in an episode of Doctor Who, with Titania's enormous dreadlocks adding presence to her dramatic entrance and Puck's hoodie-covered horns making him a sinister on-looker to the human world.

The gypsy setting worked excellently as the focus for the Athenians.  Hippolyta (Katie Brayben) sporting a black eye for her 'Big Fat Gypsy Wedding' to a menacingly broody Theseus (David Birrell) symbolically took the edge off the jovial atmosphere of the wedding scene, and added a suggested undertone to an otherwise frivolous final act.  The four lovers were excellent in their chase around the forest, but I especially enjoyed Rebecca Oldfield's Helena, tottering about in her smitten adoration of Demetrius and descending into justified confusion amongst the fairy induced chaos.

The Fairy kingdom was worlds away from the traditional, dainty likes of Tinkerbell and her cohorts.  Staged with a foreboding underscore and dramatic physicality, Titania and Oberon's (Tamsin Carroll & Christopher Colquhoun) opening exchange sets a dark tone, underpinned by some strong choreography by the fairy ensemble.  Puck (Oliver Johnstone) was no "merry wanderer" either, but a disquieting presence speeding around the set on his BMX or hovering in shady corners.  An entirely contrasting world to that of the mortals, which added a refreshing depth and engaging switch in mood throughout the play.

Bottom and his gang of tradesmen are recruits from the adjacent construction site, donning high visibility waistcoats and a spectrum of reluctant attitudes.  George Bukhari as Bottom, the frustrated thespian, is a captivating performer bringing charm and energy to the role.  He is almost lost in the enormous ass head while among the fairies, but comes into his own again as Pyramus in the tradesmen's final performance.  Some fantastic comic performances among the other tradesmen who impress throughout, and who truly steal the show in their operatic version of Pyramus and Thisbe and the most entertaining version of the subsequent bergomask I have witnessed.

A boundary pushing production at Regent's Park, which does not allow artistry to overpower entertainment value.  Well worth wrestling with the Olympic crowds for this summer.

08 June 2012


Dancing at Lughnasa
Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Friday 8th June 2012

Brian Friel's sentimental semi-autobiographical memory play is set in Ballybeg during the festival of Lughnasa, and centres around the farmhouse life of the five Mundy sisters.  Told out of the memories of a grown-up and grown-away Michael (Ian Kirkby), "love child" of Chris and her flighty lover Gerry, his adult-self is detached and contemplative until his final emotionally charged speech which brought a tear to the eye.

The design of this harvest-time play, by Sara Perks, was entirely charming, with the small farmhouse bedecked with simple furniture, and the outdoor space strewn with straw both on the ground and in glorious sheaths on the hillside for Rose to dance amongst.  A wonderful new Marconi radio, the source of both joy and frustration with it's unreliable battery life dominates the sideboard and much of the sister's conversation that summer.

Each of the sisters were individually realised and separately captivating as well as displaying a real togetherness and family bond, directed by Sue Lefton. 

Maggie (Michelle Butt) is the lighthearted joker, betraying moments of masked anguish she dances and sings around the house bringing some welcome moments of relief.  School mistress Kate (Kelly Williams) is her polar opposite, the matriarchal sister maintaining a tough line on respectability despite the family's shameful burden of the production of a child born out of wedlock.  Agnes (Kristin Hutchinson) has taken on the role of looking after the sweetly simple Rose (Clare Humphrey) and does so serenely and tenderly, while suppressing her skill in dancing and her attraction to Gerry.  Rose herself has a feisty personality coupled with a genuine innocence captured beautifully in this portrayal, in what was, for me, the best performance of the evening.  Christina (Nadia Morgan), the mother of our narrator, is the most real of the sisters perhaps because in Michael's memory she is the only one he doesn't recall as a caricature.  Dreamy and quiet to begin with, she transforms in the presence of the insouciant dancer Gerry (Tomos James) and the two make a believable young couple.  The return of their celebrated brother Jack (Ignatius Anthony) to the family home from his more than two decade long mission in Uganda is the central spark of memory that initiates this play, and goes on to cast another shadow of shame over the house when it appears that he has "gone native".

The traditional Irish festivities as a whole and the particular intimacies of this family are brought memorably to life in this tender play and sensitive production.  

01 June 2012



Peter Pan
cut to the chase...
Friday 1st June 2012

cut to the chase... have chosen to see in the Summer with a production for children straddled around the May half term holiday, and although most often performed at Christmas, Peter Pan is always a popular choice.
Vicky Ireland's adaptation, with music by Steven Markwick, opens in Kensington Gardens with J. M. Barrie revealing his new story to the three wide-eyed children, who are also it's protagonists.  As the story gradually unfolds and we are introduced to more and more characters, so the action seamlessly continues and we remain throughout in Kensington Park.  

The set is smartly designed, to offer enough flexibility to depict aspects of Neverland; stair pillars become chimneys, the park pond becomes a mermaid's lagoon; but maintain a solidity to hold Peter Pan as he gracefully leaps about the whole space.  

Musical numbers were in abundance and I especially liked the whole scene of Building a Wendy House.  The flying was brief but graceful, costumes were traditional and colourful, especially Captain Hook's wonderful red coat, and despite some erratic moments with the remote controlled crocodile all production aspects were of the high quality cut to the chase... are known for.

Peter Pan was brought to magical life with an Irish lilt by Dylan Kennedy, who maintained a loud, energetic clarity and moved with such agility that it was as though he was flying throughout.  The three Darling children brought a juvenile innocence to their performances that gave them each a charm and individuality, Wendy (Kate Robson-Stuart), kind and bossy, John (Matthew James Hinchliffe), smart and sober, Michael (Greg Last), the teddy laden baby.  Captain Hook was taken on by a straight-faced Jonathan Markwood, who also opened and closed the production as the Scottish J. M. Barrie, and his sidekick Smee was playfully portrayed by Simon Jessop - by far the funniest character and thus best received by the junior section of the audience.  Tinkerbell was kept to a single light and accompanying sound effect - exactly as she should be - operated by Natasha Moore who also made a striking Tiger Lily.  The Lost Boys, Pirates and other remaining parts were doubled by the hard working Alison Thea-Skot, Callum Hughes and Sam Kordbacheh who did the best job of the lot with embodying his inner child.

A traditional but fairly simple adaptation made for a truly magical production to have graced the stage at Queen's this Summer - I for one certainly believe in fairies!