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14 December 2013


Chelmsford City Council & One from the Heart
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Saturday 14th December 2013

This year's seasonal offering from the proven team at One from the Heart, in collaboration with Chelmsford City Theatres, brings the magic of Cinderella once again to the Civic stage.  One of pantomime's most popular stories, the tale of poor put-upon Cinders, her hapless best friend Buttons, her grotesque pair of stepsisters and her charming Prince are as warmly familiar at Christmas time as mince pies and mulled wine.

Chelmsford have put together a fabulous cast for this year's offering led by the beautiful Sophie Camble in the title role with her strong singing voice and constantly graceful stage presence.  Her hilariously mismatched step-sisters are brought to fabulous life by Neal Wright and Richard Foster-King; comic timing pitched perfectly, and donning some truly scene-stealing frocks, they make a memorable team.  Their wicked matriarch is played with cackling flair by Suzie Chard, boos and hisses a-plenty but carefully directed this year to minimise the nightmare inducing scares - rewarded by the lack of crying children that so often accompany the baddie scenes.  A welcome return to the Civic for the charismatic Lewis Barnard, this year giving us his Buttons, who lights up the stage at every entrance in an utterly engaging performance.  Cinders' handsome love interest is strongly played by Tom Parsons, and Rhys Rice as his manservant Dandini brings a spectacular energy to both his comedic sketches and his musical numbers.

Technically the show impresses, with beautiful lighting design, sparkling sets and dazzling costumes.  The musical numbers are all delivered with style and skill, with the whole cast getting individual opportunities to shine.  Some of the song choices are particularly obscure this year and, as can often be the case with Cinderella, slightly too much of the narrative is taken over by slushy love story that tends to allow the less attentive children's focus to slip.  The transformation scene lives up to the audience's magical expectations completely, with oohs and ahhs emanating from the adults and children alike, culminating in the delightful white Shetland ponies live on stage as Cinderella leaves for the ball.

A stylish, professional pantomime to set families up delightfully for the festive season.  

23 November 2013


The Beauty Queen of Leenane
Made in Colchester
Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Saturday 23rd November 2013
Martin McDonagh's 1996 black comedy, which follows the relationship between 40-year-old virgin Maureen and her wily mother in Ireland's County Galway, marks the second partnership between the Mercury and Curve Leicester after the success of The Hired Man earlier this year.   
The Irish scene is set from the very start, the stage being showered with a torrent of rain; an impressive effect on the thrust stage.  The lighting plot throughout is perfectly pitched - as is so regularly the case at the Mercury - to suggest the shifts in time and atmosphere, with intricate detail right down to both the hearth and stove fires adding a realism to the farmhouse kitchen. 
The success of this piece rests in the central performances, and the relationship built between the two lead actresses is exemplary.  Michele Moran plays Maureen with an unspecified edge from the outset, which is so expertly developed by the time the character's back story is revealed that we can utterly believe her continued demise.  Her devious and unlikable mother Mags is played with a delicate menace by Nora Connolly, and the rapport built between them is built with a careful mix of familiarity and spark to create the depth of hatred required.  The comedy is unarguably black, although there are moments of genuine humour and even warmth through the first act that by the final climax have developed into a chilling darkness. 
An accomplished and entertaining production, brought expertly to life by the talented team of professionals at the Mercury and a cast who excel in their ideally cast roles. 

22 November 2013


Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Brother Wolf
Tara Theatre, Earlsfield, London
Friday 22nd November 2013

The intimate space of the Tara Theatre is the ideal venue for James Hyland's latest one-man adaptation of this classic of British literature.  Opening with Dr Jekyll addressing the Royal Society of Surgeons, the audience become his contemporaries as we watch him divulge his theories into the psyche of human consciousness.  As the description of Jekyll's latest experiment unfolds, this versatile and utterly engaging performer seamlessly becomes each of the characters he meets.  

Phil Lowe's direction is intricately and skilfully achieved, with expertly accurate changes in vocals and physicality integrated smoothly within the flow of the piece.  Hyland's captivating performance style is ideally suited to the simplicity of the staging, with his absorbing storytelling ability uncluttered by unnecessary set or props.  The wooden lectern doubles as bar, bench, bed, adding spacial interest but leaving plenty of room for this exciting artist to fill the space with his performance.  The lighting design is too bright at times, with moments calling out for some dramatic shifts to complement the changes in characterisation on stage, although the shadowy final design works well.

Another jewel in the Brother Wolf crown, this exciting and dramatic piece of theatre is a compelling hour that leaves the hearts of the audience racing.  Along with A Christmas Carol as told by Jacob Marley (Deceased) and Fagin's Last Hour, Brother Wolf's current repertoire is a list of exciting, unmissable theatre for lovers of thrilling storytelling.  

15 November 2013


Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Friday 15th November 2013

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's early biblical collaboration has well and truly stood the test of time.  The upbeat energy, musically varied score and tongue in cheek lyrics prove a timeless mix with wide appeal.  Numerous professional productions are frequently taking place all over the world and with a history of high profile stars in the lead role the show has been enjoyed by many thousands of audiences.  Originally written for performances by schools the rights for youth groups have only recently become available, and the energetic, ambitious team at Young Gen have been keen to grab the opportunity to perform this popular show.

Opening in front of a bare white cloth, the narrator is surrounded by the delightful chorus of CYGAMS' youngest members, performing the roles of enraptured, awestruck student onlookers with panache - oohing and ahhing to add a lovely richness to the iconic "Any Dream Will Do" and throughout the show.  As the curtain opens to reveal the busy golden set we are transported to the biblical Middle East and the excitement and energy of the entire cast never drops through two hours of vibrant, fun-packed performances.

Jayden Booroff is perfectly cast in the title role with a natural, laid back stage presence. Handsome and relaxed he is a constant delight, performing the centrepiece songs with skill and flair.  The energetic character number "Song of the King" is taken on by a consummate Chester Lawrence whose confidence and personality shine through as Pharaoh.  James Bantock doubles up as both aged father Jacob and suave millionaire Potiphar, performing both parts with equal success.

This is inevitably a very male show, and the ensemble of eleven brothers are superb, surpassing expectations without exception.  Brilliant together they master their involved and frequent choreography with charm and sing ideally as a unit, but there are also some sterling individual performances among the group; Ben Wilton as eldest brother Reuben gives a smooth, confident rendition of "One More Angel in Heaven" complete with country twang and a twinkle in his eye, Sam Wolstenholme sings the Benjamin Calypso as Judah with ability and some snake-hipped dance moves, and Jack Toland's Simeon leads the whole group in a fantastic scene for "Those Canaan Days".  There is plenty for the girls to do too, with a well drilled female ensemble of wives and others doing complete justice to their many dance routines and remaining noticeably focussed and in character throughout the entire show. 

Technically there is much to enjoy too - the lighting design is spectacular, the costume and make-up faultless including some miraculously executed quick changes, and the choreography by Jeremy Tustin, who also directs, is ambitious, well-rehearsed and enthusiastically achieved.  The excellent band maintain a tireless energy throughout, never missing a beat in this sung-through score.  

There is one performer however, among a cast of wonderful talents, who leads the show from the very first moments carrying its success on her steady, reliable shoulders.  Kathryn Peacock as the Narrator (who shares the role through the week with Alice Masters) is a complete joy to watch, performing with maturity and professionalism beyond her years.  Her beautiful vibrato soars out across the audience with astonishing control and power, and her clipped, schoolmarmish characterisation is perfectly pitched and strongly maintained.  A performance to inspire the next generation of Young Genners who gaze up at her as the on-stage students, this was a show-stealing achievement by a committed and extremely accomplished young performer.

CYGAMS continue to achieve success after success with each show they undertake, and this much anticipated and entirely sold-out production does not disappoint.  A fantastic, fun-packed evening deserving of their well-earned standing ovation.  

08 November 2013


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop
Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
Friday 8th November 2013

A considered character exploration opens the CTW programme, written by co-directors Lynne and Mick Foster, analysing Hamlet's place as a literary "hero".  Should we be taken in by his intelligent and profound speeches, or see past them to the terrible actions we witness him perform?  Should we be influenced by Hamlet's twisted opinion of the other characters around him, or judge them by their own conduct?  An interesting take, and one that cleverly opens the way for thought-provoking direction to engage those with prior experience of this epic work, but does not clutter or confuse the story for those approaching the play for the first time.  Similarly the cuts made to the script, drawing the usually 3 1/2 hour piece to a close at a reasonable 10.30, were made with care and retained the key elements to the plot with distinctness.

Barry Taylor's young Prince Hamlet is given a melancholy characterisation, exploring the directors' interpretation with a particularly nasty portrayal, especially in his chilling treatment of both Ophelia and Gertrude.  His madness remains subtle, more of a consistent depression, and his delivery is relaxed and instinctive with an engaging style.  In a supporting ensemble cast of mixed experience there are some standout performances.  Beth Crozier gives a compellingly regal interpretation of Gertrude with particularly impassioned reactions to Ophelia's tragic demise.  Her new husband Claudius is played by Simon Burrell with conviction and although his posture could be more majestic his delivery is clear and engaging.  Sarah Bell's Ophelia is very gentle, quietly done her descent is all the more intense for it's calmness and a pin can be heard drop during her singing scene.  Christian Search is assured in his performance of Horatio, and Robin Mahr holds his own as Laertes with particular commendation for the well executed swordplay.  A strong couple of cameos too by Jim Crozier as the ghostly old Hamlet, and Robin Winder as the garrulous gravedigger.  

The set is uncluttered with black walls and simple candles serving for all of the rooms of Elsinore.  Although having the audience set in the round allows for more acting space for the numerous cast, a lot of time is spent on or near the stage generating a crick in the neck for those with a side view.  Where the space was used fully it was particularly effective, especially the final death scene.

A fluent and accessible version performed smoothly with moments of quiet intensity.  The hand of the directors can be felt throughout, generating interest for audiences both familiar and new to one of Shakespeare's most famous and influential plays.

06 November 2013


Whistle Down the Wind
Springers AODS
Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford
Wednesday 6th November 2013

Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1996 musical is based on the 1961 film of the same name starring Hayley Mills, with the action moved from Lancashire to a small town in Louisiana.  After failing to even reach it's Broadway opening in the US, a UK concept album from the show saw Boyzone cover a version of the beautiful "No Matter What" and subsequently achieve a platinum single that was number 1 in 18 countries.  Reworked, the show subsequently played in the West End for over 1000 performances.

Springers' production is adorned by a children's chorus of Offspringers, their youth section, who perform with an overall sense of confidence and energy.  Their singing voices are clear and melodic, despite occasional lapses of diction in the speaking scenes, and their handling of the classic "When Children Rule the World" is charming.  

The lead in this show is a child role, played by 13 year old Offspringer Katy Forkings in an excellent performance of maturity and consistency.  Her pretty voice is strong throughout and her performance is assured and engaging.  Swallow is a role usually played by an actress with a couple more years under their acting belt, but Katy creates a believable and absorbing character full of innocence and conviction.  Her on-stage siblings, Matthew Scott as Poor Baby and Charlotte Golden as Brat, are also played with appeal.

The Man in Swallow's barn is given an earnest and impassioned characterisation by Springers' stalwart Ian Pavelin.  Relaxed and reliable, his resonant voice handles the challengingly high songs through this show smoothly and his performance is emotionally convincing.  The duets "Try Not To Be Afraid" at the opening of Act 2 and "Nature Of The Beast" towards the end, both sung opposite Swallow, are emotional and dramatic highlights performed with understanding and flair on both sides.  

Among the rest of the cast there is a wide variety of success with the tricky American Deep South accents, and an occasional habit of slipping out of them altogether during the songs, but the singing is always melodic and particularly strong in the ensemble numbers.  There is a delightful cameo from Ross Rogers as Ed who sings the upbeat "Cold" with bags of charisma and an excellent singing voice. Aaron Crowe relishes his bad boy image as Amos, but shines particularly in the more emotional second act matching up with equal strength to the two leads in "A Kiss is a Terrible Thing to Waste".  His "Tire Tracks" duet with an assured Bethan Anderson as Candy is also enjoyable, with them both handling the large motorcycle set piece with ease.

The set is thoughtfully constructed to make the best use of the limited Cramphorn space, with the open wooden flats being hung from runners to aid swift and regular scene changes.  The lighting design is atmospheric, if a little patchy, and the timing of the cues is somewhat sporadic with lines being performed in the dark on a number of occasions.  The setting of this show does not require much glamour from the costumes, but all choices fitted the requirements well and helped to create the atmosphere of the period - the blood make-up for The Man looked particularly effective. 

After teaming up for a couple of productions in a row, Springers and Offspringers go their separate ways for their next ventures.  Offspringers take on The Wizard of Oz in March and Springers have their "Baggy Trousers" at the ready to welcome you to the "House of Fun" that is their June production - Our House.  

30 October 2013


Love Story
Language Laid Bare Productions
The Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley, London
Wednesday 30th October 2013

Erich Segal's original 1970 film version of Love Story is considered one of the most romantic of all time, and with his bestselling novel released alongside and the success of the instantly recognisable song from the film, this tragic tale is a wide-reaching classic.  Stephen Clark and Howard Goodall's musical adaptation opened as part of the 2010 Chichester Festival season to critical acclaim and was succeeded by a 10 week West End run.

Language Laid Bare have revived this one act musical in a stripped back production at the modest space of The Jack Studio Theatre, directed by Joseph C Walsh.  The small space reflects the beautiful and intense intimacy of the story and the unapologetically simple staging compliments the clarity of the plot.  Some well thought out design accomplishes the potentially problematic integration of a grand piano into the set without taking over the space, breaking up into multiple tables to wheel independently around the stage.  This also gives mobility to the piano itself, with actor-musicians Ian Southgate and Jennifer Lucy Cook handling their roles as interchangeable Musical Directors and ensemble cast members with constant smoothness. 

The role of Oliver Barrett IV is performed with sincerity by Jonny Muir.  His accomplished singing voice shines and he convinces as the arrogant law student.  Although he could go further emotionally towards the tragic climax of the play, his more restrained style suggests a controlled truth and avoids any unnecessary additional sentimentality in an already tear-jerking plot.  This is an almost two handed piece and the central role of Oliver's wife Jenny is given an exemplary interpretation by Caroline Keating.  Her assured performance is entirely captivating, impressing musically as both a pianist and singer as well as engaging dramatically in a believable portrayal of the fiery Radcliffe student.  

Emotionally poignant without feeling cheesy and with utterly charming music throughout this show is a treat for musical theatre fans.  Language Laid Bare's production and The Jack Studio Theatre align to create a delicate gem worth venturing out of the West End to find.  

26 October 2013


The Opinion Makers
Made in Colchester
Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Saturday 26th October 2013

2013 has been an excellent year for the Made in Colchester team with a string of successes that have made huge strides to put the Mercury on the map as a top quality producing house - the Intimate Exchanges series, The History Boys, The Butterfly Lion and most notably the wonderful The Hired Man.  Despite a pre-show announcement that one cast member was unable to perform due to injury, on paper The Opinion Makers ticks all of the boxes to continue this accomplished series; directed by the Mercury's own Daniel Buckroyd and starring a cast of recognisable West End and comedy talents.  

Market Research in the 1960s is not the most obvious topic for a new musical, following as we do the plights of 'Fernsby Market Research' as they take on a re-branding research project for Dr Campbell's Lotion.  FMR's lazy staff fabricate their piles of questionnaire responses and simply tell their inept boss and crazed clients the result that they wish to hear.  

Justin Edwards takes on the bumbling company owner, warming into the role after a shaky start.  His reactions during the metaphor number were particularly well done making the most of the unlikely scenario.  The Great British Bake Off's Mel Giedroyc plays his fawning long-term employee with a pretty singing voice and a sincere characterisation in a funny and hard-working performance. Proven musical theatre stars Daniel Boys and Julie Atherton sing with unsurprising style and finesse, with Atherton's lullaby one of the highlights, although neither are given numbers to make true use of their talents.  

This is true of the writing throughout, with the show never living up to it's "hilarious" billing despite a hard working and talented cast.  The plot is thin to the point of tedium with the hints of surrealism never going far enough to add anything but confusion.  The musical numbers, despite being played expertly by a consummate band and sung mostly successfully by the various singing talents on stage, rarely remain in the memory and often manage to delay rather than tell the story.

There is so much potential in this group of talents who have been brought together both on and off the stage, but unfortunately it is not potential we see fulfilled in this new musical.  

12 October 2013


The Good Person of Sichuan
Made in Colchester
Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Saturday 12th October 2013
Playing in the Mercury's main house, Brecht's intriguing interpretation of what it takes to be a good person amid a corrupt society shouts it's epic theatre style over a much smaller, yet somewhat harder hitting piece, in the Mercury Studio.  Both plays are inspired by the same events, leading to an interesting and unique opportunity to compare and contrast such differing styles of text, direction and performance.
Nikolai Foster;s production brings The Good Person of Sichuan bang up to date, while also maintaining all of the epic theatre influences and intentions so key to Brecht's work.  Tanya Foster is compelling as the title character, embracing the detached nature required of her characterisation, yet also maintaining an absorbing natural stage presence throughout.  There are some strong performances too from the supporting cast, notably Jake Davies as Wang the water seller and Gary Shelford as the pilot love interest.
The intention of Brecht's work is to make the audience think about the central topic address in the play, and to strip back much of the traditional theatricality to constantly bring the audience back to the reality of the play text.  Fourth walls are broken down and actors often play multiple roles to remove any naturalism that may detract from the message being portrayed.  Foster's direction achieves these aims admirably, getting the audience contemplating their place in society and to what extent their lives can be considered "good".

09 October 2013


London Classic Theatre
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Wednesday 9th October 2013
Following a history of successes, including excellent productions of The Importance of Being Earnest and Equus, London Classic Theatre return to Chelmsford again this season with their taut production of Harold Pinter's Betrayal.  Directed by Michael Cabot, the slick, elegant performances are played out among Bek Palmer's stylised set.  Fragments of once inhabited locations that the characters, ghost-like, slip through and around, their lives reflected in the decrepit, broken down remnants of the walls.
Pinter's use of reverse chronology slowly reveals details of Emma's affair with Jerry, her husband Robert's best friend, with the audience first witnessing the pair two years after the break up of their liaison.  As we work backwards through the seventies we see changes in not only the fashions worn by the initially gloomy characters - brightening gradually from dreary browns and greys through to a bright red number on the almost decade younger Emma at the initiation of the relationship - but also in the fluidity of the text as Pinter's naturalistic half-finished sentences and disjointed conversation points make way for more fluid and relaxed excitement.  The timeframe allows the audience to have a constant sense of the future, and through the revelation of the past to piece together events and revel in the details - hearing the same half-remembered anecdotes repeated with varying levels of accuracy and revealing the depth of the relationships between all of the involved parties. 
Rebecca Pownall achieves a wonderful depth of character as Emma, portraying the uptight worries of the woman we see at the play's opening covered with a false mask of smiles, gradually shedding years and cares as we witness a youthful, energetic Emma in the honeymoon period of her illicit relationship.  The scene in Venice is particularly revealing, with Emma's stony faced reaction to Robert's knowledge of her affair - affectingly performed by Pete Collis - disclosing the emotional disconnection from her husband.  This is not a detachment shared by partner Jerry, whose regular references to his wife and family prove that despite his betrayal he is loyal to them at his heart.  A softer, needier character than Emma, he is given an intelligent portrayal by Steven Clarke.
Produced to the high quality for which London Classic Theatre are now known, this is a fast paced, revealing and thought-provoking production of an entertaining Pinter, which retains an exciting dramatic tension throughout.

07 October 2013


Man to Man
Made in Colchester
Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Monday 7th October 2013

The latest venture from the Made in Colchester stable this week with a double bill of productions in both the main house and the Mercury Studio.  With both pieces taking inspiration from the same remarkable tale, this inextricable link adds an exciting, dramatic layer to the Mercury's choice to stage them simultaneously.
Man to Man follows the life of German woman Ella Gericke, who upon her husband Max' death decides her only option for survival is to assume his identity and live her life as a man.  With direct and indirect comment on what it is to be a woman in a 1930s German society dominated by men, her thought-provoking story is made all the more poignant when Hitler rises to power and the reality of war looms.  Surviving against the odds through years of challenges that Ella could never have considered in the moment it took to make this utterly life changing decision, we follow this confused life for many years of conflict.  The final climax at the joy and release of the fall of the Berlin Wall is juxtaposed with the turmoil of discovering the destruction of the grave of her husband, harrowingly marked with her own name. 
This one woman play is performed by Tricia Kelly in what can only be described as a tour de force.  Her depth of understanding of this involved text is evident, as is the strong hand of director Tilly Branson.  Simply but intricately staged, changes of time and place are shown beautifully through an excellently designed lighting plot that truly makes the most of the flexible studio space.
A deeply felt, dramatically theatrical event that the Made in Colchester team are heightening through direct alignment with Brecht's The Good Person of Sichuan in the main house, which I will be visiting later this week.

04 October 2013


Little Theatre Company
Palace Theatre, Southend
Friday 4th October 2013

Hans Christian Anderson's The Ugly Duckling is a timeless fairytale told to generations of children all over the world, and in 2000 this Stiles & Drewe musical adaptation fought off The Lion King and Mamma Mia! to win the year's Olivier Award for Best New Musical. History has prevailed over the Olivier judges decision perhaps, with Disney and Abba still packing out West End houses 13 years on, but through its popularity with amateur societies Honk! continues to reach audiences.

The show follows the story of Ugly, the last-hatched son to Drake and his wife Ida. With its laudable moral of tolerance - "different is just... well... different" - repeated continuously throughout, the show is primarily aimed at youngsters although there is a speckle of humour for their parents to appreciate too.

LTC's slick production graces the Palace this week, directed with unequivocal skill by Tim Cater.  With every scene intelligently thought out, intricately framed and polished to a shine the guiding hand of this accomplished director can be felt throughout the staging. His attention to detail in drawing out rounded and developed characterisations - not only from the principals and named supporting roles but also from every individual chorus member - is absolutely key to the success of this impressive production.   Ali Graves' choreography is also well pitched to be consistently achievable by the cast while ensuring a high level of energy and variety in every number.

The set is designed to maximise performing space while also suggesting the edges of the farmyard and lake, with changes in location and the regular split scenes all achieved through the excellent lighting design.  For this show the costumes play a particularly important role in the completion of each character, and the choices made by the team at LTC are exemplary.  The various birds and other animals are suggested through careful choices of colour and material and the overall clarity of design achieved by the Creative Director with the wardrobe team is a constant delight - outstanding.

Ugly is played with innocence and sincerity by Darren Harper whose bold, smooth vocals are consistently impressive.  Darren's wonderfully expressive face and endearingly awkward posture are entirely fitting for the character and combine for an absorbing, polished performance.  Stephanie Wilson's mother duck Ida is beautifully sung and tenderly acted, playing the fussy parent with warmth and just enough sentimentality.  The Cat is an absolute peach of a character role, and Simon Bristoe seems to truly relish playing the villain of the piece.  A tricky comic number in "Play with your Food" he must be careful not to compromise the obvious quality of his voice by throwing away the lyrics, but his lithe physicality suggests a necessary feline quality and his excellent characterisation is wonderfully entertaining. 

One of the many performance highlights of this superb show must go to the fabulous quartet of duckling siblings played by Laura Harper, Gemma Carracher, Laurelle Gallimore and Jamie Redgate.  Each of these accomplished performers has entirely understood the individuality of their character and they work ideally together as an attention-grabbing chorus.  One of the joys of this musical for amateur societies is the array of smaller character parts that can be shared among the group.  Shining from among the many examples of LTC talent that can be found throughout the supporting cast is an exquisite cameo from Creative Director Bradley Green.  Squeezing every ounce of humour from his scene as Bullfrog, his comic timing is exemplary - a skill that will need to be further developed in some of his fellow members ready for the society's next venture into the riotous world of Avenue Q. 

The staging of the curtain call and final number sum up this feel-good production ideally - the cast enthusiactically portray that they are having a fantastic time, and there is no better way to leave your audience feeling just the same.  An accomplished production in every sense, both on and off stage - I look forward to seeing this talented society rise to the inevitable challenges of working with unruly puppets in their next exciting production in April.

02 October 2013


The Commitments
World Premiere
Palace Theatre, London
Wednesday 2nd October 2013

Roddy Doyle's original self-published novel of the late 1980s became a cult hit, telling the down to earth story of a group of unemployed Irish youths filling their time in the Dublin streets by creating a band.  The life-affirming tale of Jimmy Rabbitte and his ragtag group of amateur musicians captured the imagination of a society who recognised the characters and their plight all too well.  The success of the novel gave rise to a hit film in 1991 and is now being revisited as a brand new musical written by Doyle himself.

The opening flies by understandably swiftly, opening as it does without the band assembled, and after a hasty couple of scenes as the group gather the party can really get started.  Party being the operative word - this show is like on big Irish craic all the way through, hugely fun and unarguably feel-good.

This is truly an ensemble show and the members of the band work excellently together with relationships shining through.  They generate a camaraderie that is entirely infectious and reaches out to include the whole audience as part of the gang.  There is however an absolute standout individual performance from the spine-tingling Killian Donnelly as lead singer Deco.  The unpredictable ego of the group, his performance is at times hilarious, charming and touching in equal measure and his voice is total rock perfection.

A funny, entertaining, life-affirming show that leaves your toe-tapping and a smile on your face - what more can be asked for…

See below for an interview with Killian Donnelly and Denis Grindel by ... 

30 September 2013


A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare's Globe
Globe Theatre, London
Monday 30th September 2013
The atmosphere at the Globe is always a delight and a visit, no matter what the show, makes for an entertaining evening in it's own right.  One of London's most iconic theatrical venues, the experience is entirely worth the discomfort of the traditional seating.
This season's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is being promoted with the tag line "Show us your Bottom", and it is absolutely right that this character is singled out.  Pearce Quigley's interpretation of Bottom is one of the most engaging I have seen.  Relaxed, off-hand and slightly camp, yet also full of the ambitious self-promotion that makes Bottom such a target for ridicule, he is utterly hilarious and the highlight of the production. 
The farcical confusion of the four lovers is excellently realised with a particularly enjoyable performance of a frustrated Helena, played by Sarah Macrae.  The fairies are styled as woodland nymphs, in furs, leather and antlers, in a raw and slightly unnerving interpretation.  John Light's Oberon is energetic and masculine, although his accent is fairly random and at times difficult to understand, and paired with Michelle Terry's feisty Titania they make strong, slightly intimidating, fairy royalty.  Matthew Tennyson's rubbery physicality brings a coy youth to Puck in an audience-winning performance.

27 September 2013


The Boy Friend
Trinity Methodist Music and Drama
Trinity Methodist Church Hall, Chelmsford
Friday 27th September 2013

Sandy Wilson's 1953 musical comedy, The Boy Friend, is an affectionate pastiche of musicals of the roaring twenties and is set among the gaiety of the French Riviera.  A group of "Perfect Young Ladies" at Mme Dubonnet's finishing school are consumed with desire to find that most necessary of accessories for a seventeen year old girl - a boyfriend - and the sweet, simple story follows the attempt of one young heiress to find true love.

This is a frivolous, feel-good show - the essence of which even the predictable plot line and weak book can do nothing to dispel - and this youthful Trinity cast brings a vitality and spirit to the stage.  Polly Browne, set to inherit her father's fortune but wanting to find love regardless of money, is played with earnest sobriety and a sparklingly beautiful voice by Jessica Edom.  Ben Huish gives delivery boy Tony a bumbling posh-boy interpretation, with a comic characterisation that would not be out of place in a P.G. Wodehouse novel and a smooth, confident singing voice. 

Hands held at constant right angles, fluttering lashes over wide eyes and fixed smiles with shiny white teeth, the English roses of the finishing school are played with stylised elegance by Charlotte Watling, Helen Quigley, Amy Coster and Nina Harrington.  Their enthusiastic Charleston-style choreography is well matched by the strong male support from Joe Gray, Dom Short, Dom Light and Ed Tunningley.  All relevant parties spiritedly maintain their French accents, especially Emma Byatt who floats around the stage as a graceful Madame Dubonnet.  An enjoyable cameo too from Director Tony Brett who exudes personality while playing lecherous Lord Brockhurst with a twinkle in his eye.

The set is nicely designed, although it may look more complete if the open space above the short side flats were covered.  The hanging basket for Act 3, with its fixings suspended in mid air, is a little too dominant for such a central position, but the furniture and props are well chosen and the set changes are handled smoothly through the two intervals.  The costumes and wigs are all excellent, chosen to ideally depict the period and suit each individual character.  The busy three piece band are reliably led by Musical Director Gerald Hindes who pitches the volume levels ideally to ensure that the performers voices are always heard.

It is lovely to see a talented group of young faces joining the established performers at Trinity, and the result is a fun-filled production with the enthusiasm of the cast reflected by the appreciative audience.  An entertaining evening.

Photograph by Val Scott.

25 September 2013


Top Hat
West End Production
Aldwych Theatre, London
Wednesday 25th September 2013
As this slick production draws to a close, the sparkle and glamour haven't faded and it continues to delight it's traditionalist audiences with some old fashioned love, laughs, dances and costumes.  The quick changes of elaborate set pieces are impressively executed in it's relatively small West End home, and make the production the high value feast for the eyes that it unarguably is.
In line with other musicals of the period the story is pretty thin, incorporating a lead character who just happens to be a dancer for a living, some cheesy jokes, a beautiful love interest and very little action.  It barely matters however, as the frequent musical numbers and elaborate dance routines are entirely engaging and impressively performed with all of the style and elegance one associates with the upper class of the 1920s and 30s.
Since I saw this production on it's pre-West End tour the cast has inevitably been refreshed, and the exhausting lead role of Jerry has had a wonderful take over by the supremely talented all-rounder Gavin Lee.  With charm oozing from every pore his sparkling smile and endless energy sell every number, and with excellent support from Kristen Beth Williams as Dale they form a glorious dancing partnership. 
Old fashioned musical theatre at it's best, this production well deserved it's trio of awards last year and will be a much missed corner of glamour in the West End when it finishes at the end of October.

24 September 2013


Crazy for You
Chelmsford Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Tuesday 24th September 2013

Based upon a 1930s show by the same writing team this 1992 Gershwin musical firmly belongs in that glamorous, old-fashioned, pre-war period in both content and style.  The thin, predictable plot - everyone falling in love at the drop of a hat, bursting into big-chorus song and dance numbers every five minutes, lots of tap dancing and girls in short skirts with bright white smiles - fits in perfectly with other 1930s musicals; Anything Goes, 42nd Street, Top Hat.  Yet in 1992 Broadway was filled with the new wave of British musicals - Phantom, Les Miserables, Cats, Miss Saigon - and this typically American story, full of dancing and sentimentality, was a welcome return to the traditions of the "Musical Comedy".

Following a London revival in 2011, CAODS have chosen to present this energetic musical still warm from the West End and have appointed the reliable talent of Sallie Warrington to the Director's chair.  Sallie's ability to inspire the best from her cast shines through the mixed talent on stage, but it is her ideally pitched choreography for the glorious group of ladies making up Zangler's Follies where this production really succeeds.  Without exception this chorus of dancers ooze poise and elegance, sing beautifully, and with just the right number of them to ensure the stage is never overcrowded they have room to throw themselves into the more energetic tap numbers with genuine accomplishment too.

Henri de Lausun plays Bobby Child with assurance and skill.  His singing voice is smooth and strong even through the vigorous tap dance routines which he also performs with flair.  His ongoing battle through Act 1 with a false moustache with a mind of it's own was handled with a twinkle in his eye and his professional attitude and determination certainly won the audience over at this opening night performance.  Christie Hooper is equally charming as the plucky cowgirl Polly, her superb voice a musical highlight especially in Act 1's "Someone To Watch Over Me".  Her stage presence draws the eye equally in the group numbers and she leads the company in "I Got Rhythm" with grace and ability.  Kevin Richards' heavily accented Zangler was difficult to understand at the very top of the show, but he soon found his stride and his duet with Bobby is one of the highlights of the production.  Karen Kelleher makes the most of Irene with a seductive performance of "Naughty Baby", and Jonathan Lloyd-Game is assured as Lank, if sometimes a little overdone.  

The swift and various changes of location are well managed by the slick CAODS crew and the often bare stage maintains an unobstructed dance floor throughout.  The costumes for this show are a huge part of the overall feel of the production and the numerous changes for the chorus of Follies are all stunning - and importantly well-fitting - right down to the enormous feathered headdresses for the finale.  The music throughout is handled with care and skill, as always, by Musical Director Patrick Tucker and his consummate band.

An entertaining evening of old-fashioned musical theatre performed with CAODS' usual spirit and assurance.  

20 September 2013


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
National Theatre
Apollo Theatre, London
Friday 20th September 2013
It was with anticipation I returned to this excellent play, but also a sense of trepidation since it suited the intimacy of the National's studio space at the Cottesloe so perfectly it was hard to imagine the proscenium arch West End transfer.
Arguably the production had more impact in it's original intimate staging, but the transfer has remained full of theatricality and is just as entertaining.
A fantastic play, true to it's source material, and an entertaining and energetic staging full of surprises.  Well worth a visit.

04 September 2013


A Doll's House
Young Vic Production
Duke of York's Theatre, London
Wednesday 4th September 2013
Ibsen's scathingly critical look at the institution of marriage and its place in society was a hugely controversial topic to tackle at the time and has remained relevant enough to become one of the world's most performed plays. 
After a successful run at the Young Vic this West End transfer stars the sublime Hattie Morahan in the central role of Nora.  A feminist before such a thing really existed, Ibsen draws a full and complex character in Nora; flawed, conflicted but ultimately strong and truly courageous.  Morahan is completely wonderful in this deeply layered role, playing the character with subtlety and yet displaying every layer of emotion, every conflict of indecision, in an intelligent performance that draws the enrapt audience into the heart of the character.  Her husband Torvald is powerfully played by Dominic Rowan, a man with traditional and steadfast ideals.  His performance matches up ideally to Morahan and their final emotional exchange is entirely compelling.  The supporting cast all put in fine performances too, with particular note to Nick Fletcher and Caroline Martin as Krogstad and Christine in the interweaving sub-plot. 
The ingenious revolving set is a triumph of this production, and coupled with the windowed hallway allows a depth and realism to the physical location that helps to place these characters in their position in society, as well as understanding the intensity that comes from their close proximity to one another.
An irresistible production of a compelling story, elevated in no small part by Morahan's exemplary performance. 

03 September 2013


Edward II
National Theatre
Olivier Theatre, London
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
The National are celebrated for allowing space for experimental productions, unusual concepts and dramatic freedom, and Joe Hill-Gibbins production of Christopher Marlowe's controversial 16th century play fits that brief explicitly.  The text; which extensively explores the homosexuality of King Edward II of England and the unswerving rejection of his relationship with favourite Gaveston by his kin and advisers which ultimately results in his horrific murder; is not controversial enough for this production however, and is entirely overshadowed by the hyper-modern approach to the staging.
An open stage welcomes the audience who watch cast and crew wandering around pre-show, vacuuming the stage, changing costume, then as the play begins bursting into "God Save the King", a tune around 150 years too modern for this King.  The anachronisms are rife and the source of some humour through Act 1, with characters puffing on cigarettes lit by lighters and chatting on telephones.  The costume too is of varying origin, with Gaveston in vest, skinny jeans and a leather jacket, the young prince in a school blazer, but the King himself in a regal robe of gold, neither of period nor modern.  The choice to close off one of the acting spaces and portray the action through live video feeds became distracting, with sometime different images on each screen and occasionally overlayed with action on the visible stage too. 
Performances are all consumed by the staging here, with little room left for the actors to truly explore their characters.  Kyle Soller's American Gaveston is commanding and strong, exuding masculinity and arrogance, assured in his love for the King.  Edward himself is given a worthy study by John Heffernan who portrays the fickle and conflicting nature of the King's desires with clarity and handles the difficult death scene with grace.  Vanessa Kirby is standout as the wronged turncoat Queen in a provocative performance. 
The enthusiasm of the direction here is admirable, but the result is too much style over substance and the plot gets almost entirely lost in the frenzy of the staging. 

31 August 2013


The Butterfly Lion
Made in Colchester
Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Saturday 31st August 2013

Michael Morpurgo is one of the most illustrious names in modern children's literature and many of his popular stories have been lovingly adapted for both stage and screen.  Most successful to date is the National Theatre's acclaimed production of War Horse, currently running in London's West End, Berlin, Australia, North America, and shortly to also be on tour around the UK and Ireland.  It is, however, the story of The Butterfly Lion that Morpurgo states as one of his most favourite, and the one which Daniel Buckroyd and the sterling team at the Mercury Theatre have brought to life in Colchester this week.

This beautiful story-within-a-story is told through runaway schoolboy Michael as he stumbles upon Millie, a fascinating old lady who narrates for him the tale of her husband Bertie and his friend the white lion.  We follow Bertie from his birthplace in Africa, via school in England, to war in France and then marriage and life back in England again in a life dominated by his relationship with this most rare of creatures.  Delicately structured, this layered story is both simple and yet brimming with detail, fast-paced and yet richly descriptive, exotic and yet full of relevance; something to genuinely enjoy for every generation of the family, many of whom left the auditorium wiping a tear from their eye.  

The staging is enchantingly theatrical, with the suggestion of time, place and character shifting seamlessly within the constant flow of the direction.  The puppetry used to breathe life into the majestic white lion matches this undulating flow; the inevitable comparison against the naturalistic intricacy of the life-size, three-man horses in War Horse making way for a far simpler one-man puppeteer-actor as the lion.  Lloyd Notice creates an absorbing character through the excellent puppets, as well as narrating sections of the story and giving this title character a disconnected yet integral voice of his own.  The storytelling is led by Millie, played with effortless grace by esteemed actress Gwen Taylor.  The narration smartly blends in and out of the action and Taylor is just as charming playing Millie's pre-adolescent kite-flying self as she is her more mature years.  Adam Buchanan plays Michael, the present recipient of Millie's story, as well as blending into the action as Bertie.  His portrayal of charismatic innocence is retained throughout, hinting constantly of Michael even while also representing the adult Bertie - an intelligent, considered and captivating performance.  

Following an unforgettable production of The Hired Man earlier this year, and an outstanding version of The History Boys at the start of the summer, Daniel Buckroyd's leadership has once again inspired a show that one would be thrilled to experience at any leading playhouse in the country.  Colchester have the fortune to be able to say "we saw it here first" as Bill Kenwright Ltd take this exciting production on a tour of the UK straight after its Colchester run, where families around the country will be able to share in this magnificent, life-affirming story.