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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.