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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.