Lilies on the Land by the Lions part, Chelmsford Theatre Workshop – The Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
Guest Reviewer: Michelle Jacobs
In the 80th anniversary year of the beginning of the Second World War and the 75th commemoration of D-Day, what could be more fitting for CTW to bring to the stage but a tribute to the work of the Women’s Land Army (WLA) or Land Girls?
Based on anecdotes from over one hundred real women’s experiences, Lilies on the Land by the Lions part uses narrative to tell the tales of four different but typical Land Girls and how they learnt to cope out of their comfort zone. It is never an easy task to bring narrative to life on the stage, particularly with a simple set and a small cast. However, here the directorial team of Mark Preston and Martin Robinson have obviously worked hard to enable the audience to visualise the scenarios via effective use of mime, choreography, expressive dialogue and non-verbal cues.
Solid performances from all four lead cast members help considerably here too.
Rachel Curren is particularly effective in invoking the character of upper-class Poppy, so obviously unused to getting her hands dirty with menial tasks. CTW newcomer, Suzy White appears equally at home as educated and resourceful career girl, Vera and also sensitively conveys perhaps the most poignant moment in the whole production. Jacquie Newman is convincing enough as eager Peggy that one or two first night line stumbles are remarkably unobtrusive. Her sense of achievement at successfully delivering a calf is palpable and touching as is her growing affection for farmer Jim. Jane Fielding seems most at ease when portraying the lighter side of Margie’s story, receiving one of the biggest laughs of the night for taking a cow to be ‘covered’ in full view of local lads.
Much credit has to go to Fern McLean and Iain Holding Sutton for displaying great versatility in their depiction of numerous and diverse roles which although small were theatrically vital. McLean is a particularly powerful presence in the sequence where Vera discovers the fate of her friend Angie. Holding Sutton, on the other hand, ably conveys the essence of an American GI, a creepy farmhand or a belligerent, bullying farmer complete with passable Scouse accent!
The inclusion of contemporary songs to mark the progress of the interweaving stories allow the cast to show their ability to sing in harmony although on occasion, they make the production feel a little disjointed. An Anglo-German rendition of ‘Silent Night/Stille Nacht’ is particularly haunting and acts as a timely reminder of the futility of war. The valedictory Land Army song, ‘Back to the Land’ is also suitably stirring.
Lighting comes into its own to transform the theatre into a dance hall as well as to cleverly denote fireworks on V.E. Day. Sound effects were well thought out too, although once or twice the timing could have been tighter.
A lot of attention to detail has gone into making this a historically accurate account, down to the authentic green jumpers, dungarees and thick knee socks that made up the WLA uniform. The overall impression paints a picture that former Land Girls and their families would undoubtedly recognise and later generations may well find charming and perhaps even gently inspiring.
Bugsy Malone, Shenfield Operatic Society – Queens Theatre, Hornchurch
Guest Reviewer: Michelle Jacobs
When one thinks of Alan Parker’s classic gangster parody, ‘Bugsy Malone’ one thinks of child actors revelling in the slapstick elements as per the 1976 film and countless school productions since. Thus, the prospect of Shenfield Operatic Society delivering a performance played by ‘grown-ups’ was an intriguing one.
David Pridige, in a remarkably assured first-time directorial role, has obviously put a lot of thought into how to highlight the edgy, gritty themes on which the story is based while still retaining the feel-good musical comedy elements which are the essence of the show. Some fine performances from the well-cast lead actors help considerably here too. Sean Hynes shows a great stage presence as Fat Sam, epitomising the sleazy underbelly of 1920s New York. The sexual and professional jealousy is palpable between Helen Sinclair as Blousey Brown and Jess Pether as a particularly alluring and glamorous Tallulah. Bugsy Malone himself is played with a suitably quiet suaveness and sophistication by Josh Handley, traits which a child might find difficult to convey, although there were times when Bugsy’s presence was almost too subtle. Kerry Cooke pretty much steals the show as a vampy and merciless Dandy Dan. The decision to make her the leader of an all-female gang, kitted out in striking red and black, is surprising but gives an interesting extra dimension to the saga of the two warring gangs.
Well thought out scenery and props, including classic cars and a frightened dog, play their part in evoking the streets of prohibition era New York and the interior of Fat Sam’s ‘Speak Easy’ complete with well-stocked bar and name up in lights. The musicians,too, have to be credited for their impeccable interpretation of the bluesy, jazzy soundtrack, although at some points it meant the one or two of the actors struggled to be heard. Lighting is also often used inventively to arresting effect.
While the ‘grown-ups’ certainly bring an engaging edge to this production, they also turn their hands to some mean, old-fashioned musical entertainment, bringing alive the classic song and dance routines. The boxing sequence is a particular feat of ensemble choreography as are the ‘down and outs’ on the dockside. The Chorus Dancers obviously revel in their energetic Charleston numbers, complete with appropriately glittery ‘flapper’ dresses while the heavies of Fat Sam’s gang also get a chance to show they are remarkably light on their feet. Kerry Cooke, Sean Hynes and Jess Pether also display particularly strong singing voices.
It is clear that all the speaking cast have worked hard on perfecting authentic New York accents which most manage to hold throughout. The occasional slip is not overtly noticeable, however, as the overall impression of the production is so immersive.
It was a brave move to try and put an adult spin on a show that is so synonymous with child-like humour and energy. With one shot of white goo from a menacingly silent splurge gun, it would appear that Shenfield Operatic Society have just about pulled it off.
Made in Dagenham, Blackmore Players – Blackmore Village Hall
It’s no secret, I love ‘Made in Dagenham’ and so this was always going to be an exciting evening for us.
On arrival in the hall, the seating arrangement was drastically different from the usual layout as this evenings performance was technically in the round with a large stage area on the floor in a T-shape coming down from the stage. This worked really well giving a larger performance area for the company numbers.
From the opening Number ‘Busy Woman’ the show charged along with its own momentum with slick scene changes and strong performances.
Debbie Stevens as Rita O’Grady gave a fantastic performance both in her portrayal of the mother torn between her family and her responsibility. She took us on the journey with her and we appreciated every step. James Hughes as her husband Eddie, had all the rough edges of a Dagenham Boy and all the charm too. His rendition of The Letter was lovely.
The Dagenham Girls were all strong characters with Sarah Neary as the foul mouthed and down to earth Beryl, Emma Thwaite as Dolly Bird Sandra, Lucie Burrow as forgetful Clare and Sarah Taylor as ambitious pilot Cass. Lucie did a fantastic job with ‘Wossisname’ and she maintained the character throughout which was fantastic.
I also really liked by contrast Amy Pudney as Lisa Hopkins, she gave a very sympathetic interpretation of the posh wife of Dagenham plant manager Mr Hopkins, played by John Hughes.
Harold Wilson was played admirably by Andrew Raymond, who got all the humour in the role of the hapless Prime Minister and Lisa Rawlings gave a powerhouse performance as Barbara Castle – I really enjoyed her delivery of ‘An Ideal World’ which was excellent. In addition, I also really liked the characterisation of Nic Rayment as the American Ford Boss Tooley.
All the chorus numbers were well delivered with some well thought out choreography which was a real bonus for the show. The Band did an amazing job in fact had we not known it was only a four piece band we would never had known as the sound they produced was excellent.
In fact this was a hugely enjoyable performance from start to finish, in fact compared to some groups we have seen in larger venue or larger towns this stood head and shoulders above them and this was definitely the best production we have seen in Blackmore to date.
Massive congratulations to all involved.
Grease – Springers, Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
When one thinks of Grease we all picture the film with John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John, leather jackets, slicked back hair, pink lady jackets and lots of fun.
Springers version of this gave us lots of those memories and more. As the leader of the pack – Danny Zuko, Jon Newman had the requisite strut and thrust and playing opposite him as Sandy was Hannah Yarwood who was all sugar and sweet as the innocent Sandy but she definitely showed us her sexy side at the end. They both worked well together and gave us some great moments throughout the evening both vocally and in their overall performance.
The remaining T- Birds were James Beaver as Kenickie, Dan Schultz as Roger, Dan Carlton as Sonny and Ian Pavelin as Doody. Dan Schultz as Roger sang the painfully high ‘Mooning’ with ease and Dan Carlton as Sonny was perfect as the desperate lethario. They all had very strong characters but I particularly liked Ian who squeezed every ounce of comedy out of the character especially in his first number ‘Those Magic Changes’.
The pink ladies comprised Alexandra Philips, who was in her comedic element as food loving Jan, Ruby Mortimer as Marty, Kat Mckeon as Frenchy and Sophie- Anne Chaplin as Rizzo. All the girls worked well together but I particularly like Ruby’s rendition of ‘Freddy My Love’ and I thought Kat maintained her Frenchy character throughout which was charming. I wished Sophie-Anne hadn’t shouted her dialogue so much as Rizzo. Rizzo is a complex character and one that is hard to portray sympathetically but I felt Sophie-Anne didn’t ever quite get under the skin of her on this occasion.
Kieran Bedwell as Eugene and Izzy Churches as Patty were both suitably geeky and I thought Susan Corina as Miss Lynch was perfectly cast as the School Principal.
The company which were mostly adults worked hard to portray high school students and congratulations to the choreographers – Brett Gillborn and Kieran Bedwell on some inventive and interesting choreography especially with the use of props to give added dimensions to the routines. Helen Arber who played Cha-Cha stood out in all the routines as she danced everything with great conviction and style.
For me the vocal performance of the night went to Mat Smith as the Teen Angel, not only did he look the part of a high school heart throb but he sang beautifully too.
The downside throughout sadly were the scene changes which were often long black episodes without any musical cover which slowed down the storyline. I appreciate the set was large and complicated but perhaps more could have been done in view by the cast – which is perfectly acceptable these days in modern musicals and some added music would help to keep the audience engaged.
However, all in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and if you are longing for ‘Summer Nights’ then get along to the Civic Theatre as this is ‘the one that you want’!
Annie – Sudbury Musical Society, The Quay Theatre, Sudbury
Guest Reviewer – Chris Brown
When I think of the musical Annie, my immediate thoughts are of an over saccharine sweet story-line and precocious stage school kids. This could not have been further from the truth with this honest and professional production from Sudbury Musical Society.
The orphans in this show are strong and gritty and their rendition of “It’s a Hard Knock Life” is passionate and determined which sets a good standard for the rest of the show. In particular, Ruby Harvey as Molly has great personality and is definitely one to watch for the future.
Annie is deftly played by Penny Bell delivering an outstanding performance in the title role. She has charm, stage presence and you cannot help but love her especially when paired with her canine companion Kenny as Sandy. The two of them on stage together is a match made in heaven.
The orphan’s nemesis Miss Hannigan, is ably played by Deborah Mansell. Deborah portrays the drunken tyrant perfectly staggering about the stage whilst desperately clutching her gin bottle and consequently gives us some great moments of humour throughout.
There are other strong performances including Chris Lowe as Warbucks, who has a strong baritone singing voice and great warmth in his relationship with Annie alongside Kate Davy as Grace, who not only looks stunning but sings beautifully and delivers a very believable portrayal.
There are also hugely enjoyable performances from Lewis Miller as shady conman Rooster Hannigan and Katie Hammond as his dumb blonde girlfriend Lily. I particularly liked Katie characterisation with the squeaky voice and outrageous costume and their trio with Deborah, “Easy Street” was one of the highlights of the show.
There were a number of other smaller parts which were ably played by Barry Bridges, Ashley Este and notably Roger Hearn as FDR.
It was clear that the cast were exceptionally well drilled under the guidance of Director Nikki Mundell-Poole whether it was as down and outs in Hooverville or servants in Warbucks Mansion and the singing under the skilled baton of Susannah Edom was top class.
The staging was a simple set, which allowed quick transformations keeping the action flowing throughout the show and the attention to detail both with the set, props and the wide variety of colourful costumes is always a hallmark of a Nikki Mundell-Poole show and it is clear she has pulled all the stops out to deliver a top quality production for this society.
If you can still get a ticket, you are in for a treat.
Shakers – The Reject Theatre Company, Headgate Theatre Colchester
This play, similar in concept to Bouncers also by John Godber, is presented by four actresses who take the roles of four waitresses, each under pressure in different ways. It describes a typical night for them working at a bar called Shakers in 1985. The actresses play all the characters in the bar, including the clientele the four waitresses have to deal with.
The four waitresses were introduced as Adele, Carol, Mel and Nicky and were ably played by Sarah Barton, Laura Bradley, Alison Hartley and Helen Meah respectively.
With a simple yet well-presented set, consisting a bar and 4 bar stools all the action took place with great effect.
Alison sporting initially a strong Scottish accent as Mel was adeptly able to jump through various different characters and accents, including a dash of German, giving us an insight into her skills as an actresses, she seems to particularly excel at the harder and more harsh characters despite proving she has a much lighter side when ‘out with the cashiers’.
Laura was decidedly the more thoughtful of the four not just in her interpretation of Carol, who does not want to be taken as an idiot, but in all her guises, she was incredibly believable and gave us a very honest performance.
Whilst she may be diminished in size, Helen was great at delivering the oversized characters and exploiting that to its fullest. Her general bright disposition was superbly contrasted against the octogenarian darts player or the dizzy birthday girl out to get Andy King!
Two particular scenarios during the evening were especially enjoyable – the communal changing room where there were some great comic moments and the drunken toilets at the end. Sarah Barton really came into her own in this – not over played as one could play a drunk but exactly as so many people are at that stage of the evening. She nailed it perfectly. In fact many of her portrayals throughout the evening were perfectly timed and delivered. The moving speech about her daughter and the lads out on the pull showing her versatility as a performer.
It was the combination of these four actresses together that not only complimented each other but gave us all characters we could relate to.
If you can’t get to see it at the Headgate Theatre tonight,then Shakers will be winging its way to the Brentwood Theatre on 5th & 6th July. Get a ticket!
Rent (School Edition) – CYGAMS, Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford
A simple but stunning set made from scaffolding with an upper level reached by a staircase either side, was the perfect backdrop to this moving and modern take on Puccini’s opera La Boheme. It tells the story of struggling young artists trying to survive life in bohemian Lower Manhattan under the shadow of HIV and Aids.
This cast of 31 all under the age of 19 gave one of the most mature and powerful productions I have seen in a long time. In fact I’d feel it was almost patronising to call it a youth production because it felt like a young adult professional cast.
With eight main principals and numerous smaller cameo’s, the standard tonight was extremely high.
The opening number ‘Seasons of Love’ gave us our first introduction to these characters. Dan Hall as Mark from the start of the show was deep in character and never faltered throughout and was as engaging and energetic at the end as he was at the start.
Roger the songwriter, played by Matt Hedges gave an amazing troubled and passionate performance. I thought this was a fantastic portrayal although on occasion I felt he was excluding the audience by being a little too inward in his performance, but nevertheless this was equally as strong as anyone else on stage.
Livi Khattar as Mimi delightful as she had all the moves of a sex kitten and all the innocence of a child. Joanne and Maureen played by Phoebe Walsh and Virginia Hampson respectively, worked extremely well together, both have excellent vocals and their duet ‘Take me or Leave me’ was one of the highlights of the evening for me.
Jack Gunn as Benny has a difficult part to play as the friend turned landlord but he embodied the yuppy of the era completely.
Jordan Webster as Collins and Paul French as Angel were so well cast as these tragic lovers. Jordan brought all the emotions to the fore in act two and I truly believed the love between the two throughout the show. The sign of a true performer is never stepping out of character and on several occasions when they were not the centre of the scene I happened to look their way and their interaction was still just as perfect. Massive congratulations to them both on this. Paul as Angel was just so sassy with a hot strut (and impressive jump splits!!) in those heels, and with a number of other moves that could kill! Great respect to him as a performer because he could have gone over the top and upstaged everyone but he kept true to the piece and delivered an outstanding performance.
My only negative comment was the sound was over-amplified which meant lyrics were hard to hear and it was often difficult to distinguish who was singing as the sound was over powering.
Being so close to the cast you cannot help but watch their faces and performances in detail and every single cast member worked their socks off all night in fact every member of the cast was of an equal level to the principals and therefore this was undoubtedly one of the best productions I have seen this season and I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who wants to see an outstanding performance by such a talented cast.
Huge congratulations to everyone involved. If there is one show to see right now, this has to be it!
The Hired Man – The Queens Church, Hornchurch
Photo : Mark Sepple
Based on the Melvyn Bragg play The Hired Man, it tells of northern working class life in bleak Cumbria in the early twentieth and the musical adaptation then followed with music and lyrics by Howard Goodall.
On entering the auditorium we were presented with a large tilted revolve and a gauze featuring a stark Cumbrian backdrop – this was the perfect setting for this gritty and powerful piece of musical theatre. Add in the dramatic and atmospheric lighting and the setting was complete.
The cast of actor/musicians not only portrayed a range of characters but also played a variety of instruments making this a feast of talent starting with the opening number which was particularly strong and I loved the way the cast used their musical instruments as props, portraying the tools of the land.
There were some strong individual performances throughout the production.
Oliver Hembrough as John brought some great depth to the role and opposite him as Emily was Lauryn Redding who had such strength in her performance. Her acting throughout the piece was a joy to watch and very poignant.
Lloyd Gorman as Jackson was the third point in the love triangle and a later the surprise hero. This was a very detailed performance and quite charismatic.
I loved the camaraderie between John and his brothers played by Samuel Martin as Isaac and TJ Holmes as Seth and Seth’s whippet cleverly portrayed by TJ’s Cello.
Jon Bonner played a number of characters: Pennington, Blacklock, The Recruiting Officer and the Vicar. Each character was very different to the other and throughout he was a strong pivot point for the entire production.
While Act One felt a little slow and I found the folk inspired music sometimes a little repetitive, Act Two was a completely different story. For me Act two had a very personal connection as my family were a mining family in South Yorkshire and of course the outbreak and subsequent storyline associated WW1 was as you would expect particularly moving.
Lara Lewis as May was delightful. She was fresh and bright with a charming singing voice and James William-Pattison as Harry was equally engaging. All the cast brought great enthusiasm and huge empathy to characters and the story line.
This was a powerful production and one which delivered many layers, on many levels.
Bonnie & Clyde – SODS, Palace Theatre, Southend
I was quite excited to see this production as I had listened to the soundtrack but had yet to see it performed.
Telling the story of notorious bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, this musical was first performed in 2009, finding its way to Broadway in 2011. It was not initially well received by critics but was nominated for two Tony awards for its score and leading actress.
It has only recently been available for amateur societies and I have to say SODS did not disappoint. The slick set which consisted of 3 levels, a sliding centre wall and several projections, often of real life images of the pair and the newspaper articles was fantastic.
Taking on the title namesakes of Bonnie and Clyde were Sophie Cave and Declan Wright. They both executed the vocals required for parts that rarely leave the stage and often need the ability to belt out number after number but for me what was far more important was that they didn’t rest on the fact they had the ability to sing the numbers but they acted their way through all the numbers, as well as the dialogue, which is vital to give us, the audience, the ability to relate to the characters as people not just infamous outlaws but people. Sophie’s performance of ‘Dyin’ Ain’t so Bad’ was beautiful. A huge congratulations to them both.
However, this is not just about the love story of one couple, it also tells us about Clyde’s brother Buck and his wife Blanche who have an equally sad story to tell. Buck, played by John Staines was a strong and confident performer who gave us belief in the love he had for his brother which conflicted with the love he had for his wife. He was certainly well paired with Heather Cooper as his wife Blanche, who was a delight to watch. She has the wonderful number ‘You’re Going back to Jail’ which I love but for me the highlight tonight was her duet with Sophie – ‘You Love Who you Love’ – which I found simply spine tingling.
I have also to give a little constructive criticism in that with the strong southern American accents often the lyrics were lost and as I have heard them numerous times and still couldn’t understand them, someone new to the show would struggle even more and this was a comment I heard during the interval. Diction is key!
The rest of the company gave some great performances but one other that stood out for me was Sara Hickling as Emma Parker, her portrayal of Bonnie’s mother really hit the spot.
I felt this is not necessarily a company show for amateur societies, with only two company numbers even though they were well led by Jonny Buxton as The Preacher. However, tonight it was like a professional show with even the young Bonnie & Clyde played by Lola Larke and Angelo Montanaro in tonight’s performance being of such a high standard.
The orchestra were well balanced and gave a great sound and the lighting was superb giving some beautiful pictures and supporting some really emotive moments.
I simply loved the show this evening and if you don’t know it then you really should go and see it as it’s a great night’s theatre, which did leave me with a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye at the end.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ – Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Wow! Just wow! I am struggling to find a more cohesive description for the show I saw tonight. I admit I knew a few of Fats Waller’s songs before I saw the show but now I know there are a lot more great songs in his songbook.
Firstly, I have to comment on the staging of this production. The Mercury Theatre transformed into a Harlem jazz club with an extended stage at least double its normal depth, four of the five musicians on stage and some truly inspirational lighting design. This show was quite reminiscence of Five Guys Named Moe but …due to the talent of the cast and creatives it delivered its own Fats Waller hit!
The five cast members all delivered song after song impeccably, covering a wide range of emotions and stories. As a choreographer and lover of all dance I was excited to see what Oti Mabuse would bring to the stage and her choreography did not disappoint – however what made it even more appealing was the delivery by the cast members whose energy and excitement just made it captivating to watch. Tyrone Huntley direction was also what made this so enjoyable to watch with simple delivery but also some beautiful attention to detail. I’m Black and Blue was a Triumph.
All five cast members, the three ladies – Renee Lamb, Landi Oshinowo and Carly Mercedes Dyer worked seamless as a trio but also had some fantastic comedic moments fighting over the two guys Adrian Hansel and Wayne Robinson. We often talk about great stage presence and delivery and this was there tonight in abundance – a masterclass!!
Renee had great vocals and could clearly dance as she gave us sass and attitude in all her performances, Landi had such a great ease in her performance which has obviously been honed in her career and this made her a real joy to watch but it was Carly who stole my heart tonight – her Yacht Club Swing was a real belly buster, her crazy characterisations and then her equally moving slow number in Act 2 showed the breadth of her talent.
Both boys delivered great numbers – I really liked Wayne’s delivery of The Viper’s Drag – a song I have never heard before but that I absolutely loved. However, I have to say I struggled to keep my eyes of Adrian – not only was he a performer with such style and presence in his delivery but he was also a really amazing dancer with great lines.
What makes this show work is the levels of energy and pizzazz from the cast. While there is no real dialogue to link the show it is the musical numbers that make it work.
Forget Brexit, forget the sad news stories we hear daily – get to the Mercury Theatre and see this toe-tapping, feel good show which will undoubtedly have you clapping along and smiling from ear to ear!!
Kiss Me Quickstep, The Queens Theatre – Hornchurch
Being a Strictly Fan and having friends who compete on the amateur Ballroom Championship circuit I was interested to see what Amanda Whittington would take from this world and highlight in this new play. But don’t be mistaken into thinking this is all dance and nothing more. This is about relationships and life and pain and heartache.
This was presented in the round with a dance floor on the stage front and centre with a selection of seats on the stage, topped off with 3 large arches and numerous glitter balls over the stage.
The cast were introduced as they entered through the auditorium and gave us a sense of their excitement of arriving at Blackpool. The first couple we were introduced to were Luka played by Adrian Klein and Nancy played by Abigail Middleton. Luka was brought over from Moscow by Nancy’s father Mick played by Garry Robson to dance with his daughter and all the characters were extremely well portrayed. All the cast had to learn to ballroom dance and Adrian in particular was captivating to watch during the dance sequences. Abigail had all the angst and frustration of a daughter who is controlled by her father and gave us a good insight into her insecurities and desires. Garry Robson as Mick was menacing and controlling and in places quite terrifying as he tried to manipulate the outcome of the competition with bribery and threats.
The next couple were Justin played by David Birch and Jodie played by Vicki Lee Taylor. A married couple who are on the financial edge. Both David and Vicki worked extremely well together and their dancing was one of the highlights of the evening. Both actors really got under the skin of their characters and showed us some of the issues of the amateur ballroom circuit.
The last couple were Lee and Sam played retrospectively by Joshua Lay and Michelle Bishop. With the pressure of past success and following the death of Sam’s dance teacher mother they are out of kilter with each other with Sam looking for the answers to life. I thought Michelle gave an outstanding performance as the troubled Sam who has turned to drink and is questioning everything about herself and by contrast Joshua was perfectly cast as the motivated dancer who needs to stay on top.
With the addition of community dancers and the young actresses playing the Young Jodie and Samantha this was an all-around strong production. We were actually in the seats on the stage so we were up close and personal with the actors. In addition, I really liked the use of the wardrobe rails in their many guises as scenery. Simple yet so effective.
While there was glamour and sequins with the costume and dance routines this was also a gritty and down to earth play which worked to great effect. This was not a comedy as it was portrayed but a deeper look at the people and their lives on the amateur dance circuit. This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and certainly a play worth viewing.
One Man Two Guvenors – CTW, Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
Whenever I know we are seeing a play from CTW I always look forward to it because I know the standard of production I can expect.
“One Man, Two Guvnors” is a relatively modern play by Richard Bean, first performed in 2011 and whose story-line set in the 1960’s. It is based upon ‘A servant of Two Masters’ and it is a mixture of high energy slapstick and farce.
Opening with the engagement party of Pauline and Alan we get a brief introduction to the characters. Charlie ‘The Duck’ Clench played by Alan Edwards had all the east end, wide boy charm necessary for this part and he did an good job, Mark Sutton as Harry Dangle was also perfectly cast as the solicitor who could get anyone off and Jesse Powis as Lloyd Boateng was warm and engaging. There were times in this scene where the diction and projection could have been better but it did improve during the evening.
Laura Bradley as Pauline was a charm as the dim-witted fiancé and delivered probably the best performance of the evening and taking over the role of Alan tonight, due to illness, Tom Tull was the perfect OTT actor. In addition, I particularly liked Helen Millwood as Dolly the northern, down to earth book-keeper, there was a roundness to this characterisation which made it particularly believable.
Colin Smith as Frances had a real sense of a young Michael Crawford about him with his physical comedy and slightly naive performance. He was delightful to watch and kept the action going throughout.
Now, I have seen Colin play a wide variety of roles for CTW and he has proved his versatility time and time over but I felt tonight even his mastery was not quite enough to make this play as successful as it deserved to be. Sadly, I felt the play lacked an element of slickness and felt very contrived and clumsy.
However, the cast did an admirable job to deliver an entertaining evening for the audience.
My Fair Lady – CAODS, Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
My Fair Lady is a traditional musical which has been performed over and over again by so many societies. As an award winning society it was always going to be interesting to see what Chelmsford Operatic Society would do with such a life long favourite.
I have to say I was a little disappointed as I had hoped that I might see a fresh spin on the show but nevertheless what I saw was still a great show.
John Sullivan was excellently cast as the controlling yet charming role of Professor Henry Higgins. He displayed a strong vocal interpretation of the role and communicated so well the bachelor with a hint of sulky schoolboy and alongside him was Kevin Abrey as Colonel Pickering who was the epitome of the role and was a complete joy to watch all evening.
Joanne Quinney as Eliza Doolittle seemed to struggle with the early stage of Eliza as her accent seemed to roam between cockney and Brummy and her stance and acting was all rather uncomfortable to watch. However, once we reached the Rain in Spain number Joanne seemed to find her stride and from that point onwards blossomed into the role. She has a delightful singing voice and took the role from downtrodden to socialite to the powerhouse who can stand up to Higgins.
The set itself was dealt with superbly by the backstage crew with swift and quiet scene changes and in addition the costumes were a perfect complement to the rest of the show.
Barry Hester as Alfred P Doolittle really kicked the show into life with his first number ‘A Little bit of Luck’ – he was cheeky and animated and was superbly supported by the company. By the time we got to his second number Barry was in full flight and was the highlight of the show.
Kieran Bacon was delightful as the love-struck Freddy Eynsford-Hill, rather than a somewhat drippy performance this was a stronger Freddy who was very believable.
Mrs Higgins was played by Lynette Sullivan, Lynette certainly looked the part in fact she looked far too young to be Higgins Mother but putting this aside she was warm and engaging and had good stage presence.
The company numbers were full on and delivered well with lots of attention to detail and the company itself delivered everything that you could ask of them.
All around this was a great show and will be hugely appreciated by all who are fortunate enough to see it.
Thoroughly Modern Millie, WOW! – Witham Public Hall
Guest Reviewer – Christine Davidson
WOW never fails to deliver strong performances and their latest show is no exception. Directed by Claire Carr, she presented to us a really superb, bright and excellent production. Choreographer, Claire made this show sparkle and the almost full house on the first night proves that this is a winner.
A very strong cast provided excellent performances from everyone. Set in the roaring twenties in New York young Yasmin Sharp playing Millie Dilmount; was superb in the leading role. Her musicality, singing, dancing and all round characterisation of the role, showed just how much work she had put in to become Millie. Indeed I forgot that she was an amateur, such was her professional attitude on stage. This was a really strong performance from this very talented young lady.
The two male leads were also excellent. Ben Collins as Jimmy Smith and Tom Nicoll as Trevor Graydon, both had superb singing voices and had great stage presence. They both were very confident and you could see how much they were enjoying their individual roles. I understand that Ben has been offered a three year BA Hons degree course at Emil Dale Academy and I truly hope to see Ben on the West End Stage in the future.
Another superb, strong lady on stage was Lily Downes as the evil Chinese Mrs Meers. She gave us a wonderful OTT performance. Think Pantomime evil dame and she had it in spades. With her were her two underlings, Ryan Wuyts as Ching Ho and William Hackett as Bun Foo who were very comedic and kept their Chinese accents throughout. It was fun to have the translation at stage left for us all to understand what they were singing about.
Miss Dorothy (Poppy Fisher) was beautifully played with a languid quiet air, giving us a delightful performance and with a clear singing voice. Muzzy Van Hossmere (Hattie Phillips) was the glamorous nightclub singer and actress who at the end was found out to be Jimmy’s mother. At only thirteen she gave us a confident mature performance and obviously enjoyed the role.
A wonderful over the top ginger wig for Miss Flannery (Mia Nichols) helped to make her role a really funny one, and she delivered her speeches eloquently.
The ensembles were terrific with great timing, especially the tap dancing sequences. The orchestra conducted by Musical Director Susannah Edam were excellent. The music was never too loud and allowed us to easily here the singers.
The costumes and wigs were superb. Indeed the wardrobe team and Patsy Page must be commended for the incredible amount of work involved in organising all of this.
Scenery was simple and the backstage crew were very competent. Considering it was first night and two of the crew were not there, they had it all down to a T with only a couple of little problems which were soon rectified. Lighting was good although sometimes some of the cast did not find their light, and the follow spot occasionally was a little slow but I’m sure that now that they have one show under their belts this will not happen again.
The whole show was a delight and huge congratulations to everyone involved. You all should be very proud of your achievements and I urge everyone to book a ticket and see this Thoroughly Modern show.
The Mousetrap, The Mercury Theatre
As one of Agatha Christie’s longest running and probably best known plays it is credit to the writer herself that after over 66 years it is still going strong, entertaining audiences around the UK. This tour which is fully sold out for its Colchester performances does not disappoint and it’s understandable why.
The plot outline is an old house, converted to a Guest house by young newlywed couple, opens its doors to its first guests only to be cut off by a snow storm while it is revealed a likely murderer is one of the characters in the house.
The set gave us the ideal backdrop for this murder mystery, complete with falling snow, numerous doors and lots of intricate details.
In this touring production it is promoted as Starring Gwyneth Strong, who made her name as Cassandra in ‘Only Fools and Horses’ but I think it’s fair to say with this play there are no stars because this is not written as a star vehicle for one or two performers it is in fact the play itself which is the star.
That doesn’t mean that Gwyneth Strong doesn’t deliver a strong performance as Mrs Boyle because she does portraying the irritable and cantankerous house guest to perfection, complaining about everything – I am fairly certain I have met many ladies like her throughout the years. Harriett Hare and Nick Biadon as the newlyweds Mollie and Giles Ralston gave great characterisations as their marriage unravelled with suspicion and nerves.
Major Metcalf played by John Griffiths gave an assured performance and David Alcock as Paravicini was mysterious with great flair in his delivery. Geoff Arnold as Sgt Trotter was confident with good stage presence and Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen as Miss Casewell was another solid performer.
But it was Lewis Chandler as Christopher Wren who was quirky, fun and in many ways almost stole the show with his detailed portrayal including his wonderful laugh and great mannerisms.
The whole cast worked well together giving a polished and well executed performance and if you get to see this at another venue I strongly recommend you do so and get tickets before it sells out there too!
Aladdin, IMOG – Ingatestone Musical and Operetta Group
Guest Reviewer – Michael Gray
Burns Night, and a late entry in the Panto stakes – a good traditional Aladdin from IMOG in Ingatestone Community Theatre, directed by Denyse Donnell.
This version, by prolific panto playwright Ben Crocker, has everything the audience expects, with one or two original touches, like the Kung Fu fighting Princess Jasmine [Kirsty Elliott] and Nobby the naughty Panda [Jill Kitson].
The music ranges widely through genres and eras. George Formby, briefly, our Gracie, Eartha Kitt’s I Want to be Evil for Jeremy Martin’s hammy Abanazer, a sand dance, Bruno Mars’ Count on Me for the love duet, and for the Widow, Cos I’m A Woman and Big Spender. And for the inevitable singalong, a weird piece about Chinese takeaway to the tune of a now almost forgotten Max Bygraves nonsense song. Most warmly received on opening night was that old Gang Show favourite If I Were Not Upon the Stage, very neatly choreographed with nurse, referee, ballerina and the rest [almost] perfectly synchronised. Some splendid dance routines throughout, notably I Got the Magic in Me at the end of Act One, the toilet brush backing trio behind the Peggy Lee anthem, and the big production number I’m Still Standing.
The panto vibe is sustained well, especially by two solid, highly professional performances from Aladdin and his Mum.
Mike Spall-Hancy is the principal boy [gender equality boosted elsewhere by the Chinese policemen, Sue Elliott and Emma Dyos, and Deborah Fisher’s Northern Wishee Washee]. He gives a lithe, effortlessly engaging performance, with excellent timing and an impressive talent for song and dance.
Twankey is Steve Critchell, a little bit cheeky at times, interacting confidently with the audience, picking on Steve in row E, giving his all in gold lamé for the Shirley Bassey number. Robert Brett’s Emperor has possibly the best costume, though Aladdin runs him a close second, especially in the second act. The two Genies, Ring and Lamp, are spectacularly done by Olga Rogers and Juliet Ware.
Have-a-Banana and Aladdin lost the light and the words outside the cave, and rest of Act One was gamely played out in the beam of just one lantern. And the appearance of the genies – blinders, blackout and smoke – should have been slicker. Some static dialogue, but for the most part a lively, sharp pantomime, with laundry routine – a shrinking Panda and an old-fashioned mangle – and the ghost routine – Anne Horemans’ Mummy with a disconcertingly unconventional ending – all heartily appreciated by the audience, particularly the enthusiastic Rainbows in the front rows.
And after the walk-down for the weddings, a heartfelt “Happy Chinese New Year!” to send us back from Peking to Ingatestone.
Dick Whittington – Blackmore Players
Once again as the Panto season starts to draw to a close, we were invited to visit Blackmore Players and their production of Dick Whittington.
Blackmore always delivers with great sets whether they be very minimalistic & understated or with a superb amount of detail and style and this was no exception.
The pantomime opened in the sewers and we were introduced to our baddie for the evening: King Rat – delivered by Ryan Stevens, I thought Ryan had the stature and command as a convincing baddie with a fabulous costume and opposite him was Fairy Goodwill played by Sarah Neary who charmed the audience from start to finish, she was upbeat, fun, had a great singing voice, was full of energy and was superb at audience interaction.
There were some great ensemble numbers including a tap routine and some saucy sailor dancing, but I would have liked to see more of the chorus on stage as despite this being one of the best-written pantos I have seen for a while, it was a very dialogue-heavy production and this could have been given some much-needed contrast with some more musical numbers.
Dick played by Sarah Tayler and Lucia Rawlings as Alice Fitzwarren were well paired, both sang well and delivered good performances in what are often the hardest parts in a panto to portray. However, one of the best performances of the evening was from James Hughes as Idle Jack, he had a feeling of Joe Pascale in his portrayal with some fantastic facial expressions and a natural comedy feel. I loved him.
Keith Goody as Dame Sarah relished the part complete with oversized eyelashes and crazy costumes and the comedy trio of Itchy, Scratchy and Bro were played by Hilary Martin, Thomas Hughes and Linda Raymond respectively. They were a great mix of visual and verbal comedy but for me it was Linda who reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin with her physicality and great comedic timing, who really shone in these scenes.
But in all his guises, Craig Stevens as the dotty Alderman Fitzwarren, the piratical Captain Fishear and the very camp Sultan Homipalone was one to watch. Craig makes it all look so easy with exceptional stage presence and great delivery.
Other than a rather long act one – this was a fun pantomime and the audience certainly enjoyed adding to the storyline with their own banter and shout outs which always makes it more enjoyable. Every year when I watch a Blackmore Players pantomime they just get better and better and it is clear from tonight that the youth of Blackmore are giving the older members a run for their money. I look forward to seeing what next year brings!
A Christmas Carol – Chelmsford Theatre Workshop, The Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
I always look forward to CTW production. And what is Christmas without some Charles Dickens and ‘A Christmas Carol’ – a great Christmas story.
I was a little confused at the start with the choir singing carols, they all had good voices but I would have liked it so much more if they had smiled. The lady in the wheelchair was the only one who looked like she was enjoying it while the others made it look like torture which means the audience just feel uncomfortable too.
You can’t change the storyline, so the actors have to be true to Dickens characters. This particular version of a Christmas Carol was led by three female narrators – Beverley Benham, Claire Woodward and Christine Davidson and the story was in safe hands with them. All three were strong and delivered connected the dots well.
As the title character Ebenezer Scrooge, Kevin Stemp ticked every box for me. He was the embodiment of Scrooge, angry, bitter, miserable and then excitable, joyous and repentant – he did an amazing job. Dave Hawkes as both Bob Cratchit and Mr Fezziwig embodied both characters well and gave strong and contrasting performances as did Rachel Curran as Mrs Cratchit and Mrs Fezziwig. Rachel is an accomplished actress and always delivers a quality portrayal in whatever part she takes on.
This was one of the largest casts I have witnessed in a CTW production and there were numerous good performances in the cast. Laura Bradley as the Ghost of Christmas Past was perfectly ethereal, Lewis Clarke was robustious and jovial as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Alexander Bloom was suitably dark and mysterious as the Ghost of Christmas Future.
Alan Edwards as Jacob Marley gave a solid performance However, I did feel that he was let down by his make-up which portrayed a more comical character than a returning ghost delivering a warning.
The rest of the cast did a good job taking us through Scrooges past and present, but the pace needed to move on more as it was quite slow in places. However, If you want a bit of traditional Christmas then there is no better place than the Old Court this Christmas and ‘A Christmas Carol’.
Bouncers – The Reject Theatre Company
Fast paced, slick production with bags of humour.
1st December 2018 Witham Public Hall
By Guest Reviewers Sue Rogers & Steve Rogers
Bouncers, written by John Godber in 1977, is set in a Night Club on a lively Friday night in the eighties. The play is very accessible rather than demanding on the audience. Four Actors are required to play multiple roles: Bouncers, the ‘Lads’ on the beer and out to pull, the ‘girls’ glammed up for a night on the cocktails, and may other parts. The play has a lot of comedy in it, much of which is ‘laddish’ which may not appeal to the whole audience but underlying the vulgar humour sharp observations about the drunken behaviour of people on a night out.
The four Actors are a great team ably playing each Bouncer very differently showing individual Backstories and a wide range of other familiar caricatures conjuring up memories from the clubs in the 1980’s. It was an energetic, quick fire performance by all and definitely with no time to rest.
David Slater played Lucky Eric, the more mature member of the group, who has three different monologues. So many lines for David to learn but as usual he did not disappoint. David skilfully and convincingly portrayed the serious, sober and philosophical side of his Character whilst a Bouncer and also conveyed the humour and excellent comic timing of the characters Baz, Maureen and a Buxom Swede.
Barry Hester played Judd, the younger porn-loving, light-fingered Bouncer who was keen to pick a fight. Barry played the younger Brute convincingly and still managed to make the audience feel sorry for Plain Elaine. His energetic performance of the Flamboyant Hairdresser was one of the highlights of the Play.
Kevin Richards played Les, the Bouncer with a somewhat darker violent nature keen to pick a fight with the clubs Clientele. Kevin contrasted well with the other Bouncers and ably showed his range of acting skills and comedy in the many cameo parts including Kev the Lad, Rosie and the posh Student.
Gareth Barton played Ralph, the less aggressive Bouncer described by Eric as Mr Inner Calm. He was able to show a more thoughtful and sensitive side whilst still portraying the tough exterior of a Bouncer. His adept accents added authenticity to the many characters he played and his renditions of Sexy Susie and Nobby the Swedish Postman perhaps earned him the biggest laughs of the evening.
The minimal set, lighting and cleverly chosen sound bites from the 1980’s were used to good effect to quickly transport the audience back in time and into many different locations. Costumes consist of the traditional DJ and black Bow Tie and the fact that this ‘Bouncer attire’ was completely inappropriate for most of the characters portrayed only added to the humour. The use of the added white handbags was particularly clever and made the plot relevant to the Essex audience.
Congratulations Reject Theatre Company on a fast-paced slick Productions with bags of humour. Highly recommended
Jack & the Beanstalk – The Queens Theatre, Hornchurch.
This is a charming traditional pantomime which certainly gives us all the ‘Fun of the Fair’.
Set in a fairground with a cast of nine actor/musicians and a junior chorus of 10 talented youngsters there was much to enjoy tonight with Jack and his friends.
For me, it ticked an extra box as several of the songs were from perhaps lesser known musicals that I personally love including ‘Catch Me if you Can’, ‘Big Fish ‘ and ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ so right from the start I was in my element.
The set was candy pink and in bright and cheery with great use of a gauze cloth. Act one was a bit slow to kick off but Act two definitely a much stronger act.
James William-Pattison as Jack was every boy’s hero and was perfectly paired against Elizabeth Rowe as Jill. Elizabeth gave a strong performance and had great personality. They were a great pairing.
There are two types of Dame, a man ‘being a man wearing a dress’ and the other being the female impersonator. John Barr as Dame Trott was definitely in the first category and he excelled at this. On top of this, he appears to have an amazing singing voice, from the little bits we got to hear, I certainly would like to have heard a lot more.
Claire Greenway as Pat the Cow was full of energy from start to finish. She definitely had the moo-sic in her, with lots of great moo-ves!
Hollie Cassar had great characterization in both the roles of Fortuna and her twin sister Spatula, but more impressive were her amazing vocals. She definitely had the best voice in the show.
Celia Cruwys-Finnigan and Sheldon Greenland both gave great performances in a range of cameo roles.
The baddie of the piece was Taylor Rettke as Hurricane, the Giants henchman. Personally, I felt he could have gone a little bit further with his audience interaction but nevertheless he did a good job.
However, it was Richard Emerson as Frank Furter who was just brilliant with such a strong stage presence and who delivered the strongest performance of the night for me.
The dualogue between Frank and Dotty in Act Two was a masterclass in how to delight an audience in a pantomime. Just brilliant!
In addition, the Giant costume/prop was one of the best I have seen so great kudos to the creatives for that. As with every pantomime it’s important that the company play to the audience and give them what they want from a show and this company certainly know how to please their audience. In fact, the little girl sitting next to me told me what she thought about the show. She said she loved it “when his hair fell off and the cow was very naughty, so Father Christmas might not come to her!” this is a great indication that they have got it just right.
Jack and the Beanstalk – Mercury Theatre, Colchester
This Pantomime has heralded in the beginning of Christmas for many and as our first major panto of the season we were sure as always that we would not be disappointed. Indeed from the sparkling waistcoats worn by the Front of House Staff to the fantastic proscenium arch as we entered the auditorium it was just as amazing as we expected.
As always, the set as a whole was brilliant from the dairy inset to the magical beanstalk which rose skyward capturing the imagination for all the children in the audience. There was a great choice of music this year using contemporary hits, classics such as Bohemian Rhapsody and including A Million Dreams from The Greatest Showman – which in our area of the auditorium was definitely a sing-along version!
Returning again for the Mercury Pantomime this year was Dale Superville as Day-Z the cow. Dale has the amazing ability to keep the audience in the palm of his handhoof both when getting them excited and buzzing and at the other end of the spectrum with his wonderful use of pathos. Alongside him for his fourth season was Antony Stuart-Hicks as Dotty Trott who is outstanding at keeping both adults and children entertained at different levels. He always looks stunning with some extraordinary costumes and some great gags and one liners.
We all loved the great rapport between them both, especially when you know they are going off the script but they still maintain such a high level of professionalism.
Ignatius Anthony as Fleshcreep, the Giants right hand man, was magnificently merciless, devilishly dastardly and cruelly corrupt, a great performance from him. Carli Norris as Fairy Gladys was light, bright and cheery with great warmth in her slightly eccentric characterisation making her the perfect contrast to Fleshcreep.
Craig Mather as Jack was lively and likeable, and Madeleine Lesley as Jill was both beautiful and charming but more credit to the both of them for making what could be bland roles into something far more interesting. Phil Sealey as King Nobert was jolly and bouncy and another perfect great cast member.
The Chorus were all very strong with some fabulous junior chorus members and these were particularly noticeable in the Star Wars themed scenes.
This was definitely the way to blow away the blues this Christmas and a great evenings entertainment.
The Accrington Pals, CADS – The Westcliff Theatre, Clacton
With the 100-year anniversary of the 1st World War it is clear to see why CADS chose this play to commemorate that.
‘The Accrington Pals’ is Peter Whelan’s powerful and poignant drama, based on the true story of a group of young men who, at the outbreak of the First World War, left their homes for the trenches of the Somme in what became known as the Pals’ Battalions.
The set was well executed using the streets of the Lancashire village as the backdrop for the piece and I particularly liked its construction and how it allowed the action to continually move.
All the performers worked hard throughout the play and although there were a few vocal stumbling’s, they all made a good attempt to keep within the Lancashire accent. I have to note through, that better diction would have helped the audience understand the piece as it sometimes takes a while for the audiences’ ear to become accustomed to the different tonal resonances which was evident as some audience members behind me kept asking each other what was being said!
The part of May who is the pivotal character in the plot was played by Jo Thorne, she gave a compelling performance dealing with the many sides of her emotions and showing some heartfelt regret. She was consistent throughout the play both in accent and characterisation and she was fantastic to watch. Her growing friendship with Eva played by Gabrielle Tyler was delightful. Gabrielle gave a strong performance as Eva and was an equal to Jo both in characterisation and performance. In particular her singing in Act 2 was particularly enjoyable.
Playing May’s love interest as Tom was Alex Bass. Alex is a very solid performer and was confident in his character and portrayal. I did struggle on occasion to hear some of his dialogue, so better diction would have helped him especially with the Lancashire accent which was quite broad in places but overall he understood the part and delivered it well.
Opposite Eva was Liam Kerr as Ralph. He was very likeable and charming and brought much of the humour of the piece. Being in the right age bracket for this part also made it a particularly relevant portrayal of a young man going off to war.
Charlotte Loot as Sarah, reminded me of Victoria Wood with her mannerisms and personality which was fantastic. A great delivery from her also offering some much needed light to the heaviness of the storyline.
Berthe, was played by Becky Stevens and sadly I struggled to hear a lot of her dialogue as it was a little rushed but, her mannerisms and stage presence were good, this may have only been a little stage fright and I am sure future productions will give her more opportunities to relax into a role. Arthur played by Shaun Potter and Annie played by Rosemary Sturgiss gave good performances and Jerome Adams-Hall as Reggie was also a good contribution to the cast.
However, I really liked Simon Todd as the Warrant Officer. I felt he understood the character and had excellent stage presence throughout, this was a really strong performance.
This is quite a moving piece and very fitting as part of the centenary celebrations. If you haven’t seen this production then I recommend you try to get to see the last few performances while you can. The production is running at the Westcliff Theatre, Clacton until 1st December
Les Misérables, CYGAMS – Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
When Les Misérables first opened in 1985 it received some very negative reviews from the critics, but the audiences loved it – which just goes to show that Critics and reviews are just one opinion of a show.
Watching CYGAMS perform this now classic musical tonight took me back to the many years I worked with the show during its West End run and with that in mind, I have to say that I was amazed by the vocal skills on display with tonight’s cast. There are two casts undertaking the principal roles and tonight we saw the Red Cast.
The set was simple and hugely effective allowing for height and lots of lovely pictures which was really necessary with such a large cast on stage. I have to congratulate Director Jimmy Hooper on managing such a large cast so effectively.
Playing Jean Valjean was Dan Hall. Dan clearly has some excellent vocals, however, having worked with numerous actors playing the role over the years I really would have preferred if this wasn’t a vocal copy of Colm Wilkinson but that Dan had delivered his own version, as he clearly has the vocal ability, but we should remember that for an adult actor to deliver such a large role is a challenge – so this was a great performance by him.
Playing Valjean’s nemesis as Javert was Jack Gunn. Jack also has a superb voice and this was such a mature and strong performance with great stage presence. For me, his was the performance of the night.
Abby Murphy as Fantine was another incredibly strong singer and her rendition of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ was so touching and perfectly delivered. We should remember that many of these songs have a place in the musical hall of fame and therefore to make it your own is quite a challenge but Abby certainly achieved this.
Jessie Hadley as Cosette and Ben Collins as Marius were superbly matched, both delivered strong performances and Ben’s rendition of ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ was heart-wrenching. Georgia Clements as Eponine also gave us a beautiful rendition of ‘On My Own’ and held her own amongst the many other strong performances during the evening.
It is hard sometimes to believe these are teenagers taking on these mammoth roles and iconic songs.
The majority of the comedy comes from the Thenardiers with Jack Charlesworth as Monsieur Thenardier and Millie Parsons as Madame Thenardier. Both Jack and Millie revelled in these characters giving us such fun and some great comedic timing moments.
Matt Hedges led the students as Enjolras and in fact, the students as a whole were all very strong and their versions of ‘Red & Black’ and ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’ were both very emotional pieces.
Anna Edmondson as Young Cosette sang very sweetly and Joseph Papalie as Gavroche had all the character and cockiness for the part if a little pitchy in places with his singing.
Overall this was a terrific production and the standard across the board of all those we saw tonight was exceptional. The band was a great support for the cast and I was so impressed by the levels of performance I saw from the entire company.
Huge congratulations to all of those involved on and off stage for contributing to such a first-class musical.
Haunting Julia – Queens Theatre, Hornchurch
This is one of Alan Ayckbourn’s lesser-known plays and a real departure for him as most of the laughter is because the audience nervously doesn’t know what to expect. It was first performed in Scarborough in 1994 and is a three-handed, all male play which follows the story of Joe, father to Julia who tragically committed suicide aged 19, her then boyfriend Andy and the student accommodation janitor, now psychic Ken.
Once again, the set here was fantastic, surrounded in a black box like a TV screen without a proscenium arch which really helped in focusing the attention. It depicted Julia’s student room which is now part of a public viewing room and although the set was predominantly on stage left, the action was well split between the two areas.
Playing Joe, Julia’s Father was Sam Cox. I really felt his northern bullishness and his frustration over not knowing what happened to his daughter. Many children can relate to pushy parents who ‘only want the best for their kids’ and Joe brought us the best and the worst of this persona. it was a very relatable performance.
As Julia’s ex-boyfriend Andy, Matthew Spencer gave a strong performance full of scepticism and disbelief. I particularly liked his monologue in Act 2 which revealed so much of the character and his history.
Clive Llewellyn delivered the most thought-provoking performance of the evening, I really like his wide-eyed, Jamaican Ken, often confused or misunderstood but trying to explain the unexplainable and keeping a sense of calm throughout.
I did feel some of the tension was missing in the first half which seemed a little long-winded and didn’t really go anywhere, which I suspect is down more to the play itself than the direction or performers but Act 2 made up for it with far more drama and intensity.
This production was well cast and gave a great evening’s entertainment, with some superb surprises along the way. If you like suspense drama then this is definately one for you.
The Pride – CTW, Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
This was the first time I had seen this play by Alexi Kaye Campbell and although I knew a little about the content, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
On entering the auditorium I was immediately struck by the minimalist set with black walls. I always look forward to the sets at CTW as the attention to detail on their sets is first class, however, although this was a very basic set it was the perfect backdrop to what proved to be a powerful performance and very strong production.
With only 4 actors in the cast and split between 2 time periods, one set residing in the 1950s, and one set in the present day. We see during the play, the action move between the two eras, tracking developments between the two sets of characters.
Pre-1967, any sort of consensual sex between male adults even in private meant they could be sent to prison for the offence of great indecency, which meant they lived with the fear of prosecution.
So, our first characters in the 1950’s are Philip and his wife Sylvia, who brings home a work colleague, Oliver. There is an immediate attraction between Oliver and Philip which we see progress throughout the duration of their story. In the modern day story, Gay Couple Philip and Oliver have split up – Philip leaving Oliver for his promiscuous sexual activities outside of their relationship and Oliver’s turns to his close friend and emotional rock, Sylvia.
In both, times Oliver was played by Lewis Schaefer. Lewis gave a great performance and I particularly felt he shone in the more contemporary character struggling with so many issues with his relationships and sexual addictions.
Sally Rawlins as Sylvia was strong in both her eras. I particularly thought her monologue on the park bench which was exceptional and gave us a beautiful insight into her plight and the need for her husband to be happy even at her own pain and loss. By contrast, her frustration at being an emotional crutch for Oliver in the modern era was perfectly balanced and well played.
I thought Chris Green in his variety of roles was fabulous. His Nazi, the doctor, the golfer and his scene changes complete with side looks and fluff picking made it all more interesting.
However, it was Max Taylor Saunders as Philip, who really struck me with his intense portrayal of both characters. This was a masterclass on embodying a character and delivering two contrasting performances.
The play itself was a great production, and if you are not easily offended by language or action, then I would strongly suggest you go and see this as it hits the mark with such a powerful storyline and it reminds us how far the LGBT movement has come and is still fighting for its place in some instances.
Cinderella the Musical – WAOS, Witham Public Hall
This is not a common show, in fact, it is one that is hardly ever done and not very well known, despite it coming from the musical icons – Rodgers and Hammerstein.
This was such a refreshing change for the normal round of musicals and so well presented by Witham Amateur Operatic Society. We all know the story of Cinderella and this enchanting version does not disappoint.
Cinderella was played beautifully by Aimee Hart. Aimee embodied the demure, kind and downtrodden scullery maid but with a natural air of beauty and a voice that matched her looks. She was everything that every little girl imagines Cinderella to be and was perfectly matched against her handsome Prince Charming, Danni Carr. Danni also sang beautifully and was the regal prince with a heart. They looked great together and were both just ‘charming’!
Tracey Hackett as Queen Constantine and Tom Whelan as King Maximillian worked well together as Charming’s parents and both looked very regal in their respective roles.
Darryl Warnaar as Lionel, the Princes Steward was a strong and consistent performer and although new to the society looked very comfortable on the stage.
As her Stepmother and Cinderella’s Stepsisters, Grace and Joy, were Constance Lawton, Rhianna Howard and Hatty Gribben respectively. I relly liked all these performances – giving so much comedy and fun throughout the show. Rhianna and Hatty bounced off each other so well and their characters were spot on – I particularly liked their duet – the Stepsisters Lament.
Constance as the Stepmother really stood out with her magnificent stage presence. She commanded the stage and was a joy to watch.
Filling the magic shoes of the Fairy Godmother was Emma Loring. Emma really shone vocally in this part – she was sassy and funky and like a blonde bombshell, she really sparkled whilst on stage. This was a great opportunity to show off her vocal talents.
There was a lot to like about this show – the live scene changes, the amazing costumes, the way the cast were used by Director, Claire Carr and the lighting by Nigel Northfield.
My only slightly negative point was on occasions the diction wasn’t quite clear enough and with a show which isn’t so well known this is imperative but overall, this was a fresh and interesting production with a strong orchestra led by Thomas Duchan, so there was something for everyone.
Huge congratulations to the cast, production team and the crew on such an enjoyable production.
Boeing, Boeing – The Reject Theatre Company – The Headgate Theatre
‘Boeing Boeing’ is a farce by French writer Marc Camoletti which was adapted by Beverley Cross and first performed in the UK at The Apollo Theatre, London in 1962.
It was listed in 1991 as the most performed French play throughout the world in the Guinness Book of Records and having watched it tonight it is obvious why. There is something quite impressive about a good farce which charges through at a great pace with more and more complicated scenarios as the storyline progresses and ‘Boeing, Boeing’ certainly delivers this.
Playing the Lothario with 3 fiancés – Bernard is David Slater. David has vast experience and is able to deliver the calm and controlled Bernard until his world starts to crumble as all three air stewardesses are at his apartment together due to changes in their flight schedules.
By contrast Barry Hester, as his old Oxford chum Robert is full of boundless energy charging around the stage and has a 1000 facial expressions to boot. Barry has expert comedic timing and gives a great interpretation of a ‘fish out of water’ in Bernard’s crazy lifestyle. Barry is a joy to watch, even when things don’t go entirely to plan – a few lost lines and a faulty door handle but nothing fazes Barry when he is in full flight.
Bernard’s other partner in crime is Bertha his housekeeper/maid played by Diana Easton. Diana was perfect as the moaning maid and she delivered a very dry and dour character with great ease. She has some terrific one-liners and gives us a lot of the laughs in the show.
It is the constant photograph changing, the musical bedrooms and doors and the knowledge from the audience that they are sure they know what disaster will come next which make this a true comedic romp.
The three air stewardesses were all well cast. Christie Hooper as Gloria the TWA girl had all the brashness and character required in this role and certainly fitted the idea of a 1960’s air stewardess to a tee.
Next came Karen Kelleher as Gabriella, Miss Air Italia with an impressive accent and some real Mediterranean attitude but it was Alison Hartley as Gretchen, Miss Luthhansa whole almost stole the show with her larger than life stereotypical German aggression and was very funny, and just a little bit frightening! Her control over Robert made it all the better.
Once again, The Reject Theatre Company delivered a strong production, which I always enjoy as there are always new faces in each cast which makes it all the more interesting to watch.
There were so many laughs in this, and it delivered as a true farce should with some ridiculous scenarios and as with all farce the humour relies on precision entrances and exits and the three stewardesses narrowly miss each other as they enter and depart the apartment – in this respect this production by the Reject Theatre Company was a triumph. Huge congratulations to all.
Once – Queens Theatre, Hornchurch
Once first appeared on stage on Broadway in 2012 where it won numerous Tony awards so this is a relatively, new musical which was based on the 2007 film of the same name.
I had heard the soundtrack previously but hadn’t managed to see it during its West End run and to be honest I wasn’t blown away by the score.
However, I have to say tonight completely changed my opinion of the piece. The set representing a Dublin pub had lots of details and as we entered the auditorium we were pleasantly serenaded by the cast in a typical Irish manner – a really upbeat start to the evening.
Actor/Musicians are very much in favour these days and sometimes you feel they are there for the novelty rather than adding to the production, but you couldn’t say this about Once. I loved all mixes of the performers and instruments – this was a perfect dynamic.
Daniel Healy as Guy had huge appeal as a performer and allowed us to see his transition over the few days of the story. I liked the rawness of his delivery which allowed us to understand the character better and emote with him. Emma Lucia as Girl, I thought gave such energy to the part without ever looking like she was putting any effort in. In fact, she had a calmness about her portrayal which was enchanting.
By contrast Sean Kingsley as Billy was fun, exuberant and gave us some great humour and lighter moments in the show. I thought his lead in the acapella number was also quite beautiful. There were some other lovely moments from Samuel Martin as the Bank Manager with what felt like ‘one of those’ X-Factor auditions and some great sparring with Sean Kingsley in Act 2. Lloyd Gorman as Svec and James William-Pattison as Andrej also gave us some great light relief with or without trousers!
I found the Czech song at the Girls house share very amusing and thought this was a really fun number – I also really liked the Czech subtitles – it was the little things that made this work so well.
I have to say I often found myself drawn to Kate Robson-Stuart both in her energetic Violin playing and something about her stance and moves which had all the markings of a dancer on the prowl. The whole cast were very strong with no weak points, but my only comment is I would have liked them to use the Pub set a little more as I felt it was a fantastic set which I felt was under used.
This show did pull at my heart strings and I was almost welling up – almost! I can’t say my thoughts on the music has changed, I still found it all ‘a bit the same’ but it worked really well in the context of the show.
I know the audiences will love this show for the storyline alone and as a whole production it is one which will deliver and I recommend if you haven’t managed to see it at The New Wolsey or The Queens Theatre, then get tickets because I don’t think you will be disappointed.
Moll Flanders – Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Entering the world of Daniel Defoe was certainly a fascinating and exciting one tonight at the Mercury Theatre. On entering the auditorium, we saw a set which was just beautiful – the attention to detail outstanding using the entire stage area without any tabs allowing us to see through to the back walls and the whole set was dressed with buckets, pots and pans, candelabras, rope and all sorts of other items. A truly stunning set!
The pre-show entertainment was a perfect introduction to the main production and it was delightful to see such a strong cast of musician/actors on stage. From the same Director and Musical Director as ‘Pieces of String’, this show was fascinating, fun and full of so many different styles of music and it took modern references into a time past. I loved it! Everything about this direction was phenomenal.
I am a huge musical theatre lover and I have seen the acclaimed ‘Hamilton’ in the West End and while I appreciated that production for what it was, I actually probably enjoyed this as a whole production far more. The use of the different levels of the set kept the action moving along with some inventive lighting.
This was a world premiere of ‘Moll Flanders’ and I really appreciated the fact that this entire show broke through the ‘fourth wall’ and included the audience in a style similar to pantomime but with a different twist.
A wide range of music from modern to gospel added to the story and with a cast of just 9 they were all challenged to play numerous roles, instruments and characters and they were all spot on.
Bill Champion as Daniel Defoe was perfectly cast with just the right amount of sarcasm and pathos to lead us through this narrative. Taking the named role as Moll Flanders was Eva-Jane Willis. She was strong and sassy but also had an emotional side which gave us a wonderfully rounded character.
Annie Wensak gave us some great characterisations throughout in her many guises as mother and we particularly liked Alan Vicary in his many roles – often applauded and appreciated by the cast itself – what great fun.
The two glamourous ladies and violin players in the cast were Victoria Hamnett and Hanna Khogali who both delivered a wide range of different parts and some great vocals. Dan Bottomley, Peter Manchester and Mark Peachey were the remaining cast members all who delivered such a wide diversity of parts, some great humour and added further dimensions to the cast. All should be commended.
In fact, I am struggling to put into words how much we enjoyed tonight’s production. I strongly recommend that if you have the opportunity to see this show before it closes on the 13th October – you go! It was a great evening’s entertainment and I challenge anyone who sees it not to enjoy it from start to finish.
Joseph & his Technicolour Dreamcoat – Springers & Offspringers, The Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
For this show Springers decided to combine it with their youth group Off-Springers as a joint production. I was honoured to be invited to see this as a press preview, so it was a slightly different atmosphere to a normal production where there would be an audience present.
From the moment the curtain was raised we were wowed with probably one of the most interesting and unusual sets I have seen in a while. Comprising over 100 LED screens and several levels of decking it was such a great backing to the show. The star effect gave an amazing start for the production. Huge congratulations to the crew and technical teams regarding this.
Joseph was known on the professional tour and in London for being a vehicle for a TV star or celebrity like Jason Donovan, Philip Schofield and Lee Mead. However, Springers had their own star in the shape of Ben Miller. With a gentle air of innocence working up to a stronger role as Pharoah’s number two. Ben not only looked the part but sang it perfectly. However, this was not a one man show, as Ben had a great cast around him but when we talk about stars on stage he shared the limelight with Alexandra Phillips as the narrator.
What can I say about Alexandra’s performance other than she is charming, delightful to watch with a strong stage presence, she has a great interaction with the junior chorus and a voice that is pure heaven. She was certainly the glue that held it all together.
The brothers all worked well together and their vocals as a group were strong and there were some great cameos amongst them. I particularly liked Mat Smith as Reuben singing ‘One More Angel in Heaven’ and huge praise to the amazing vocals of Sophie-Anne Chaplin who sang the female solo in this, I wish she was named in the programme as it was just beautiful. Matt Scott as Gad gave us a lovely homage to ‘Allo Allo’ with his rendition of ‘Those Canaan Days’ complete with the accents and lots of humour while Ben McLaren took us to the Caribbean on a banana boat with his fun-loving rendition of ‘Benjamin’s Calypso’ complete with his limbo moves and crazy reggae dancing.
I liked the Potiphar set and scene and especially the 3 male servants. Gareth Locke as Potiphar had the right air of menace and Nic Evans as Potiphar wife gave a real dominatrix performance as the Egyptian cougar, however, a little more glamourous Egyptian makeup would have added to the character.
I also liked the cameos from Mark Rowell and Garry Ormes as the Butler and Baker respectively. There was some creative and interesting choreography throughout, the only weak point being the hoe-down which looked a little messy and under-rehearsed, but I am sure this will come together at the next performance.
There were also some issue with sight lines. In the Civic which is a very shallow rake there were some problems seeing the principals on the centre rostra when the company were in front of them, so we had some occasional disembodied voices – lovely as they were.
I have to commend the youth choir who are on stage throughout the entire production. For most children, this will be the longest they will ever have to sit still and maintain their concentration which is remarkable as many adults can’t manage that. Yes, there were a few distracted individuals but on the whole they did an amazing job and were a credit to the society, I just have one word to say to them – SMILE! and the audience will smile back at you.
Act 2 saw us go to Pharaoh’s pyramid and once again the set here was stunning. Ian Pavelin as Pharaoh was the hip swivelling King, clad in Elvis whites who made a huge impact with his number. This made me smile so much and I know he will be a big hit with the ladies in the audience.
There were so many fabulous moments throughout the show including Camilla the Camel – a personal favourite of mine who ‘almost’ stole the show. A few more smiles from the adult company too would be an added bonus but with an audience, I am sure this will all change.
This show has a phenomenal set, a great orchestra under the baton of Ian Myers, a strong cast and some really good costumes, this is an all-round feel-good show which I know all the audiences this week will thoroughly enjoy.
‘A Bunch of Amateurs’, Chelmsford Theatre Workshop – The Old Court Theatre.
By Guest Reviewers Sue Rogers & Steve Rogers
A play about a fading Hollywood Star taking part in an Amateur production of King Lear to save a local Theatre.
What a great choice of script.‘A Bunch of Amateurs’ is a terrific comedy packed with great comic dialogue and a plot of plenty of twists and turns including controversy, scandal, betrayal, and a visit to A&E, all while trying to rehearse for a production of King Lear! A very tall order to convey convincingly with So many lines to learn and such diverse characters to play by a small Cast but We were gripped from the first scene. There were no signs of first night nerves here.
Our Congratulations go to the whole team. We are always intrigued to see the inventive ways Chelmsford Theatre Workshop find to utilise their small space and this was no exception. This was a complex plot with many necessary Scene changes. The Set was very effective and fitted together like a jigsaw and it was evident that the Crew had worked hard to make the scene changes look so effortless and slick. The choices of music for the scene changes were clever, witty and worked very well.
Hats off to the Directors Rob Whitfield and Katherine Tokley for their excellent casting and Direction. Such attention to detail. The Cast were strong and worked together so well.
Mark Sutton’s portrayal of the Hollywood Star, Jefferson Steel was convincing. He was appropriately brash and ego-centric at the start and showed a gradual mellowing as the Play progressed. His American accent was excellent.
Sylvia Lanz as Dorothy Nettle, the Director was the Glue that kept the play together and kept the pace. She was the perfect antidote and calming influence on all the other bold characters. Her comic timing was exceptional and she was able to show many aspects to her character as the play progressed.
Charlotte Norburn as Jessica Steel, Jefferson’s daughter. Another fantastic American accent. Great Characterisations showing Teenage angst and great chemistry with her Dad and Dorothy but in entirely different ways.
Christine Davidson is delightful as Mary Plunket who is in awe of Jefferson and cannot help but fawn all over him in a rather ditsy but endearing way. Christine had excellent comic timing.
Martin Robinson played Nigel Newbury an outstanding ego-centric Lovey. His characterisation and comic timing was spot on and his diction was so clear.
Tom Tull’s portrayal of Denis Dobbins the Handyman come Thespian showed excellent characterisation and comic timing and with the witty script and clever props kept the laughs coming. It was great to see a completely different side to his character at the end when reciting Shakespeare.
Jacqui Newman as Lauren Bell the trophy wife of the Theatre Sponsor showed good versatility in the different characters she played. Both funny and believable.
Sue Tokley, Robin Winder, Rob Whitfield, Katherine Tokely as Journalists provided tension and atmosphere to the performance.
All the cast delivered quotes from King Lear in a very accomplished way showing great acting skill and direction. Another great dimension to each performance.
Congratulations to all involved. Thank you for a wonderful evening. If you love a laugh and Shakespeare, this is the play for you. Highly Recommended.
The Ghost Train, Blackmore Players – Blackmore Village Hall
I have seen several productions at Blackmore and I always look forward to seeing what they do next. On arrival, we were greeted well and entering the hall once again the set was great – understated and very reminiscent of a village waiting room with great attention to detail. Huge congratulations to the set construction team.
I had not seen this play before although strangely enough I knew the storyline. Set in the 1920’s it offers lots of possibilities for a cast.
We first met Andrew Raymond as Richard Winthrop and Hilary Martin as Elsie Winthrop the arguing couple looking to split up. Not knowing the play, I wasn’t sure if Richard is from a well-to-do-family or has married into money – from Andrew’s performance I felt it was the latter, but I may be mistaken. Both he and Hilary were well cast and gave us some solid performances.
Next, we met Charles Murdock played by Matthew Pearson and his new wife Peggy played by Rebecca Smith. I really like this pairing and felt they were very believable and for me, Matthew was one of the strongest and most consistent performers on the stage.
Linda Raymond as Miss Bourne was scatty, eccentric and highly amusing as the spinster with parrot in tow! Connor Gardner played Teddy Deakin the ‘Bertie Wooster’ type character with who portrayed a typical cad of the era and then gave us his hidden side in Act 3. I felt he could be a little more Bertie and on occasion, his diction was not as clear as I would have liked. However, he delivered a good performance which he should be proud of.
Alf Curry as Saul Hodkin had a great accent and looked calm and comfortable on stage. I really enjoyed his portrayal and found it very convincing. Ian Russell as Julian (which I understand was originally Julia!) played the troubled individual who had ‘allegedly’ seen the train in the past and it had a traumatic effect on him. I am not sure whether his portrayal was supposed to be so physical or whether this was the Director’s vision, but I found the use of a hand move on every word unnecessary and it became a little irritating. I really felt it distracted from his overall performance as he had great facial expressions and this for me would have been enough to convey the character.
Steve Drinkall as Herbert Price and Keith Goody as John Sterling both looked great in their characters. In fact, I thought this was probably the best thing I have seen Keith do, as he was calm and controlled but had an underlying menace about him. I hope to see him do more like this in the future.
Overall, I felt this production was a little under rehearsed and on several occasions the cast looked unsure or confused, this was highlighted by the fact that the prompt was very busy tonight.
However, while this may sound like a harsh critique, I actually really enjoyed the performance this evening and thought there were some superb moments from all the cast members. Just remember that dThis is a great play and had some real thriller moments. All the cast were well suited to their roles and with a little more time and I felt this would have delivered on every level.
I really look forward to their next production the Pantomime – Dick Whittington.
Top Hat, CAODS – Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
From the very start when the orchestra began you had a feeling this was going to be a really enjoyable evening of theatre.
This great piece of Musical Comedy is the perfect vehicle for amateur societies offering lots of musical numbers, some exciting dance opportunities and some wonderful characters to portray and CAODS relished it and certainly delivered a superb production.
However, it also brings challenges with a male triple threat lead required, a full tapping chorus and some serious set and costume changes.
Mitchell Lathbury as male lead Jerry Travers was definitely the needed triple threat and had a great singing voice and some twinkle toes to tap his way through the show and he was perfectly partnered with Katie Doran as Dale Tremont. Katie looked stunning and had a strong stage presence throughout. Their dance numbers together had all the Fred and Ginger signature moves and were delivered with great finesse.
David Slater was in his element as Horace Hardwick, staying in character throughout and delivering some great comedy moments – a fine performance from him in this role.
However, it was Simon Bristoe as Alberto Beddini who stole the show with his comedic walk, his crazy Italian accent and his larger than life characterisation. There was only one downside that in his number ‘Latins Know How’ the accent was so strong it was very difficult to hear what he was singing. Other audience members around us were whispering to each other asking what he was saying but they were still laughing constantly at his antics. Simon is an exceptional performer, and this was no exception.
Robyn Gowers as Horace’s wife Madge only appears in Act 2 but we certainly knew she was there. Robyn was strong and sassy and also delivered some great comic moments.
The choreography throughout the show was some of the best I have seen from an amateur society recently and huge commendation to Sally Warrington the Director and Choreographer for this. As an opening night there were some issues – the initial set changes were very slow, but this is understandable given the huge and cumbersome set, I am sure this will improve throughout the week and there were some obvious sound issues with microphones but by contrast, the costumes looked great and added lots of glamour and glitz to the production.
This was a production I strongly recommend anyone to see and huge congratulations to all the cast and those involved.
Wizard of Oz , CO2 – Mercury Theatre, Colchester
When you think of Wizard of Oz you often think of Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr. So, these are big shoes for the young cast of CO2 to fil.
But they did! Tonight I saw Isabelle Robinson as one of the alternate Dorothy’s and Wow how well did she fill Judy’s shoes. She has amazing vocals and such a strong stage presence. She coped with Toto, played by Meerla without any concerns and still gave us a complete performance. It’s often said dealing with ‘kids and animals’ on stage is a fools errand but this show certainly challenged that premise.
Fortunately, she was matched with a superb team of principals with Corey Moore as Scarecrow, Josh Tarrier as Tinman and Alex Terry as Lion.
Corey was flexible, dependable and incredible to watch throughout the show and Josh as Tinman stayed in character throughout especially with his walk and personality. Both young men were a delight to watch and I am convinced they are both big stars of the future.
Alex did a great job as the Lion but I did feel he could have taken the character of Lion a little further, making him a little larger than life, especially as he has some of the best lines in the show, which were on occasion under delivered.
Loran Perrin was delightful as Glinda and really sang well and both Bethany Adamson as Aunt Em and Jake Daniels and Uncle Henry gave strong performance as these older characters, who are sometimes difficult for youngsters to deliver but both Bethany and Jake were solid in their characters and very believable.
Sophie Twohey as Miss Gulch/Witch of the West had huge potential but somehow her character never really seemed to quite hit the mark. Sadly, a lot of the dialogue was shouted with bad diction which meant it was often difficult to hear her and understand what she was saying.
The lighting was magnificent and the effects it added were a great addition to the whole along with some superb props – which are often over looked. The saddest part of the evening for me and apparently the audience sitting around us was the long black out/scene changes. I understand the technical challenges in big shows like this, but it felt like they were waiting for the orchestral interludes to finish before taking the lights up rather than keeping the action moving. The orchestra under the baton of Geoff Osbourne was spot on and Adam Woodhouse, the Director did a great job with this often-dated show.
I have to say, however – there was an undoubted star of the show tonight and that was Meerla, the 3 year old Cairn Terrier playing Toto. Her biography in the programme describes her as a Diva – and as delightful as she was – she was a complete Diva and seemed to know exactly how to steal the limelight and have the audience eating out of the palm of her hand. What a star!
Huge congratulations on CO2 on delivering another fresh and vibrant show.
Abigail’s Party – Queens Theatre, Hornchurch
Abigail’s Party although first performed in 1977 has many of the trademarks of a contemporary piece of theatre. The seventies shades of brown set at the Queens Theatre, complete with a lava lamp and G-Plan style furniture took you right into the heart of the period from the start.
As the piece comes together, we witness five unlikely neighbours having drinks together, (complete with pineapple and cheese on sticks) and see the unravelling of their relationships. As the booze pours faster and the lips get looser, the flirting becomes more outrageous.
Melanie Gutteridge as saucy Beverley leads this cast as she bosses her guests into drink and cigarettes, gyrating around the stage like a viper about to strike, as she openly flirts with neighbour Tony in front of the assembled guests. While in contrast she snipes at and puts down her husband Laurence, who was superbly played by Christopher Staines.
Christopher got every nuance of a man on the edge of a breakdown while he clumsily attempts social interaction by fumbling through highbrow topics and discussions on art. There was a certain homage to John Cleese in many of his mannerisms and his frustrations were clearly evident as he tries to address the demands of his wife and his job, both with little success.
Tony played by Liam Bergin, looked like he had literally time travelled back from the era in question, with his long locks and beige suit. His monosyllabic dialogue matched with some great facial expressions told us a so much of the newlywed’s marriage and his life with Angela, played by Amy Downham. Amy was like the Duracell bunny on heat, as she bounced and chirped around the stage delivering some great one-liners, with little restraint or tact. She was a very agreeable and eager character who came into her own at the end of the second act when her work side came to the fore.
By contrast to these 4 characters, Susie Emmett as Sue, the housewife whose architect husband left her for a younger woman and whose presence at the soiree is due to her daughter Abigail holding a party with her teenage friends at home. Susie was restrained and dignified and perfectly delivered a character who is too polite to say no, so is bullied and coaxed by the larger than life characters until the crux of the drama.
The characters all came across very well delivering the build-up to the story with fast-paced action and dialogue, all adding to overall, a very enjoyable evening and a play that is still timeless but could so easily be happening in a living room near you!
Babe, The Sheep Pig
by Guest reveiwer Sarah Miles
The Mercury Theatre is once again offering a summer production aimed at children and families. Babe, The Sheep Pig; a novel written by Dick King-Smith and later adapted into a 1995 film, is this summer’s offering.
This play adaptation is by legendary children’s dramatist David Wood and what an excellent choice it is.
From the outset, the stage curtains are open and so the children are already intrigued by what they see. The set gives an almost cartoon-like image of the farm with its bright colours with an angled farmhouse surrounded by fluffy clouds and tall trees. It is absolutely delightful and captivating to look at.
Babe (previously of Betty Blue Eyes fame), the cute orphan pig is puppeteered expertly by Jonathan Cobb. His movements are flawless and he works really hard to give Babe real character, and he absolutely succeeds.
Fly the dog, played by Jessica Dyas is excellent as the motherly figure to Babe and the other animals and has real warmth to her performance. Farmer Hoggett and his wife played by Gareth Clarke and Heather Phoenix are the main ‘humans’ in the play and their characters have some excellent comic moments throughout.
The remaining four cast members Ebony Feare, Rachel Hammond, James Peake and Joseph Tweedle played the remaining characters and animals of the farm. All of the various animals were played to absolute perfection, the sheep and the cockerel being particular favourites.
In addition to the cast playing the characters, they also played various instruments and sung throughout the play. It was a great addition to have the instruments there on the stage for the young audience members to see. The sheer hard work of this cast each performance is outstanding.
There are a few scenes in the play that have a little bit of a darker theme that we were warned about on entrance to the auditorium. I would suggest that very young children might find a couple of these scenes a little bit scary. At the end of the play, the audience is invited up onto the stage to meet Babe and the other characters, which is a really nice touch. The children seemed to thoroughly enjoy seeing the characters up close.
Director Katie Posner has done an excellent job of bringing this farm to life. This is a heart-warming family show with a few laughs and tears thrown in for good measure. An absolute must-see for families this summer!
Wish List – Chelmsford Theatre Workshop, Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
What a thought-provoking play this was?
Tamsin although barely a teenager herself, following the death of her mother, is left with the mammoth task of caring for her younger brother who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and who seldom leaves the bathroom and has issues with his use of hair gel. She must work a 10-hour shift in a packing warehouse to provide for them both and deal with the labyrinth of a benefits system that mistakenly says he is fit for work.
This play by Katherine Soper won the 2015 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting and is a challenging 4 hander which relies heavily on making the characters recognisable to us all.
Anastasia Spence as Tamsin gave a mature performance showing us the anxiety-ridden girl trying to cope while being ‘boxed’ in by all her responsibilities. She gave a consummate and emotional performance and certainly made the character very relatable.
Max Taylor Saunders as Luke her work colleague and friend was thoroughly believable to watch as the temporary worker passing time prior to going to college and trying to give Tamsin the encouragement to make more of herself. Max had great interaction with Anastasia which made the story all the more emotional.
Meg Roswell as Petra the warehouse lead had a difficult role as she comes across as the aggressor who you think is out to penalise Tamsin but we realise throughout the play that she is simply doing her job to maintain her position.
However, it was Alexander Bloom who intrigued me the most. His portrayal of Dean, complete with tapping, ‘rituals’ and OCD behaviour was fascinating to watch. Every facial expression he gave told a story and like Tamsin, at times I could feel her frustration but also her need to protect him. This was a detailed and thorough performance and great credit to Alexander for submerging himself completely in the role.
This was a strong production and great credit to the team on delivering such a challenging play especially in today’s society where mental illness is such a hot topic.
Oliver!–Kyds youth drama society, Tiptree
By Guest Reviewer Sarah Miles
Oliver! is a musical based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist with music and lyrics written by Lionel Bart. First opened in the West End in 1960, it has gone on to have multiple productions throughout the world since then, not forgetting the film version from 1968. Oliver! is a musical that even non-musical lovers know!
Oliver! is alarge undertaking for any theatre company let alone a youth one but KYDS managed to execute it excellently. From the opening of ‘Food, Glorious Food’, the performers showed confidence and enthusiasm that continued throughout the show.
Beau Hens performed the titular role. He had a lovely singing voice and ‘Where is Love’ stood out as a particular tender moment. He was well supported by Tom Nicoll as Fagin. Tom’s confidence shone through and had a real command of the stage. Lola Emson beautifully performed the role of Nancy. She really brought Nancy to life and demonstrated some great acting through song in As Long As He Needs Me.
Other notable performances were Matthew Greed as Mr. Sowerberry, Ben Collins as Mr. Bumble and Charlie Werner as The Artful Dodger. This is a large company show and every performer gave a solid performance.
The set was simple yet effective and the use of different levels gave it real depth. The use of the street lamps to set the scene really worked and the transformation into Fagin’s Den was very clever.
It was great to have a band, led by Leah Cave, to support the performers and they were very good. There were some occasions where they seemed a little loud and some of the dialogue was missed but this may have been to some issues there seemed to be with some of the mics.
The choreography was effective and the performers danced well. It looked well rehearsed and added to the overall show, particularly in ‘I’d Do Anything’, which was excellent. The only weak area was really the lack of projection and gabbled dialogue of some performers. It was unfortunate that some dialogue was missed due to this.
Well done to the Director, Bradley Cole and the whole team on producing an excellent show. Overall, the performers should be exceedingly proud of themselves on what they have achieved.
The Seven Deadly Sins – Colchester Operatic Society, The Headgate Theatre
Colchester Operatic Society brought us with their concert this year the Seven Deadly Sins. This was a very clever concept and gave the opportunity for a wide range of music styles and numbers to be performed.
Concerts offer the opportunity for members to gain experience and hone their talents and this was no exception with lots of new faces in this particular concert.
The first Sin we visited was Gluttony, Opening the show with the story of Pandora Box Shannon Hannah kept this moving with her interaction throughout and I liked her version of “I Want it Now” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, however for me the show really started to come alive in Envy with “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” from The Lion King performed with such energy and enthusiasm by Steve Woodward, Diane Emberton, Sarah Miles and the Company, followed by the very challenging “Satisfied” from Hamilton performed by Sarah Miles. Next we ventured into Lust and I particularly liked some light humour from Fiona Bocking with “I Can’t Say No” from Oklahoma, “ Be Italian” from Nine Performed by Amanda Powel and the ladies and finishing off the first act with the second number of the evening from Hamilton- “Say No to This” which was beautifully executed by Thomas Pleasant, Rachel Phillipo-Green, Emma Dagleish and David Chilton.
Act Two started with Greed and David Chilton gave a very strong performance with “American Dream” from Miss Saigon, followed by another much needed comedic moment from Joe Fusi and Nicola Entwistle with “Money Money” from Cabaret. Peter Jones also gave a very assured performance as Professor Callahan in “Blood in the Water” from Legally Blonde.
As we moved into Sloth one of the highlights of the evening for me was Steve Woodward’s rendition of “The Importance of Being Idle” by Oasis. Pride brought us an energetic and fun rendition of “Show Off” from the Drowsy Chaperone by Natasha Palmer, followed by another lighter moment of “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” performed very well by Joe Fusi and Sarah Miles. The final Sin, Wrath started off extremely strongly with the “Tonight Quintet” from West Side Story and I was particularly impressed with Becky Briggs both as Maria in the Quintet and in her performance of “No Good Deed” from Wicked. Barbara Ryan gave us the final solo of the evening with “Leave You” from Follies and this showed Barbara’s experience, which shone through.
With so many soloists on stage it is often difficult to single out and review every performer but there were other commendable performances throughout the evening from Suki Fusi, Gabriella Skinner, Katie Cutmore and Maeve Borges and to be honest this was not a show of individuals because without the whole company, many numbers could have been left a little flat.
This was their opening night and there were a few pitchy notes and it was noticeable some performers stumbled over lyrics and some were obviously struggling to remember the words at all in certain numbers, but in general, it was the company singing numbers that made this work with some lovely harmonies and great choice of musical songs. The simple open set with the use of different colours to establish the different sins was a great touch and in many cases, the transformation from one to the other was done with great panache.
I look forward to seeing many of these faces in the next Colchester Operatic Society Production.
Made in Dagenham – Springers, Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
By Guest Reviewer – Sarah Miles
Made in Dagenham is based on the true story of Rita O’Grady who alongside her fellow Ford workmates set out to achieve equal pay for women in 1968. First a film in 2010 and since made into a musical; this show’s narrative is seemingly and disappointingly still relevant today.
Springer’s production at the Civic was led by Amy Serin, playing the feisty Rita. The character was well portrayed by Amy showing the contrast between working mother and women’s rights campaigner and the sacrifices she makes. She gives a heartfelt performance throughout and the audience really rooted for her.
Her husband Eddie, played by Ian Pavelin was excellent in his characterisation of a typical working man who found himself doing a ‘woman’s job’ in the absence of Rita. Ian’s song ‘The Letter’ in act 2 was emotionally and well performed and was a real highlight in the show. Their children Graham and Sharon played by Haydn Hemmings and Lily Beadel respectively were excellent and completed the family unit.
Rita’s Ford workmates showed real camaraderie and had some great comic moments. Deborah Anderson as Beryl took to the role with relative ease offering some lighter moments against a serious backdrop. Catherine Gregory gave a touching performance as Connie and performed ‘Same Old Story’ with great aplomb. The character of Barbara Castle was played convincingly well by Helen Quigley.
Overwhelmingly this is female-led although there were a few fun comic performances by the men throughout the show. The sexist quips uttered by the male characters helped to really emphasise the plight of the women and the men seemingly became the butt of the jokes throughout the show. Anver Anderson had much of the comedy as Harold Wilson and Michael Mundell-Poole also gave a moving performance as Monty, struggling between being one of the men and supporting the girls.
There was some great singing by the company and the male and female ensemble numbers were performed with great confidence and energy. Great diction through these songs, which can be difficult when singing in an accent that drops the consonants.
There were some nice touches of choreography although some of the staging of musical numbers felt a little repetitive with lots of straight lines.
The set was seemingly huge and perhaps a little too much for the Civic stage. Some of the set was unnecessary and due to the number of short scenes, the scene changes were on occasion a little clunky and long making a running time of close to 3 hours but credit to the crew for working like trojans to make the best of what they had to work with.
It was a shame that some of the mic cues were late and therefore some dialogue was missed. Overall the sound was okay but often sounded slightly cloudy. There was generally a good balance with the band in the musical numbers. The band had a great sound and really brought the powerful and uplifting songs to life and was well led by musical director Ian Myers.
Overall, the production was good and well performed. Congratulations to all involved.
Ladies Day – Chelmsford Theatre Workshop, Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
Set to the soundtrack of Tony Christie’s music this wonderful play was an absolute treat tonight.
The four ladies and two gentlemen who made up this production were all equally well cast and gave us a truly fabulous insight into their lives and loves. Director Christine Davidson has been gifted with a wonderful cast for our four female leads who brought the story to life with such strong performances. Each of the characters had a hidden agenda but it was the beauty in the performances that really allowed the individualities to shine and at the same time work wonderfully as an ensemble leaving us really believing the realism of the story which tells of 4 ladies who work in a Hull fish packing plant going to Ladies Day at Ascot (the year it takes place in York) and the stories behind their everyday mundane lives.
With Chelmsford Theatre Workshop, I am always impressed with their stage and set dressing and this was no exception, I especially liked the innovation where they did a costume change from fish packer to Ascot glamour through a dance routine to Tony Christie’s Amarillo and their hat and shoes were hidden in the cold ice boxes.
Pearl, who is the most level-headed of the group and despite her many years married, finally reveals her secret affair in the Station Hotel for the past few years with Barry, a bookie who travels the country and with whom she hopes to reignite that flame at the races. Played by Jane Smith, this was a deep and emotional performance showing all the light and shade of a woman torn by what didn’t happen and how to come to terms with what might have been. I really enjoyed Janes portrayal as I felt it was very true and honest.
Jan is a mother who lives for her daughters Clare’s achievements after her husband left many years ago and we subsequently learn she has secret feelings for Joe, in the factory. Sarah Bell quietly crafted Jan the worrier and one of the highlights of the evening was her drunk performance which had great comedy timing and pathos.
Shelley is a brassy, sassy girl who likes to use her feminine charms to their full extent and find herself a millionaire or her fast track to stardom. Nikita Eve-Mansfield fell beautifully into this role. She used her sexuality perfectly and gave us a WAG wannabe with heart.
Mousey Linda has a mother, who likes to take advantage of her at will and who found comfort both in the music of Tony Christie and in a friendly interlude with one of the hungry jockeys. Laura Bradley was equally awkward and charming in this role and her scene with Colin Smith in one of his many roles as Patrick the Jockey was one of the loveliest moments in the play. Colin was equally well cast as Jim the bookie and Kevin the Drunk. The final cast member was Steve Holding-Sutton as Joe from the Fish Factory, Barry – Pearls’ lost love and Fred the ticket tout.
The theme of togetherness and friendship was highlighted successfully not only in the direction but the performances of the cast. I really enjoyed this evening and did, in fact, leave wondering what happens next in the story as I was so captivated with the show and the performances. Get yourself a ticket and get down to The Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford to see this great production now – its certainly worth it.
The Rise and Fall of little Voice – Reject Theatre Company, Headgate Theatre, Colchester
Up in her room Little Voice, is a quiet as a mouse Northern lass-next door who barely speaks but roars to life whenever she plays the records of Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland or Edith Piaf, impersonating them perfectly.
Downstairs her mum Mari is getting drunk and trying to find perceived happiness with her wide-boy lover and wannabe ‘Agent to the Stars’, Ray Say. Mari was played beautifully by Robin Gowers who has the funniest and dirtiest of the dialogue as well as delivering sayings and phrases incorrectly, she also brought us some heart-stopping emotion in the darker moments of the story. Barry Hester as Ray was sleazy, slippery and skin crawling perfect, The scene where he convinces LV to comply to his plans is magnificently done but he truly came into his own in his drunken singing during Act 2.
Kieran Bacon as Billy has a shyness which matches LV’s and their scenes where he nightly visits her bedroom window were some of the most endearing of the whole show.
Diana Easton’s character, Sadie, who says very little beyond ‘OK’ and other one-line responses, is the unsung hero of the piece when she provides a level of comfort when Mari is too wrapped up in her own life to care. Diana was perfectly cast and was able to bring the best out of this character.
Kevin Richards in his ridiculous wig as Mr Boo, is the lame comedian/host of the club where Little Voice is forced to perform, was a strong performance and articulated the shows moral, “blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”
And what can I say about Tamara Anderson as Little Voice herself, as the timid LV you almost feel like watching her, seems to be an intrusion? Tamara is captivating, she mastered the two sides of this role especially with her ability to do impressions of such well recognisable voices which was so impressive. In particular, her vocalisation at the end of the show when LV becomes her own woman and sings in her own voice was perfectly balanced and touched the heart just as it should.
Everything about this show – the set, the technical aspects, the shorting fuse were all so well executed. I strongly recommend that if you haven’t got tickets for the final performances then you should definitely get some – you won’t be disappointed.
The Be All and End All – Mercury Theatre, Colchester
This play was so well crafted. As a mother of two teenage boys who have both been through exams I could relate completely in Act One to the issues it raised.
Once again the bar was raised with a fantastic set which was the perfect backdrop looking into the window of this family drama.
This family however is someone different to our own, A politician and a publisher with an 18 year old son going through his ‘A’ Level exams and his super bright Girlfriend. There are many contemporary references throughout – Brexit and the education system all which give this a real honest feel and honest view into this families life.
What is equally fascinating, is that the writer also plays the father in the play. Jonathan Guy Lewis clearly understood the character and was able to give us a complete insight into the lengths a father would potentially go to for his son. The stress throughout exams is one that as a parent I completely understand, and it was clear from tonight’s audience many had trodden the same path and were relating just as we did.
Act Two explodes in all directions which both kept us on our toes and gave us waves of emotion and several moral dilemmas. Imogen Stubbs was splendid as the Mother suffering from Cancer who wants the best for her son – morally and academically. The waves of passion she showed were so well balanced that it gave us insights into the splintered and traumatic world as a parent we often suffer. The old saying ‘They don’t come with a manual” is never more apt than in this play.
The other tow performers in this ‘4 hander’ are Matt Whitchurch as the son Tom and Robyn Cara as his girlfriend Frida. Both have great insight into the lives of young people today struggling with the pressures we put on them to achieve and perform. Frida had so many secrets and these were well delivered by Robyn. She was very watchable and we could relate to her trying to please everyone.
Matt was also so believable, lots of his mannerisms and behaviour was so familiar to me and I completely bought into his teenage trauma – I also loved the final scene as was so emotional and well delivered plus I do love a jazz trumpet.
This was a strong and well conceived piece of theatre, my only disappointment was on occasions the emotions were so raw that everyone was shouting too much and there was no clear indication of what was going on. This may have been Damien Cruden, as the Directors, intention but for me it was difficult to follow or understand giving us pockets of the unknown.
However, this was a perfect bubble of modern life and one I strongly recommend you try and see while you can.
The Fifth Elephant – Chelmsford Theatre Workshop, Old Court Theatre
Terry Pratchett is an acquired taste. It may not appeal to everyone and The Fifth Elephant falls completely into this category.
The Fifth Elephant throws audiences into the middle of Uberwald, a remote region which is home to dwarfs, vampires and werewolves.
When Samuel Vimes is sent there as an ambassador for the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, not everything goes to plan and he finds himself on the run.
The play is full of Interesting characters and on this occasion, some were better developed than others. Sadly, the diction in some places was poor, lacking in annunciation and rather gabbled, making it difficult to understand, which is imperative in a story like this. However, there were some great performances from this cast.
Mark Sutton as Commander Samuel Vines was strong throughout, he had good facial expressions, one of the few with good comedy timing and great stage presence. He was partnered with Caroline Froy as Lady Sybil also gave a strong performance. In addition, Giles Margerum as Captain Carrot had a good, well-rounded character and Martin Robinson as Skinner gave a lovely performance with great characterisation and accent.
I have seen several Chelmsford Theatre Workshop productions and I have always been impressed by their sets and attention to detail, this, by contrast, was a simple set with some back projections but I felt it would have benefited from a stronger set or more projections and given the large number of scene changes better use of the stage by lighting certain areas and transferring from one to another which would have kept the action going rather than stopping and starting.
Other strong performances came from Robert Evans as the troll Detritrus who stayed in character throughout; Lewis Clark who found all the humour in Igor, Igor and of course Igor and Richard Pennicard as Rhys Rhysson with his delightful Welsh accent.
I have to commend Rachel Curren for stepping in as Cheery Littlebottom. I don’t know what notice she had and although in some scenes she had the script to hand you would never have known she wasn’t the original cast member and she gave an amazing performance. Rachel is a consummate performer and always a joy to watch.
This play needs us to venture into the magical place of Discworld and this was right on the cusp of that, but I felt needed a little bit more to push us over the edge. However, If you love Terry Pratchett, then this play is perfect for you and you will love this production.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Queens Theatre, Hornchurch
Photo: Mark Sepple.
This show is full of Outback charm, tons of sequins and familiar pop anthems and bursts on to the stage at the Queens led by a team of actor/musicians.
The music heavily features Kylie but more than that it is a feel-good show which will have you tapping your feet and humming along – even on occasions dancing in your seat.
The show has a simple narrative – two drag queens and an Ex Les Girls performer trekking across the outback to undertake a performance at an Alice Springs Casino. On the way, they discover acceptance, a greater insight into their identity and a sense of belonging.
Tick or Mitzi in his alter ego, reason for traveling is to meet his young son, Benji. Tom Giles as Tick found just the right balance between emotion and sensitivity with his son and turning up the power in the upbeat numbers. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance.
Adam or Felicia, wants to live out a lifelong dream to perform a Kylie number on Ayres rock. Daniel Bailey as Felicia has a fantastic strut with great confidence and style and certainly has some outrageous dance moves. He was a delight to watch as he sashayed and postured through his numbers.
Bernadette, retired ‘Les Girls’ performer is escaping her grief after losing her young partner. Mark Inscoe as Bernadette was for me the absolute highlight of the show – his professionalism shone throughout. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, everything from his stance and use of his hands to his facial expressions all which told a history of the character which added to his performance. His stage presence and sharp delivery was spot on and I particularly liked his pairing with Michael Cuckson as Aussie Mechanic Bob who had great charm and charisma in this role.
The rest of the cast took on a multitude of roles and accompanied their fellow cast members as the band with aplomb, my only comment regarding this, was the sound balance which was not always right particularly in the big numbers where the brass was included. It was very difficult to hear the soloists which was a shame as I suspect we missed some fabulous vocals as a result.
Lemuel Knights stood out in his variety of roles, his bigger than life interpretation of Miss Understanding through to his understated aboriginal tour guide. Great vocals also came from Natasha Lewis and Clara Darcy.
Young Benji, was I believe, played tonight by Frankie Day. This was a lovely performance and he did a great job.
The shows other star is naturally, Priscilla the Bus, this wonderful piece of set was manipulated by the cast in many different ways as an integral part of the story. The rest of the set also added to the overall effect. There were a few technical issues tonight with cast and crew clearly on view in the wings and torches shining under cloths, this was unexpected in a professional production and a shame but I am sure this will be rectified on future performances.
Watching this show will give you a real lift and you will definitely leave the theatre with a smile on your face and a bounce in your step. I strongly recommend you get tickets to see this show as you won’t be disappointed with the sparkle, sequins and feathers and some wonderful tunes to sing along to.
Pieces of String – Mercury Theatre, Colchester
I can describe this show so simply – It was a poignant, beautiful and stunning piece of theatre.
This new musical explores the story of different generations of a family threaded together in the past and present and lives tied together with pieces of string.
The music plays a massive part in this emotionally charged story, it is hugely emotive and adds to the narrative of the piece by continuing the story and giving us a greater depth to the feelings and thoughts of the characters. There were haunting melodies and some beautiful orchestrations.
For me the best number in the show was ‘Standing in the Shadows’ sung by the four men – it was staged so well, the counterpoint and the harmonies were spot on and the number conveyed emotion and delivered power. Having said that, all the songs were delivered with such sentiment and sensitivity bringing to life a truly magnificent score by Gus Gowland. There were some amazing lyrics in these songs which along with the melodies have stuck in my head, such as ‘Lets keep it simple, easy, routine’, ‘Standing in the Shadows, I am running from the world’ & ‘Take a breath, cos the story’s just beginning’ which I found myself humming as I left.
The story starts after the funeral of Ed, where we meet Jane his daughter, along with her son & daughter, Edward & Gemma and Edwards partner Harry packing away her grandfather’s belongings and photographs. We then are transported to the past where Ed and his wife Anna move into the house as a young married couple before Ed gets called off to war and where his life changes forever when meets Tom.
I really loved the way the two-time zones traversed each other nearly always with someone from the other time situated within the scene. Director, Ryan McBryde explored all the levels of the storyline giving us glimpses of life which we can all relate to along with the discovery of secrets so many people keep, which can gnaw away inside you.
Every member of the cast delivered a strong and confident performance, each as good as the next. For me, there were a couple of exceptionally strong performances from Marilyn Curtis as Rose who added some much-needed lighter moments while reminiscing with such sadness and regret, Ella Dunlop as Gemma who gave us a belly full of teenage attitude and Joel Harper -Jackson as Tom whose emotions were so raw and true.
The lighting throughout was fantastic – some truly lovely moments with strong colour washes, shadow work and the uplighters in the boxes towards the end in ‘Pieces’ – all these added finishing touches to a magnificent set which was simple yet conveyed so much.
I am struggling to find enough superlatives to describe this outstanding show – you simply have to see it to appreciate this truly exquisite piece of theatre. I sincerely hope this is the beginning of a fantastic journey for this musical which will allow many more to experience it.
Fiddler on the Roof – WAOS, Witham Public Hall
Fiddler on the Roof is a charismatic and emotional piece of theatre and its story still rings true today, where religion is the cause of so many issues in modern news.
Witham Operatic Society gave us a great insight into the life of a Jewish community in Russian circa 1905.
John Davies, led the cast in the part of Tevye (made famous by Topol in the film). He took on the part with aplomb, John has a lovely timbre to his voice which added a lovely depth to the character. He led us through the show with such ease and his characterisation that told us he was totally comfortable in this role and showed us the mix of emotions as his daughters break from Tradition to find their own love away from the Matchmaker.
Kath Adkins as Tevyes wife, Golde, was another consummate performer in tonight’s production. The two bounced off each other really well and we saw this at its best in their number together ‘Do You Love Me’
Tevye’s three eldest daughters were played in order by Emily Smith as Tzeitel, Corrina Wilson as Hodel and Hattie Gribben as Chava.
Tzeitel is a difficult part to play – it’s an emotional acting role and Emily embraced this role and made it her own. The accent sometimes wandered but it didn’t deteriorate from her performance. In fact, Emily was at her best when partnered with Ed Groombridge as Motel the Tailor. Ed was just perfect as Motel and I probably think this was the best straight acting role in a musical I have seen him do.
Corrina as Hodel was probably the truest historically of the girls and has an amazing voice whatever part she is faced with. Her rendition of ‘Far from the Home I Love’ was one of the highlights of the show but once again she was at her best when partnered with Gareth Gwyn-Jones as Perchick. They have a good chemistry on stage and both sang so well together. They are a great onstage partnership.
The youngest of the three elder daughters was Chava played by Hattie Gribbon. Hattie is a strong performer and was lovely when working with Corrina and Emily particularly in ‘Matchmaker’ but I wished she had let go a little more after ‘Chavaleh’ when begging her father to accept her. I really feel Hattie had a lot more to give and I personally would have loved to have seen this. Paired with Fraser Mclauchlin as Fyedka, the Russian, they made a lovely young couple. Fraser is growing with every performance he does and shows great promise of a strong future in musical theatre.
The company singing throughout was possibly the best I have heard in Witham for a while – the harmonies were spot on and I enjoyed these numbers immensely. The lighting in a few places was a little dark which made it difficult to see some scenes but the diction, in general, was really good ensuring we heard what was going on. I also particularly liked the Cossack dancing and bottle dance with Fraser, Ben and Ryan.
Other strong principal performances were Lydia Clough as Matchmaker -Yente, Anne Wilson as Fruma Sarah and Liz Watson as Grandma Tzeitel. Stewart Adkins as Lazar Wolfe has, as always, great stage presence and gave a strong and reliable perofrmance. However, I particularly liked Ryan Wuyts as Mendel – I really think this is a young man to watch for the future. He stood out against some very experienced performers and I look forward to seeing him in future shows.
The choreography by Julie Slater was excellent and well thought out throughout, although, in some places, some dances looked a little untidy and under-rehearsed but I really liked the bottle dance by the three young men which was perfectly executed tonight.
I missed some of the more traditional elements of the show but this was (as it should be) the Directors vision and Dave King led this cast to a strong production which the audience tonight definitely enjoyed. I hope the audiences for the rest of the week enjoy it as much and if you haven’t got tickets then you should get some for a great nights entertainment.
West Side Story – CYGAMS, Civic Theatre Chelmsford
by Guest Reviewer Rhianna Howard
Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and perhaps one of the most iconic musicals of all time, Chelmsford Young Gen set themselves quite the challenge with this production, but they kept their cool and delivered an impressive performance – on their opening night no less!
The show revolves around two star-crossed lovers, Tony and Maria each from opposing gangs. Jack Toland graced the stage with an excellent presence and effortless vocals which were matched perfectly with Jessie Hadley’s delightful voice and superb characterisation. Their duet of “Tonight” was a definite vocal highlight of the show.
Charlie Toland (Bernardo) and Dan Hall (Riff) made for two terrific gang leaders both exuding energy and excelling in their fight scenes which were brilliantly choreographed. Livi Khattar gave us a very believable performance as Anita ably backed by the Shark girls in a wonderful rendition of ‘America’. I also very much enjoyed the opening dance routines and the hilarious Krupke number performed by the Jets.
This production was full of great performances from the supporting cast, I must commend Jessica Martin who stole the spotlight as fierce tomboy Anybodys, Matt Wickham who had great stage presence as the testosterone-fuelled Action and Katie Salter for her divine vocals as the ‘Somewhere’ soloist.
This is a show with difficult vocal harmony but these were beautifully delivered by the entire cast and backed by an excellent band under the baton of Bryan Cass.
Some of the set pieces were rather large and made for some long transitions, however saying that, it was well used. I especially liked the different levels during ‘Tonight’ and I enjoyed the use of the dancing girls during the transition into the gym scene.
Director, Jeremy Tustin and his assistants must be praised for enabling a large cast to shine in some very slick dance routines and for putting together a wonderful version of such an iconic show.
Playing until Saturday at the Civic, get your tickets for a first-rate night out at the theatre – although I can’t promise you’ll be dry-eyed at the end!
Bothered and Bewildered – Chelmsford Theatre Workshop
This has to be one of the most poignant plays I have seen in a long while. We all have heard stories about living with Alzheimer’s, this play puts it front and centre in our consciousness.
Lynne Foster as Irene, the Mother and Alzheimer sufferer, captured perfectly her fear, confusion and in some instances the simple pleasure of not knowing what pain your family are experiencing while you are living in your version of the world. I felt her anxiety, particularly when reliving her past with her adopted son and secret love. This was a captivating performance.
Irene’s daughters played by Rachel Curren as Louise and Stephanie Yorke-Edwards as Beth gave quite contrasting performances with their different viewpoints on their mother’s situation which really added to the overall story.
Stephanie gave the appearance of being the tougher of the two sisters but when the dam did eventually break we felt her distress at the loss of her mother to this cruel disease. This was a very real and true to life performance. Rachel as Louise, who is faced with having her mother move in to “the terrible hotel” showed us the child within the adult, longing to have her mother and father back and struggling to cope with the situation she finds herself in. Rachel is an amazing actress who is capable of peeling back so many layers of a character in the simplest ways. Both were moving performances.
Barbara Llewellyn as Barbara Cartland gave a dignified and humorous performance bringing so much light relief to what could be otherwise quite a traumatic evening in the theatre. She has great stage presence and gave a very confident delivery – I thoroughly enjoyed her portrayal.
Terry Cramphorn has great a calming presence in his delivery and throughout this production he gave just the right level of ‘normality’ to contrast against all the emotions on display. The younger cast members tried hard in their different characterisations within the play, unfortunately Sh’i’na McNaught I felt, didn’t quite get under the skin of the character Shelley – she felt a little too shallow in her portrayal of emotion keeping it at a surface level rather than embracing the full depth of feelings that could have been explored but this is possibly down to her age and not having the breadth of experiences to draw on. By contrast, Alexander Bloom as James brought a lump to my throat both in his delivery on the doorstep with his potential birth mother and lastly with the letter.
This play is a dramatic and emotional piece but it has just the right amount of humour in it to make it a very special piece of theatre. I really encourage people to see this as I honestly believe it will resound with you on so many levels and is so well executed that it will be a true shame if more people don’t see what is probably an unknown and an unrecognised play delivered exceptionally well.
Turn of the Screw – Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Henry James’ Turn of the Screw is a classic which has had many interpretations and adaptions over the years. This latest version presented at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester managed to keep all the ambiguity of the original whilst giving the audience a spine-tingling nights entertainment.
We did leave the theatre discussing our thoughts on the plot line and whether it refers to ghosts, the imaginings of a mad woman or something far more psychotic. Whatever you think when you see this – and see it you must – it is a brilliant production.
With just 4 performers it jumps through time, telling you the story with all its twists and turns. Carli Norris as the Governess, is the story narrator as well as the central character and was just enthralling. She moves from the centre of a psychological maelstrom possibly of her making to the passionate protector of the innocents in her charge.
Annabel Smith also gives a captivating performance moving seamlessly between the adult woman looking for answers and the frivolous and sometimes petulant child Flora. Michael Hanratty also shows similar skills as Miles, the Master and various other male characters but his, is a more menacing portrayal which works well even as the young boy Miles which leads us to ask many questions about his relationship with Quint and why he was excluded?
Having adults playing children also gave us reasons to question the sibling relationship which at times hints at something much darker or whether they are in fact possessed.
Maggie McCarthy as Mrs Grose was charming, giving us an insight into the history at Bly which allows us to peel back further layers to the story. She gave a solid performance which was perfect as a contrast to the other characters.
As always, the set at the Mercury was stunning with some fantastic lighting and effects, whilst I am confident the performances would stand on their own without these aspects – they add so much more, giving an unsettling and disturbing dimension to the plot.
Everything about this production is exciting – whether it’s the debate afterwards as to what you actually think happened or the quality of the acting and delivery itself. You should see this while it is still in Colchester before it hits the road for a UK tour. Once again ‘Made in Colchester’ have given us a great piece of theatre.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, CAODS – Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, CAODS – Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
When one thinks about Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, one usually associates it with Michael Caine and Steve Martin, so this musical is perhaps not as well known as it should be but CAODS gave us a great delivery of this fun storyline.
I have to say the cast was somewhat different to those of recent shows I have seen at Chelmsford but that just shows the breadth of performers they have available within the society. The story revolves around two conmen from opposite sides of the tracks – Lawrence Jameson played by Barry Hester and Freddie Benson played by Kieran Bacon. I liked both the portrayals but I have to say Barry Hester gave us a masterclass in charm and charisma and his ease of performance was such a joy to watch.
By contrast, Kieran Bacon filled the stage with high octane energy and quirkiness and delivered much of the physical humour in the script perfectly. Claire Carr as the Soap Queen, Christine Colgate, was equally strong with great stage presence and her expert ability to mix humour with beauty on stage was perfect casting for this role.
I particularly liked the pairing of David Slater as Andre and Helen Hart as Muriel Eubanks – both came into their own in their rendition ‘Like Zis, Like Zat’ and this, in particular, gave a real lift to Act Two. Helen Meah also gave a feisty performance as Oklahoma Oil Princess, Jolene Oakes.
I have to say some of the company numbers lacked some energy and precision tonight but that may be down to first night nerves however, the simple set which framed the scenes was further enhanced by a good selection of furniture and props which were all smoothly manipulated by the cast. It worked really well and added to the overall feel of the show.
The orchestra sounded great although at the beginning, in places, it was a little too loud to hear the dialogue and therefore understand the beginning of the storyline. This was also an issue with the vocal group in ‘What was a Woman to Do’ with both diction and orchestral volume meaning it was difficult to hear the lyrics which was a shame but hopefully this can be ironed out for subsequent performances.
However, the show was visually enchanting and all the costumes looked fantastic, with colour coding in certain scenes and some very glamorous ladies in wonderful hats and accessories throughout, so my congratulations must go to the wardrobe team.
I commend the society on their choice of production and if you haven’t seen the show and love the film, then you really need to get tickets for a rib tickling night out or alternatively just join the cast basking in the French Riviera sunshine and get away from your winter weather worries. Tickets are still available for some remaining performances and you won’t be disappointed as they ‘Give You Want You Want’ with a great nights entertainment.
Sister Act, Ingatestone Musical and Operetta Group – Ingatestone and Fryerning Community Club Theatre
Sister Act is an ambitious show for any group to tackle as its mirrors the huge success of the film by the same name and the star – Whoopi Goldberg. IMOG hit this show head on and gave it energy and empathy from the start.
The set which I assume was built by the society gave the right feel and I really liked the projections either side of the pros arch which added an extra dimension.
The band sounded great with what is a challenging score but there were a few technical mishaps with the sound and microphones but this I am sure will be ironed out for the rest of the run.
Denyse Donnell stepped into Whoopi’s shoes and gave an impressive performance. She captured the very heart of Deloris Van Cartier and really came into her own on her number Sister Act. She was well partnered opposite William Trapp as the mild-mannered but sincere Sweaty Eddie. Both gave rounded and enjoyable portrayals.
Sarah Cuff as Mother Superior had just the right amount of gravitas and command and was well contrasted against the ebullient Sister Mary Patrick by Jacqui De La Salle and the fierce Sister Mary Lazarus played by Sue Elliott. Kirsty Elliott as Sister Mary Roberts was suitably naïve and restrained at the start, blossoming into a strong woman and her rendition of ‘The Life I Never Led’ was Charming.
Robert Brett as Monsignor O’Hara really got down in ‘Sunday Morning Fever’ and found the all the humour in the role.
Keith Goody had a real Guys & Dolls/Damon Runyon-esk feeling about the Gangster Curtis but he was slightly overshadowed by his ‘thugs’ Joey, TJ and Pablo. Jeremy Martin as Joey had a good singing voice and was suitably uncool, Steve Critchell as TJ was superbly juvenile, but it was Mike Hancy as Pablo who really caught my eye with his superb falsetto and dance moves. ‘Lady in the Long Black Dress’ should be THE show stopper and it certainly was!
This could be down to first night nerves, but the vocals occasionally were pitchy in places and with such a small cast of nuns, I felt it was a concern that some nuns didn’t seem to know the words to certain songs which meant the vocals were weaker than they might have been. However, I cannot fault the levels of energy displayed by the cast and the audience certainly appreciated it.
This is such as feel-good show with great toe-tapping music and I am sure everyone who watches the remaining performances will thoroughly enjoy it.
Mad Forest – Chelmsford Theatre Workshop – The Old Court Theatre
by Guest Reviewer – Sarah Miles
The sound of Tracey Chapman singing Talkin ‘Bout a Revolution indeed prepares the audience for what is to come. Mad Forest tells the story of what happened before, during and after the Romanian Revolution including the real-life statements from people that were living through the revolution. It portrays an array of perspectives through these times with insight as to how it affected the people caught up in it.
The stage at the Old Court Theatre provides the perfect setting for this play. Intimate enough to capture the audience yet large enough to cope with the complicated text and what that involves.
With 11 in the cast, many playing at least two characters it almost seemed overwhelming at first but once the stories/scenes developed it took off with a real punch. The transitions between each scene were all very well executed. Having the cast remain on stage throughout the whole piece was essential and the costume and prop changes were slick and barely noticeable.
All the actors were committed to their individual characters each and every time they appeared and through the first half, really gave a sense of the desperation and fear they were living through as well as a sense of family relations. They all really must be congratulated on immersing themselves into such chaotic piece and bring these stories to life. A mention must go to Richard Dawes as he created seven different characters throughout the play and each one was absolutely perfect!
The end of the first half changed in mood and kudos to Tom Tull for his direction of the Verbatim theatre section as it really packed a punch. With very little movement and the cast being on the edge of the stage it brought an intensity that reflected in what the actors were saying. With some extremely emotional dialogue and the national anthem sung so patriotically, it was very moving.
I loved the lighting design created by Jack Hathaway that gave a backdrop of the Romanian flag, flanked by large pictures of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife. Lighting throughout was great and sound effects timed well and helped to embellish the scenes.
Tom Tull has really taken time to understand Mad Forest and that shows in this production. His dedication, along with the rest of the cast has created a thoroughly moving, thought provoking piece of theatre.
Cats – WOW!, Witham Public Hall
Cats was a London phenomenon running for over 21 years in London’s West End along with a national tour. Only to recently be revived in 2014 at the London Palladium. So it’s quite a challenge for any amateur society to tackle this dance based musical but WOW! have and the challenge has paid off.
The set was great along with some fantastic lighting and both were a perfect backdrop for some stunning costumes and wigs. In addition, the excellent make up helped capture the characters, especially as each one is completely different giving lots of opportunities for cast members to express themselves.
There were so many outstanding performances it’s difficult to know where to start but I loved Lily Downes as Jennyanydots – her boundless energy and lovable personality shone through, Ben Collins as Rum Tum Tugger had all the moves and delivered some great numbers and both Daisy Greenwood as Demeter and Yasmin Sharp as Bombalurina both oozed style and confidence delivering some great routines and vocals.
Tom Nicholl had huge stage presence as Old Deuteronomy both in stature and delivery and Fraser Mclauchlan as Skimbleshanks delivered his number with great panache and was one of the few who I felt really embraced the cat movement and posture. Cerys Wilkin was delightful as the banished Grizabella, she has an amazing voice and her final performance of ‘Memory’ was very moving. Munkestrap played by Christopher Tierney was the glue throughout the show holding it all together and Ryan Wuyts was delightful as Gus, the Theatre Cat with just the right amount of pathos and charm along with Isobel Pearce as Jellylorum who was also very engaging.
There were so many other great performances with such a strong cast from William Hackett as Bustopher Jones all the way through to Ciaran Brewer as the Rumpus Cat.
One name to watch out for in the future is definitely Ella Bradley as Jemima – she was delectable as the young kitten with a beautiful voice.
The list of names could go on and on, as there were so many lovely moments throughout the show and the choreography was just at the right level to ensure a high standard throughout.
Huge congratulations to the cast for a great show, I’d say you have to get tickets to see this but if you haven’t already got them then you will miss out on a fantastic nights entertainment as the show is already a sell out!
Betty Blue Eyes – Shenfield Operatic Society, Queens Theatre, Hornchurch
Shenfield Operatic Society’s production of Betty Blue Eyes was a warm-hearted and endearing look at post-austerity Britain and the lengths some folks would go to while rationing was still in place after the war.
The show bubbles along with some great portrayals and a nicely put together orchestra offering some toe-tapping melodies and enjoyable tunes.
The set was lovely and added well to the action and there were some great lighting states and changes which aided the atmosphere.
On occasions, the diction needed to be much better as many lines were missed. By gabbling and bad annunciation. Dialogue still needs to be projected even with a microphone and I was sorry not to hear many soloists particularly in the opening number.
Alli Smith as Gilbert Chilvers the chiropodist has all the gentle charm needed for this part. Playing his wife Joyce at tonight’s performance was Sarah Barton (the Director) who had stepped in to cover the role, as I understand it, due to illness. Sarah gave an outstanding performance and led the company with an assured and confidence which contributed to the whole. My hat goes off to her on what was a flawless performance under any circumstances much less stepping into the breach like that.
Dave Cormack as Henry Allardyce was also a strong and particularly enjoyable performance showing his unashamed love for Betty, while James Llewellyn-Smith was a strong and commanding Dr Swaby.
Inspector Wormwold, the meat inspector played by Iain Johnson gave a fine characterisation although sometimes just a little too close to the fine line between pantomime and musicals for my liking.
Kate Smith as Mother Dear almost stole the show with great comedic timing and a real feel for the character. She was only really upstaged by Betty herself expertly handled by Caroline Green who gave her a real personality and lovability.
There were some other notable Performances from Kery Cooke as Mrs Metcalf, the butcher’s wife, Joanna Hunt as Veronica Allardyce and Mick Kiel as Francis Lockwood.
I must also commend Louise Byrne, Rachel Watson and Diane Hills who sang Magic Fingers – it was beautifully done and really touched me.
Betty Blue Eyes is a great show with good company work and some nice choreography which I know tonight’s audience thoroughly enjoyed. So for a happy evening out, get tickets while you still can.
Puss in Boots – CMTS, Clacton
Photo – Robert Wong Creative Photography
I have to say that Puss in Boots is not a panto I am very familiar with but the production by CMTS at the Westcliff Theatre proved it is one to watch out for.
The show opened with a fun introduction of the characters. giving us some idea of what to expect in the show. Claire Townley as the Principal Boy, Tom took command of the stage and sang very well especially when paired with the lovely Sarah Elli as Jill.
The beautiful Fairy Snow played by Jennifer Richardson was truly magical and her rendition of “When you Believe” was mesmerising. Peter Norfolk as Dame Dora Dumpling worked hard with the audience trying to squeeze every last gag out of the script, while Natalie Stock as the title character Puss, was charming and charismatic with a real style to her movements.
Steve Salmon as Baron Blackheart wasn’t as black as a traditional pantomime villain often is but he gave an amusing and enjoyable performance, ably assisted by Nicola Heap as Bash and Phoebe Collinson as Biff whose comic capers and acrobatics kept the audience entertained.
However, it was Luke Corneloues who stole the show – his boundless energy, his apparently elastic and double jointed body emphasising some great dance moves and his excellent timing all contributed to a thoroughly enjoyable characterisation of Wally. I simply couldn’t take my eyes off him.
Other commendable performances were also given by Samuel Small as the Courtier and Peter Barnett and Jane Rayner as the King and Queen.
The dance routines were all well executed and the Junior chorus were delightful. The lighting added to the overall effect, the only downside was on occasions the microphones seemed to fail and the diction in places was poor which made it difficult to hear some of the dialogue and lyrics which was a real shame as I suspect there were, even more laughs to be had, if only they could have been heard.
If you haven’t got tickets to see this production then you should get some for a great family evening out before it closes.
Beauty and the Beast – Blackmore Players
This year the Blackmore Players presented Beauty and the Beast – A tale as old as time. It was nice to see some familiar faces from the last year and a few new ones too.
I thought it was both brave and inspired to have a live retro rock band on stage as the accompaniment. The band were very good although the sound levels were not always spot on, but it was great to see them throughout the show and they added a different element to the show completely. The set as always, at Blackmore, was great with some excellent props to embellish it, ideally some slightly quicker scene changes would have helped keep the action moving but all in all, it gave a good backdrop to the action.
This year at Blackmore I think I fell for the Dark Side. There were some admirable performances from the ‘Goodies of the piece” Kira Beavis as Belle was charming and well-cast as the gentle and beautiful lead, ably accompanied by her greedy and needy sisters Charity played by Linda Raymond and Prudence played by Linda Cearns. Ryan Stevens as the Merchant gave a steady performance and Keith Goody as Mrs Bustle was in high form as the Dame, but it was the Shows “Baddies’ who made my night.
Matthew Pearson as the Beast was suitably fearsome and great credit to him for keeping his characterisation particularly whilst singing “I Want to Break Free”. Hilary Martin as the Witch gave a great performance, her diction was impeccable, and she really embodied the role of a posh but evil witch.
However, it was Igor and Igor who made my heart beat a little faster!! Steve Drinkall as Igor the ex-servant of Frank-N-Stein and Simon Haskell as Igor the ex-servant of Dracula. Both gentlemen kept their characters throughout and gave us lots of laughs and entertainment.
On a general note, the dialogue was quite often lacking pace and had slow pickups which means pantomime gags could lack punch and delivery but generally the diction was good.
The company although small certainly appeared to have a great time on stage however, one company member in particular regularly caught my eye with her strong stage presence and good reactions. I was brought up being told that “the art of acting is in re-acting” and Sarah, as I believe her name is, was certainly embodying that.
Congratulations to the production team on this year’s pantomime and I hope the remaining performances are just as enjoyable.
The Merry Wives of Windsor – Chelmsford Theatre Workshop
This was a musical twist on the Bard’s original work. Following on from Henry IV – it repeats the character Falstaff but in a new tale of lust, revenge and comical farce. This production combines the original work but set in the sixties with interludes of relevant musical numbers.
This cast made the most of this production – I love it when Shakespeare is given a modern twist as it makes it much more accessible to people who wouldn’t normally enjoy his work and this production embraced this.
The Merry Wives were played exceptionally well by Nikita Eve as Mrs Ford and Rachel Curren as Mrs Page. Both ladies commanded the stage well and Nikita, in particular, proved to have an amazing singing voice to boot.
Dave Hawkes as Falstaff was suitably sexually charged and strutted around with the prowess of a sex god – he delivered some great songs although at times I felt his diction could have been slightly better to ensure we hear what he was saying.
Diction on occasions was an issue as it was occasionally rushed which made it difficult to understand, Tom Tull as Mr Ford had a real Ray Winston feel about the character but also sang with great emotion. Sarah Bell as Mrs Quickly was delightful as the intermediary in leopard skin. I loved her interpretation and she looked as if she had walked straight out of the 60’s.
In fact, the attention to detail of the costumes was brilliant. I loved the costumes – all the sixties fabrics – I felt Jacqui Newman summed up the era completely in her costumes as she looked amazing.
James Fletcher as Fenton was perfectly cast as the young lover and showed his skills as a performer and dancer in the numbers he was involved in. Alexander Bloom was hugely enjoyable with his Brummy accent as Slender.
As a whole performance, this was a fun and enjoyable take on Shakespeare and if you ever thought that Shakespeare isn’t your thing then this production will give you an insight into his work with lots of great musical numbers included.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Mercury Theatre – Colchester
Every year the Mercury Theatre delivers a top-class pantomime for the People of Colchester and this year is no exception.
The set as always was stunning from the beautifully designed flying title to the dwarf’s cottage and the palace gardens.
Snow White played by Megan Bancroft was sweet and delightful as the show’s heroine and she was well paired opposite Alex Green as Rupert the bookworm, who turned out to be her ‘true love prince’.
Fairy Blossom played by Gbemisola Ikumela was a perfection in pink and had a great vocal style and range. Opposite her as the Evil Enchantress was Carli Norris. Carli not only looked fantastic with some amazing costumes she was evil personified (#evilqueen). I loved her characterisation and she had the audience booing and hissing at her with great joy. James Dinsmore as the King was slightly eccentric and Simon Pontin as the Chamberlain was another strong and confident performer.
It was a delight to have Dale Superville as Muddles and Antony Stuart-Hicks as Nurse Nellie back at the Mercury again as the comedy dream team. I would love the say the script is a big plus for the panto but with these two one is never sure how much is in the script and how much these two create as the evening unravels! Both are consummate professionals in the art of ad-libbing and revel in the pleasure of the naughtiness this brings and the way the audience is involved in the joke. You really cannot fault these two for making this pantomime such a great evenings entertainment.
The Junior chorus was extremely good and I was very impressed that at least 3 of them doubled as the dwarfs with a professionalism that was on a par with the rest of the adult cast. The idea of the dwarfs as puppets was just a fantastic concept and worked so well. I particularly liked the Scottish one who had a brilliant accent and was superbly delivered by one of the junior chorus members.
I challenge anyone to go and see this pantomime and not leave with a huge grin on their faces and aching ribs from laughing all night long. What a perfect family night out!
Red Riding Hood – A New Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto, The New Wolsey Theatre
You know the festive season is upon us when the pantomimes start playing up and down the country and the New Wolsey Theatre Pantomime is indeed one to look forward to.
This year we had the pleasure of going deep into the woods to meet the folks of ‘Soggy Bottom’. Once again, the set was fantastic with icicles and changing panels and an automated section which travelled up and downstage plus trap doors that appeared and disappeared at lightning speed adding parts of the set and characters with ease. The lighting complimented the set perfectly making it the ideal backdrop for the whole production.
Opening the show was Elizabeth Rowe as the fairy Cherry Blossom who set the mood off perfectly with her rendition of “Happy”.
The heroine of the piece Red Riding Hood, was beautifully played by Lucy Wells – she sang & danced well and her numbers with her hero, Prince Florizel Fortunate, played by the dashing Max Runham were particularly memorable.
The other village girls in the guise of Bo Peep from Isobel Bates and Goldilocks from Lana Walker both sang, played and added to the overall action extremely well. Lana particularly came into her own as Little Miss Moffet and was the perfect love interest for James Haggie as the Prince’s sidekick – Ruffles. I loved James with his comic walk and mannerisms and in addition, he showed what a great vocalist and guitarist he is throughout the show. Their rendition of “Sweet Caroline” complete with some audience participation was a highlight of the evening.
Rob Falconer as Sir Jasper De Ville was suitably evil in the best comedic sense and his heavy metal numbers were well delivered. When partnered with Bodgit and Dodgit played retrospectively by Daniel Carter-Hope and Adam Langstaff there were some wonderful comic moments from all three. I must also add one of my personal favourite bits the animal “Privy Council” puppets – just great!
Simon Nock as Grandma Millicent Merry – the Dame, was delivered with top-notch punchlines, gags galore and enough naughtiness to please the adults in the audience swiftly going over the head of the younger audience members who just loved the physical antics and silliness. From the start, Simon, not quite the cougar but more “mangy polecat” had every quality you need in a Dame to ensure the audience is laughing with him as well as, at him.
I am always so impressed to see actor/musicians on stage who can multi-task in this way and this is what makes the Wolsey Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime so special – if there are any tickets left grab them and enjoy a magical Rock ‘n’ Roll treat!
Sleeping Beauty – KYDS, Thurstable School, Tiptree
This was my first pantomime of the season and the first visit to a KYDS pantomime so I looked forward to see what the evening had to offer.
The pantomime started with 3 lovely fairies Lilac, Lavender and Lupin, all beautifully colour coded and with fantastic magic wands. Played respectively by Daisy Loerns, Amy Swallow and Grace Upton these 3 graced the stage and were a constant joy throughout the show. They all sang and danced well, particularly in their numbers and Grace really got the most out of the character of Loopy – sorry Lupin who struggled to speak in verse.
By contrast Ellie Russell as Deadly Nightshade was evil through and through and along with her comical sidekick Snivel played by Beau Hens we had lots to boo and hiss at!
Harry the Jester, played by Charlie Warner was cheeky, charming and completely captivating. His opening number ‘Happy’ was just that and he worked really hard to get the audience participation going and I think he will definitely be one to watch in the future. A special delight was his scene with Olly Smith as the Cannibal Chief which was just brilliant and let’s face it – the audience love it when it goes a little bit wrong and we then love them more for that however, Charlie got it back on track. Very professional.
Emily Hatton and Marcus Renshaw were suitably royal as the King and Queen and I thought their number ‘Take Good Care of my Baby’ was well sung.
Ellie Macey as Princess Rose looked lovely and sang very well and she was perfectly paired against the dashing and handsome Prince William played by Ben Collins. Ben is a confident performer and was well suited in this role.
The crucial point in any pantomime is the Dame. Tom Nicholls shone as Dame Winifred Slaptickle. I often see adult males who never really settle as a Dame but Tom relished the opportunity to be outlandish and naughty as well as being one of the most competent dancers on the stage.
The chorus supported their principals well and there was a lovely atmosphere both on stage and in the audience tonight. Huge congratulations as well to the props team as I saw some of the best props on stage that I have seen for a long time.
A great show and a great start to the pantomime season. Well Done to all at KYDS!
A Bunch of Amateurs – The Reject Theatre Company, Zinc Arts
The plot revolves around wash up Hollywood actor, Jefferson Steel who ends up mistakenly in the wrong Stratford thinking he will be performing the Bard’s work in Stratford St Avon with the RSC, rather than a small Suffolk village with the Stratford Players.
Leading this cast as the ‘has-been’ actor Jefferson is Barry Hester. Barry has fantastic stage presence and gives equal amounts of ego and pomposity. He delivers both excellent comedy timing, as well as great Shakespearean dialogue when required.
The set and use of the stage was great and with some great lighting and sound effects meaning we were transported to the various locations with ease.
The ‘amateur players’ are led by ex-professional actor and the group’s director Dorothy Nettle played by Sally Warrington. Sally was always in control and delivered a strong and constant performance throughout, however, on a few occasions her dialogue was a little too quiet to pick up what was being said.
Stephanie Yorke-Edwards as Mary was just delightful as the star-struck B&B owner and enthusiastic amateur player. She had a strong and convincing Suffolk accent and squeezed every possible nuance out of her slightly crazy character. Kevin Abrey was wonderful as the frightfully ‘over the top’ Nigel Dewbury who was not at all pleased at being usurped from the lead of King Lear by Jefferson. He gave a fabulous performance and was a joy to watch. Kevin Richards as the ravenous Denis, played every comic moment to perfection and had excellent mop action! – especially when real water from the theatrical sprinkler descended onto the stage – very impressive!
When Jefferson’s estranged daughter Jessica turns up, played by Phoebe Walsh full of teenage angst and attitude towards her father, we see a deeper side to many of the characters. Her portrayal was earthy and unpretentious, especially when compared against Karen Kelleher as the glamourous PR officer to the sponsor with her wonderfully nasally voice and stiletto heels who gave us yet another fabulous characterisation.
There were so many lovely touches in this performance and for anyone who has ever taken part in any form of local or amateur theatre I am sure they could recognise some of the scenarios. Huge congratulations to the cast for a great evening’s entertainment which was both humorous and poignant.
Singin’ in the Rain – Southend Operatic & Dramatic Society, Palace Theatre, Southend
Made famous by the film and Gene Kelly’s umbrella led dance routine to the title song “Singin’ in the Rain”, the show takes us through the introduction of the talkies in the 1920’s at Monumental Pictures.
The overture introduced us to a lovely sounding orchestra but on occasions, I felt the tempo on the musical numbers was too slow and it slowed the action too much. The show itself starts outside a movie theatre and Ashley-Marie Stone as Dora Bailey started it off well with clear diction and a lovely characterisation.
The show has four main principal characters in Don Lockwood played by Robert Maynard, Kathy Seldon played by Kirsty Bone, Ewan Dunlop as Cosmo Brown and Laura Mann as Lina Lamont. All these parts require triple-threat performers who can sing, act and dance.
Robert Maynard acted well and was a good mover – learning to tap dance is always a massive challenge especially in such a short period of time and he has a lovely singing voice but it was such a shame he sang with such a perfect English accent. If he could have mastered the American accent it would have been a fantastic all-around performance. Kirsty Bone sang equally well and the two made a lovely couple on stage.
Laura Mann as Lina Lamont was a joy to watch. She got all the comedy moments spot on and delivered a great performance. However, the real triple threat performer of the show was Ewan Dunlop, he was perfectly cast as Cosmo – he had bundles of energy and was completely engaging to watch. I hope to see him perform again in another role.
Jonathan Buxton as RF Simpson also gave a strong performance, as did Les Cannon as Roscoe Dexter who was fabulously flamboyant. The best vocals of the evening were from Declan Wright with ‘Beautiful Girl’ and there were some great cameo performances too but diction throughout from everyone did need some attention.
This is quite a bitty show with many different scenes to transpose in and out of and I particularly loved seeing the stage crew in their brown coats and flat caps – a great touch. The costumes looked good but I honestly didn’t like seeing the dancers wearing black oxford tap shoes with pastel coloured dresses or sparkly costumes. These days this doesn’t have to be the case and is incredibly unflattering on the ladies.
This was opening night, so I am sure lots of these little things will be ironed out during the rest of the run and audiences who see this show will certainly enjoy a great night of live theatre. If you haven’t got tickets yet then get some and have a great night of entertainment – whether it’s raining or not!!
Soho Cinders – Springers Amateur Operatic Society, Chelmsford
We all know the story of Cinderella and this was a very interesting choice for this group with this alternative version set in Soho’s Old Compton Street.
The set was great and left us in no doubt where the action takes place and I particularly liked the use of just the one truck and lots of props to tell us where we were. This allows for quick and easy set changes to keep the action flowing.
I loved all the different characters in the opening and everyone stayed in character throughout, However, I did feel the opening number lacked some pace and punch. I was surprised with so many people on stage that the volume of the vocals was so quiet and consequently I felt throughout the show, the company singing needed more attack.
The story revolves around Robbie, who has fallen for Mayoral candidate, James Prince and who is bullied by his step-sisters – Clodagh and Dana but chivvied along by his best mate Velcro.
Kieran Young as Robbie was delightful and endearing. His show of emotions from happy to dismay was good and you couldn’t help but feel for him. His singing in some places was a little shaky but as the show progresses and he hits his stride I am sure this will settle.
Alongside him, as Robbie best friend Velcro was Mae Pettigrew – this was an honest, down to earth characterisation and she delivered some great vocal moments – particularly in her duet with Marilyn in ‘Let Him Go”. This was a highlight for me, as both Mae and Amy Serin (as James Prince’s finance, Marilyn), gave such a strong and emotive performances in this number. Amy was consistent throughout and had great stage presence with her calm and composed exterior. Her Duet with Ben Miller as James Prince was also extremely enjoyable.
Ben Miller gave an assured performance as the mayoral candidate who is struggling between the conventional outer and his true inner self. However, the highlights of the show were Sophie Lines and Becky Watts and the stepsisters Clodagh and Dana. These over the top portrayals gave great comedy moments and were so much fun to watch. Top vocals of the night must go to Catherine Gregory who was the only one I felt sang with true commitment when she sang as her character Sidesaddle, the rickshaw rider.
In general, the sound levels did not seem well balanced and there were lots of issues with the mics being on or off or pushed up too loud or not on at all which was a shame as we missed lots of the vocals as a result. The dialogue was not on microphones which meant many characters need to work harder on their diction and in particular their projection. Sadly, Gareth Locke as William George was one who suffered in this aspect. Much of his dialogue as garbled or delivered upstage meaning we missed a lot of what he had to say and I think if we had heard it we would have seen a good strong performance from him.
Jason Norton gave a steady and assured delivery as Lord Bellingham and Rachel Willcox worked hard to portray the harassed Sasha. I felt a little more conviction in the character would have just added a touch more believability in the part but this may come during the run.
Another point to note, on occasions there was a lot of over gesticulation from many principal characters, standing still and controlling your movements is one of the hardest things to do on stage but one of the most powerful. I do feel in some numbers less would have been far more.
However, having said all that, I did enjoy the show tremendously, the music is great and the band under the control of Ian Myers was excellent. I would compel other societies to come and see it, as it is one that is not regularly done and deserves better recognition. I commend Springers on tackling this, especially in today’s politically charged environment and with all the media hype and I am sure that all the audiences who see the show will thoroughly enjoy it as tonight’s audience did. Congratulations to all involved.
Our House, CYGAMS – Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
This musical follows Camden schoolboy Joe Casey and explores family, love and the wrong side of the law in this coming-of-age Madness mash-up.
Chelmsford Young Generation hit this show full on with energetic performances from the start. It’s fair to say that this show revolves very heavily around the central character Joe Casey as both Good Joe and Bad joe. Charlie Toland excellently tackled this role and was very appealing in both guises. Not only does he rarely leave the stage but when he’s not on stage he’s changing costume which is a huge challenge for any performer regardless of age!
Alongside Charlie, there were splendid performances from Reuben Beard as Emmo and Matt Wickham as Lewis. These happy go lucky lads brought great humour and enjoyment to these parts and were perfect foils for each other. I really loved their characterisations.
Jessie Hadley as Sarah gave a delightful performance, she has a lovely singing voice and was a great partner for Charlie. As the bad influence in the show, Jack Toland was suitably nasty as Reecey. He had good stage presence and was incredibly enjoyable to watch.
Angie and Billie, Sarah’s sarcastic and bitchy girlfriends were played by Millie Parsons and Livi Khattar. Both looked like they were having a great time playing these roles and were great fun in their parts.
The two adults in the show Jimmy Hooper as Joe’s Dad and Jill Gordon as Joe’s Mother both gave quality performances. Jimmy in particular at times being a little reminiscent of Suggs himself.
I have to say the set was great and was superbly handled and manoeuvred by the stage crew. I hate long scene changes but these were swift and expertly done and I also have to congratulate all the cast who had some very quick costume changes.
The cast handled the music of Madness very well added by an excellent band and in particular a very seductive saxophone.
The show bounded along with verve and energy, If you haven’t managed to see this yet – you should definitely get tickets for the final 2 performances.
Gypsy, Little Theatre Company – Palace Theatre, Southend
Gypsy is one of my ‘all-time’ favourite Musicals and so I was very excited to see this production from the Little Theatre Company. Based on a true story it takes us on a rollercoaster ride from the bottom end of vaudeville to the top of burlesque.
Starting with the young talent that represents the baby versions of the main characters we had some great performances from them all, with very tight dance routines and great vocals. Amongst the six young performers, it was Sebastian Poskitt-Richardson as Baby Tulsa who really stood out and had great energy – I do feel he will be one to watch in the future.
I did feel that Molly Hall as Baby June could perhaps have been a little sweeter and sugarier and generally over the top in her portrayal but I am confident this will grow with her future performances. Chelsea-Louise Wilkes was perfectly shy and understated as Baby Louise. All the youngsters at tonight’s show were a great credit to the society and themselves.
The adult versions, therefore, had a lot to live up to… but they did not let themselves down in any way. Eleanor Softly as June was suitably nasally and cheesy as Dainty June and her number with Alice Fillary as Louise – “If Mamma Got Married” was beautifully staged and one that I really enjoyed.
All the adult boys delivered well but it was a delight to see Chris Higginson playing Tulsa who was the right age to play the part, with great singing and acting skills but who could really dance. He stood out in the group numbers but his solo “All I need is the Girl” was charming.
Alice Fillary as Louise was just divine. I often found myself watching her when she was not the centre of the action as her acting and re-acting was just perfect. She completely understood the characterisation and her character growth throughout was spot on. I loved her singing voice but it was her acting that totally captivated me. A Stunning Performance!
Ian Benson had just the right amount of stability as Herbie, the contrast to Rose and his numbers with Stephanie Wilson were very enjoyable to watch.
I have to say – and this is a personal comment – that I wish the MD wasn’t lit through-out the show as this was so often distracting but the orchestra was excellent with a top-class brass section which is vital to the show.
My favourite number in the show has to be “Gotta have a Gimmick” and Laura Harper, Lianne Larthe and Sarah Pettican relished this number – each with their own gimmick they gave a brilliant performance and the audience loved it.
However, the “star” of this show is definitely Stephanie Wilson as Mamma Rose. Having seen Imelda Staunton play the role I wasn’t sure how anyone else could compare but Stephanie gives, gives and just gives us more and is a tour de force throughout the show. Her diction was superb as I could hear everything she said and sung and she never held back on what is essentially a physical workout. This was a masterclass in performance.
I would say the whole cast line up was exceptional and it difficult to believe this is an amateur production – however there were a few hiccups – follow spots who wandered or couldn’t stay on the principals, some painful and noisy scene changes during solos and dialogue scenes and tabs that flew out in Stephanie big number – ‘Roses Turn’ allowing us to see stagehands trying to hide behind/cover themselves with tab curtains in the wings which was disappointedly distracting.
But we must remember that the cast has been rehearsing for weeks and most technicians only get a couple of rehearsals to perfect their part in the show. These are minor issues and if they can be ironed out then this show will be as professional as any I have ever seen.
I have to congratulate the group on staging such a fantastic show, which lived up to my hopes and delivered on all levels. Congratulations to everyone involved
Wait Until Dark – The New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
The New Wolsey Theatre is a fantastic venue for such productions as it allows high quality theatre along with a sense of intimacy in the performance space.
Brought to the New Wolsey by The Original Theatre Company, “Wait until Dark’ Is probably best known for the film version of the play starring Audrey Hepburn in 1967. Following in the footsteps of Hepburn in this production as Susy, the young blind housewife who becomes the victim of an elaborate three-way con in her own living room, is Karina Jones.
It’s obvious to say she has big shoes to fill but more importantly, I believe this is the first time a blind actress has played the part of a blind person in this play and Karina doesn’t disappoint. She tackles the part with such great aplomb. The role is both physically demanding and requires a true powerhouse performance. She switches from strength to vulnerability with ease and watching her it’s easy to believe she is also a very talented circus aerialist.
She is pitted against the three con-men Jack Ellis as Mike, the master of mind games, Graeme Brookes as Croker the brawn of the trio and Tim Treloar as Roat who displayed scarily psychotic tendencies. They work so well together that it’s a great combination. The mix of their bumbling errors and attempt to get the upperhand gave levels of mystery and intrigue which was great to watch.
Oliver Mellor as Susy’s husband Sam gave some lightness to what could otherwise be a very dark evening of theatre but the rest of the contrast came from Shannon Rewcroft who was delightful as Gloria the moody girl upstairs who morphs from being a ‘difficult child’ into Susy’s sidekick and who wishes ‘things like this happened every day’!
The set was the perfect backdrop which allowed us to peer through the fourth wall into the lives of Sam and Susy and the lighting added all the lovely touches required. It was a pity the fire exit lights kept switching on and off during one of the most dramatic highlights of the show which was hugely distracting and the final show down in the bedroom did honestly sound like someone bashing pots and pans in the wings causing a number of the audience to giggle which did diminish the tension.
However, the whole piece was such a strong piece of theatre and resounded with me despite it being over 50 years old. If you can get a ticket for the rest of the tour – you won’t be disappointed.
The House of Dracula, Chelmsford Theatre Workshop
Well, it is Halloween and All Saints Eve this week so what better way to spend a night in the Theatre than in the presence of Dracula, Baron Frankenstein, Ygor and Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde!
I love pastiche theatre and madcap comedy and this is a perfect example of both. The introduction of the characters gave us an exciting insight into the evening ahead. Terry Cramphorn as Baron Victor von Frankenstein had great stature as the Victorian gentleman and mad scientist, sadly his diction at times needed greater attention as several lines which needed a quick-fire delivery were lost in some mumbling and unclear dialogue. Playing opposite him, Hannah Burton as his wife, the Baroness Elizabeth von Frankenstein, had suitable haughtiness as well some great comic moments and they really worked well together.
Their staff played by Christine Davidson as Frau Lurker had channeled Helga of “Allo, Allo” into her outrageous Hitler loving character and complete with whip and saucy underwear making her force to reckon with. I loved it! She was paired with Martin Robinson as Ygor, the hunchback who was equally pathetic and great fun all at the same time.
Dean Hempstead as Count Dracula had all the menace and deliciously craziness required for the part while Carrie Ann Shirtcliffe was serene and spooky as Countess Ilona Dracula. There were also some great cameos from Caroline Dunsmuir as the east end Bride of Dracula and Callum Prior as Groat and Ka-Seet.
There was some brilliant delivery of ‘ham’ acting from several characters throughout the play, which just added to the overall performance of the piece and gave so many extra laughs. This is very clever directorial input by Iain Holding-Sutton as it could just be interpreted as just poor acting but it was incredibly clever.
Leanne Young as Isabel, who was the most normal of the characters tonight, was a true moaning bitch but I loved her characterisation, I was honestly not sure of her place in the piece but Leanne gave it everything and delivered a great interpretation of the character.
However, I had two favourites this evening, the first being Ben Fraser as Henry Talbot, the Wolfman, who had some lovely ‘Shaggy’ from Scooby Doo moments in his dialogue – just divine! – and I loved all the little dog related innuendos and characterisations in his performance.
The second and a true star of the night for me, was Dave Hawkes as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde who switched between the two characters and accents superbly. His timing, stage presence and characterisation were simply brilliant.
This was a fun and enjoyable evening which flew along with lots of laughs and a good dose of spook-tacular silliness. See it while the moon is full!!!
Deathtrap – Mercury Theatre, Colchester
This thriller ran on Broadway successfully for many years and is a great piece of theatrical writing which keeps the audience on its toes throughout, following the many plot twists and turns. I remember seeing this for the first time many years ago and as then, the story offers some great surprises.
With just 5 characters and one set – it tells the story of writer Sidney Bruhl, who receives a script from one of his former students and discusses the idea with his wife Myra, that he could kill its writer and assume the play as his own. Myra is concerned that in his desperation for another hit he will see this through, so when he invites the young writer to visit with the only copy of the play, well tensions rise! Add a famous mystic staying in a neighbouring cottage who can foresee the future and Sidney’s attorney who are all thrown in together for a mix of murder and mystery.
The play opens with a large projection screen which is used during scene changes to play snippets from famous thrillers adding to the overall effect of the piece. This along with the sound effects was very effective.
Paul Bradley gave an exuberant performance as Sidney Bruhl, the character was immediately likable and although on occasion a little too contrived he led the play with confidence.
Jesse Wallace was harder to watch partially because she seemed to regularly upstage herself making it challenging to connect with someone whose emotions and facial expressions are difficult to see. However, she seemed to master the American accent better than her husband and had a very composed stage presence throughout.
Sam Phillips as young writer Clifford Anderson was a delight to watch on stage giving the play the thriller aspect and action it needs. He gave an innocence to the character which allowed the audience to be drawn in making the later acts of violence and twists in the plot so delectable.
Bruhl’s attorney Porter Milgrim was well played with an understated air by Julien Ball. However the tour de force of the piece was Beverley Klein as Helga ten Dorp. Utterly ‘Over The Top’, with fabulous body language and great timing she charges into the performance giving it energy and passion and some hilarious moments to boot.
There was one minor issue with last nights production, in that the reflections on the patio doors gave us great views of the backstage crew moving around and even cast members changing shirts etc. I am sure that only a small proportion of the audience could see it but it was still somewhat distracting and disappointing in a professional production of this calibre.
While some sections of the play felt a little lost and lacking direction it also gave some great moments keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. Ira Levin’s play is a great thriller and audiences around the UK will continue to enjoy this tour as it continues on to Birmingham and Richmond.
“9 to 5 – The Musical”, Witham Amateur Operatic Society
(by Guest Reviewer – Christine Davidson)
For October WAOS gave us the feel good production of 9 to 5. Written by Patricia Resnick with Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton, this production opened with the famous 9 to 5 number to represent a bustling day at the office of Consolidated Industries. This had the nearly full house audience, tapping their toes from the very start of the show. The production is based on the film in 1980 which starred Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda; it portrays three women who take on the horrendous and chauvinistic boss, Franklin Hart Jr, who ultimately gets his comeuppance.
Great wigs from the talented Patsy Page gave us the 70’s feel and the costumes were fab. Scenes were set by painted stage cloths and a raised area was included upstage to complete the set, simple but effective. Although sometimes maybe just a few too many of the chorus were on stage especially during the first scene when some were squashed in the wings.
The country and western songs were easy on the ears, accompanied by a fine, and well-honed orchestra ably conducted by the musical director James Tovey. He really did bring each of the songs to life even if some were somewhat unmemorable. A strong ensemble is vital for high-energy shows which have continuous movement, dancing and singing. This was certainly evident throughout this production.
The show had good female leads, with strong acting and singing from all of them that really kept the show going. I truly loved the emotion, and strength of character, of each of these ladies, who showed that you can act in a musical and be believed.
Matilda Bourne was Judy whose husband had left her for a younger model; she had never worked in an office in her life. Moving from shy and awkward to a confident strong woman during the show, her solos of ‘Get out and stay out’ with crystal clear voice was wonderful and her ‘Dance of Death’ in her sexy black sequined dress were great fun.
Diana Easton as Violet, who wants more than to be an Office Supervisor, was confident, expressive, her timing was excellent. The lynch pin of the three ladies she commanded the stage and her strong acting abilities meant that she was very believable. Her rendition of ‘One of the Boys’, with the male ensemble, was impressive and the duet ‘Let Love Grow’ another charming number.
Sarah Miles as Doralee, the feisty Dolly Parton look alike, sung the country and western songs with great ease. Not only did Sarah look, and act, the part of a country girl but she sang beautifully and had a terrific Southern accent. Her song ‘Backwoods Barbie’ solo and ‘Cowgirl’s Revenge’ stood out.
All three were really on top of their game in this production. The fantasy sequence where the three ladies imagine themselves either as a femme fatale, a rodeo star, or Snow White, was totally hilarious and executed with great pace and excellent choreography. I loved the puppets in this scene which added to the fun of it all.
An excellent Roz, the long suffering assistant to Franklin Hart Jr, was played with relish and great comedy timing by Rhianna Howard. Her song ‘Heart to Hart’ was a great number. Roz was besotted with the boss, the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot (quote from show) played with great effect by Niels Bradley. He gave us a villain that you loved to boo and hiss. He also had a nice line in John Travolta dancing as well as singing with power and the right amount of arrogance.
Emma Loring as the drunk at work had a very infectious giggle and was a pleasure to watch while Danni Carr, the accountant in love with Violet, had a wonderful voice and stage presence, I would love to see more from him in future productions.
Lighting was slightly disappointing, low level lighting at front stage left and right on occasions, meant that cast were lost in the gloom. On stage LED colour mixing could have been given greater thought, which was a shame, as this quality production deserved more. The projection of Dolly Parton was fun, seen on a video screen, at the back of the stage to welcome people to the performance but sometimes it was hard to hear what was being said. Occasionally sound balance was a problem, particularly when the orchestra were louder than the singers, causing a few songs to be difficult to hear but I think that this was a technical problem which should have been sorted out pre-show.
Hard working, confident director Nikki Mundell-Poole’s production has some fine dancing, and the fantasy sequences work well. Great team work from the whole cast who showed from the very start just how much they were enjoying each of their roles.
An excellent feel good show that sent the audience out singing 9 to 5 as they left the theatre. Congratulations to all for a good night out.
“All Shook Up” – Chelmsford Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society
From the opening iconic image into Jailhouse Rock the show explodes onto the stage with a wide variety of Elvis inspired music – however let’s be clear this is not a show for an Elvis Impersonator or Elvis tribute artist, Chad the roustabout is a leather-clad, sexually charged motorbiker who shares some of Elvis’s pelvic moves but that’s really where the similarity ends.
Simon Bristoe as Chad, played the part perfectly with just the right amount of comedy and hip swiveling to make us realise this isn’t Elvis but Chad and Simon has an amazing stage personality and great talent which kept us laughing throughout and allowed us to enjoy every second of his portrayal of Chad in this production.
Tamara Anderson as Natalie is the perfect partner for Simon, She has such versatile facial expressions and an amazing voice and the two of them together was a match made in heaven. She embodied Natalie and her male alter ego Ed, in every way.
Playing the towns loveable nerd Dennis is Oli Budino who delivers a heart-warming performance, my only comment is that I felt his Solo “It Hurts Me” in Act 2 was over powered by the orchestra who were far too loud and drowned out his number. Cassie Estall as Miss Sandra oozed sexuality aided perfectly by her tight-fitting wardrobe, gave a confident performance. By contrast, Robyn Gowers as Sylvia showed her experience and stage presence in this role and her solo “There’s always me” was delivered with great aplomb. Playing opposite her as Jim was David Slater who alongside his quirky dancing and misplaced dress sense gave a touching delivery as the widower trying to find love after heartbreak.
The young lovers Charlotte Broad as Lorraine and Dannii Carr as Dean were both endearing to watch and sang and performed beautifully together. As Major Matilda Deborah Sparshott was both powerful and domineering and Philip Spurgeon as the down trodden Sheriff Earl who finally finds his voice complete the principal line up.
All the musical numbers were so sharp and the choreography was spot on with a mix of 50’s and 60’s dance steps which were performed by the cast with exceptional precision. I particularly loved seeing 4 strong male dancers in the ensemble! Sally Warrington gave the society an outstanding production which is possibly the best I’ve seen in Chelmsford for several years.
My only other comment was that I felt the upper level of the set was underused and could have offered lots of other potential opportunities both as a performance level but also with gobos or similar to brighten up the stage but these are small comments because the show rocked the theatre and gave us one of the most enjoyable nights of theatre we have had in a long time. Often on some amateur shows you can pick out weak members but there definitely wasn’t a weak cast member in this show – which is a huge credit to the society.
If you haven’t seen it – then get tickets and be ready to dance in the aisles – there’s no doubt you’ll be “All Shook Up”
Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean – Blackmore Players
The play written in 1976 focuses on a group of small-town friends who idolize James Dean, forming a fan club called “The Disciples of James Dean,” headed by young Mona, who worked as an extra on the film.
The story revolves around Mona’s claim that she gave birth to the son of Dean, fuelling her hopes of gaining her own sense of celebrity and somehow escaping the confines of small-town life.
As Mona and her old friends gather for the 20th anniversary of the night of Dean’s untimely demise in a car wreck on September 30, 1955, we find McCarthy, Texas, dusty and dry: it hasn’t rained in three years and the water in the town’s municipal system has reduced to little more than a few drips.
The play is a bit of a slow burner and takes a while to get into its stride. And in some cases the accents and rapid speech made it difficult to hear what was happening. In addition, some of the sound effects – in particular, the train and the radio were far too loud making it difficult to distinguish what was actually being said on the stage.
Sandra Trott delivers a strong performance as the conflicted Mona, showing off both the character’s strengths and failings to equal measure. As her best friend Sissy, Lisa Rawlings very nearly steals the show with her interpretation of the buxom beauty and brings us to a very poignant, pivotal moment in the show when she reveals her painful secret.
However, for me, the most authentic characterisation on the stage was from Lucie Burrow as Joanne, She gave a stella performance showing a full range of emotions and all credit to her as a performer becasue I felt she was completely believable as being transgender and I loved watching her even when she was not the centre of the action.
As a backdrop, the set adds to the action perfectly – the attention to detail is spot on and one of the best I have seen in a while.
Genys Young as Juanita, was very assured as the Christian bible worshipper but on occasions her accent did slip and she moved back to a very English accent against the plethera of Texan twangs! Gail Hughes, in the role of Stella May is full of brass and sass and I particularly loved the relationship she has with the quiet and unassuming Edna Louise played by Hilary Martin. It’s much harder to play a quiet understated character because you have much less to get your teeth into as a performer.
Playing the younger versions of Mona, Sissy and Joe were Emma Thwaite, Macey Brown and Nicolas Rayment. Emma mirrored very well the character developed by Sandra and gave a pert and naïve version of the older Mona. Macey, I felt had the perfect characterisation for young Sissy but her dialogue was often garbled and difficult to understand, slowing it down would make a massive difference, in fact both girls could do with working a little more on their diction to let us really understand their stories, which would give us a much better appreciation of their obvious talents.
Nicolas as Joe and the only male in the play, was ideally cast and had great pathos and just the right amount of anger and pain to make us feel for his difficult journey which took him to his life choices 20 years later.
Blackmore Players always make you feel so welcome as soon as you walk through the door, so It was a very enjoyable evening and we look forward to their next production. Thank you so much for inviting us once again.
‘The Weir’ – The Mercury Theatre, Colchester
There is something very fascinating about 4 men and a woman in a remote pub in the Irish countryside telling each other ghost stories and anecdotes from their past. At its heart the play is about loneliness and how different people cope with it.
Each character has an enthralling monologue to deliver which when matched with the superb lighting makes them compelling. I loved the mix of jokes and arguments between the characters and the obvious disgruntlement about the broken Guinness tap or the impending arrival of the ‘Germans’.
Sean Murray as Jack took us on a roller coaster of emotion and showed us all sides of the old man who missed out on love in his youth and how a small act of kindness from a stranger made such a big impact on him. I loved his performance as it was belligerent and tender and extremely generous.
John O’Dowd as Jim was a calming influence and gave a quietly reassuring performance of the man who tells his own ghost story about a graveyard which certainly gave me shivers down my back.
Brendan the barman, a young bachelor who is the hinge in this piece, is played confidently by Sam O’Mahony – we never really hear his back story except ‘The Sisters’ have been to visit but we know he likes to make a show about ‘debating whether or not to have a drink’.
Louis Dempsey as Finbar, the local boy who has made a success of his life and is resented by the other characters gives us the most animated character in the piece. Natalie Radmall-Quirke as Valerie is the only woman in the play and we are left until the last third of the play wondering if she has a secret and what her place here is. Her story when revealed bonds her to the group. It is both moving and terrible at the same time and I truly felt her sorrow and pain because it was so believable and it felt so natural and understated.
This was a profound and thoughtful performance but it kept the audience gripped throughout. The Mercury once again has brought us an insightful piece of theatre which firstly was performed on an amazing set but which was brought to life with stunning lighting.
‘Peter Pan’ – The Mercury Theatre, Colchester
photo by Robert Day
This was an innovative performance which oozed creativity from start to finish. The set was simple yet worked in all its guises from nursery bedroom to pirate ship. I am a personal fan of actor/musicians and I am always in awe of their versatility and this production was another example of how this works perfectly.
The set which consisted of a multi functioning wardrobe, drawers which hid beds, an upright chest of drawers and various boxes was the perfect setting for the eight performers who double and tripled the parts in front of our eyes. The screens showing stars or clouds also gave a depth to the stage which I really loved.
For me, there was a real feeling of a children’s playground, having witnessed when children adopt a range of characters in the blink of an eye and we saw this first hand – one moment a lost boy and within seconds one of Hooks pirates.
Peter himself was played by Emilio Iannucci. Emilio had all the frustrations and ebullience of a young and self-assured boy and delivered a great performance as ‘the boy who never grew up’. Opposite him as Wendy was Charlotte Mafham. She had a strong stage presence and embodied the role we all know so well with charm and grace and was a pleasure to watch.
I particularly loved Alicia McKenzie, in her many personas and also James Peake – not just because of his wonderful Tuba playing but his great range of characterisations. Alicia went from unintelligible Tinkerbell to Jamaican Jukes in a flash of an eyelid and every different part was brilliantly delivered. James also gave great diversity in his performances – never more so than from Nana, the slobbering and lovable family dog to Slightly from the Lost Boys with his know-it-all character.
However, all the actors did a great job adding to the layers and colours of the performance. While I could name them all individually it was the whole cast working together that made the show so special. One of the highlights for me was the swimming section with the simple use of confetti to represent the splashes of water. So simple, yet so effective. Everything about the show required you to use your imagination to full effect and for me, it worked in spades.
This is not really a show for little children like a pantomime but for adults and slightly older children, it gives a wondrous and exciting theatre experience and is another inventive show from the Mercury Theatre, which I thoroughly recommend seeing.
‘Casa Valentina’ – Chelmsford Theatre Workshop, The Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
This is certainly an interesting and thought provoking play based on a real story of men in the 1960’s who found escape in the Catskill Mountains where they can leave their families and manhood behind and inhabit their female side.
As always Chelmsford Theatre Workshop produced an excellent set with the smallest details lovingly included, setting the atmosphere straight away. The use of the lower level gave an extra performance area which was superb.
The cast was led by Colin Smith as Valentina, the alter ego of George. This was a powerful and angry performance showing the inner turmoil he experiences while trying to keep his retreat going against the bigoted attitudes of the outside world. This was paired with an impressive and outstanding performance from Barry Taylor as Charlotte. Barry was incredibly believable as a woman not just in his looks or his walk but noticeably his hands which were the finishing touch to a masterpiece. In fact, all the men aided by a great wardrobe did a magnificent job in their transvestite guises and should all be commended. The clothes each of them put on reveal both the man and the woman precariously coexisting in a world that imposes harsh penalties for gender freedom.
Rachel Curran as Rita, George’s wife had a difficult part to deliver caught between her love and loyalty to her husband, George, and her growing awareness that the other woman in his life, Valentina, is one she will never be able to compete with and she conveyed the part well. However, I struggled to hear much of her dialogue as she was so softly spoken and against such a strong male cast I felt she was often over powered. By contrast Catherine Kenton as Eleanor with her cameo appearance in Act 2 was powerful and captivating, delivering a strong performance as the Judges daughter.
I particularly enjoyed Dave Hawkes as Bessie – a larger than life characterisation which hid a pained and troubled other life. He was very endearing and added much of the humour to the piece – he was a joy to watch. In contrast, Jesse James Lamb as Jonathan/Miranda, the shy and nervous new member of the sorority was played with just the right amount of pathos and his make-over scene was one of the highlights of the evening.
Ian Willingham was perhaps the most macho of the ‘ladies’ and in fact that added a realism which was a breath of fresh air. His portrayal was spot on, as was Terry Cramphorn as the older ‘lady’ in the group who reminded me of certain ‘ladies’ that I have met in my travels over the years. Both were very convincing.
I have to commend Peter Jeary, because if it hadn’t been mentioned in the programme that he had only stepped in the week before, I would never have known. His performance was that of someone who had been rehearsing for weeks and he did an excellent job.
I heard someone comment on their way out of the theatre that they weren’t sure what the play was – because it wasn’t a comedy and it wasn’t a thriller and they are right – it was like being a fly on the wall for the evening in a documentary.
It did cross my mind, given the recent comments of President Trump, in some ways how little has changed. However away from the political comment, this was a fascinating look into history and I certainly came away having enjoyed the evening and with lots of questions.
CTW delivered another great production and one that they should be suitably proud.
‘Betty Blue Eyes’ – Mad Hatter Productions, The Headgate Theatre, Colchester
The story revolves around a chiropodist and his wife stealing a pig being illegally reared to celebrate Elizabeth and Philip’s royal wedding banquet in 1947. Set in austerity Britain the opening number ‘Fair Shares for All’ instantly establishes the fragile optimism of that time.
With a company of 22, it would be fair to say you might expect a few weaker performances here and there but there were none.
Nathan Rigg as Gilbert Chilvers gave a warm and endearing performance as the Chiropodist who has ‘Magic Fingers’ – which could be interpreted as a comment of the sexual frustration of many women in the 1940’s while their men were away at the front. He gave a very credible performance and was a joy to watch. He was well paired against Ella D’Arcy Jones as his wife Joyce, who was indeed a force to be reckoned with due to her need to be recognised as ‘Somebody’. Ella performed extremely well, showing lots of skill in her interpretation of the part.
I also loved Ellena Bacon as Joyce’s mother, who thinks Gilbert and Joyce are planning to kill her rather than the pig. Ellena never once broke from character even when moving furniture in scene changes. She had great comedic timing and rang every nuance out of the part.
Alex Terry as Dr James Swaby had great stage presence and was completely believable as the snobbish middle aged doctor and town councillor along with Wade Ablitt as Henry Allardice who also had great stage technique, especially when in the presence of his beloved pig, Betty.
There were many other great performances from numerous cast members but I must mention the close harmony singing of Alice Molnar, Emily Bate and Martha Mugford in both ‘Magic Fingers’ and ‘Lionheart’. All three girls had lovely individual singing voices but they blended beautifully together and the close harmonies were sung to perfection.
The show was well choreographed and had lots of great moments but I do have to mention that in some cases the strength of the company vocals was also its downfall, as often when the ensemble were singing behind principal characters you just couldn’t hear the principal lines and often instead all that could be distinguished were the backing vocals. It would have benefitted the show if they had dropped their volume to support the principal characters rather than overpowering them.
The star of the show quite rightly so, was Betty herself, masterfully brought to life by Bethany Adamson.
Once again Mad Hatter Productions provided a great evening’s entertainment.
‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ – KYDS, Tiptree
Joseph was Andrew Lloyd Weber’s first musical and along with Tim Rice as the lyricist this musical was first performed way before any of these youngsters were even a twinkle in their parents’ eye. So, for them, it was a fresh piece of theatre to take on and perform.
This young cast approached the show with great enthusiasm which shone through with many young cast members giving strong and steady performances.
The show rests on squarely on the shoulders of the part of Joseph which was ably taken on by Ben Collins. Ben was confident throughout the show with a nice singing voice and good stage presence. He was also supported well by the girls sharing the part of the narrator. All of them presented the show well and took us on Josephs story with aplomb, however, it was Charlotte Kane who particularly stood out to me with her ease of performance.
Other notable performances were from Charlie Warner as Pharaoh – who literally brought down the house with his Elvis interpretation as Pharaoh and I also particularly liked Millie Sheldrick as brother Judah who not only worked hard throughout the whole show but sang and performed Benjamin’s Calypso very well.
The set was lovely on two levels with silhouetted palm trees in Act 1 and pyramids with a fantastic pharaoh head on the back wall in Act 2. This allowed for some great opportunities to stage some pictures with the cast. This set along with some great costumes gave a real wow factor to the show.
As a musical Joseph can be a tough, as there is very little dialogue and it is nearly all sung through, consequently there were a few shaky vocal moments from some of the soloists but with such a young cast this is to be expected and I commend all of them for their bravery in standing up there and giving us their very best. One area that felt a little weak were some of the dance numbers which looked a little under-rehearsed and a bit challenging for some of the cast. While some of them could obviously manage the routines perhaps others should have been given something a little simpler enabling them to deliver it well and give a polished performance. One number where this was not an issue however, was the Song of the King which was excellently delivered on all levels.
It seemed to me that this company thoroughly enjoyed performing this show and there were huge levels of joy and excitement rolling off the stage in waves. It was a pleasure to watch them and I am sure many of them, as a result of performing with this group, will go on to gain greater confidence both on and off stage which is great credit to Director Alex Berriman and her team. I look forward to seeing another KYDS production in the future.
‘All Shook Up’ , CMTS – Princes Theatre, Clacton on Sea
Photo: Robert Wong
All Shook Up is jukebox musical featuring the songs made famous by Elvis Presley and using the concept of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
Every number is an Elvis Classic which the audience will recognise and hum along to.
The show opens with the fabulous Jailhouse Rock. Right from the start Sam Small as Chad had the swivelling hips and the charisma necessary for this character. He commanded the stage in all his scenes with just the right amount of narcissism and style. Playing opposite him was Kirsty Heathcote as Natalie. Kirstie had all the small town charm as Natalie but was also very convincing as Ed with her deeper voice and manly stance. Kirstie has a natural flair for comedy and this was very evident with her facial expressions and body language throughout the show. This was never forced making her a joy to watch. She also showed with or without Blue Suede Shoes she has all the dance moves.
For me the under sung hero of the show was David Richardson as Dennis – his every move was nerdish and awkward but it was just marvellous to watch. He lived the character completely as the love struck best friend and also proved he has a fine singing voice. His rendition of ‘It Hurts Me’ in Act 2 was the best solo number in the show. Another Strong performance was that of Rachel Welham as sex siren Miss Sandra. She oozed sex appeal and her stage presence was perfect.
Although there wasn’t an orchestra and the society opted for backing tracks instead, this was a brave choice giving them the complexity of a full orchestra or band but unfortunately it was far too loud meaning the radio mics were ramped up making the sound very tinny and in places performers were trying to outdo the volume causing shouting and pitch issues.
Other notable performances were Chris Whiteman as Jim who was just right as Natalie’s father and very believable in his attempt to be cool and mimic Chad and Steve Church as Sheriff Earl who finally finds his voice which was greatly appreciated by the audience. There were other good performances from Phoebe Wiggett as Sylvia and Victoria Huxster as the Mayor and despite both these young ladies singing exceptionally well they were perhaps just too young to deliver the maturity that these roles require which was evident when played against the correct age gentlemen.
The dance routines and the chorus numbers were all well delivered with some great costumes and the set and lighting added lots of atmosphere.
This was a rock and roll extravaganza and deserves better audiences than the one tonight so get some tickets for the final performances and get yourself All Shook Up!
Handbagged, Chelmsford Theatre Workshop – The Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford.
I do remember Mrs Thatcher although I was too young to really grasp the political climate at the time but this playful and interesting speculation on what might have gone on behind closed doors during the 11 years that she was Prime Minister and her weekly meetings with Her Majesty was very enjoyable and at times quite moving too.
There are usually two Queens and two Thatcher’s on stage at any one time: these are older and young versions who occasionally disagree. It was reported that both Margaret and the Queen had a difficult relationship and the brilliant writing and portrayal of this piece surmises that perfectly.
Even the interval is a bone of contention: The Queen wants a break, but the PM is determined to press on.
Debbie Miles as the older Mrs T gave a solid performance showing great control in her delivery of the part and she was partnered by Andrea Dalton as the younger and more aggressive Margaret. In fact, Andrea had got the intonation and mannerisms of the part down so well it was hard sometimes to remember that you weren’t watching the actual Iron Lady herself.
As Her Majesty, Jane Smith gave a very convincing performance as the older Queen, her vocal imitation spot on and very believable as the slightly irritable monarch at times while Laura Hill as her younger self, had all the Royal composure you would expect and when both greet the commoners you did feel like you were in the presence of gloved royalty.
Casting Mark Preston, who seemed to morph into every character he undertook and Kevin Stemp, who reminded me of Tony Robinson, in all the smaller roles was inspired. Both played multiple parts as various people involved in the headlines of the day including Dennis Thatcher, both Ronald and Nancy Reagan (Mark Preston looking very fetching in a red dress and leopard skin heels), Gerry Adams, Arthur Scargill, Neil Kinnock, Michael Shea and Geoffrey Howe, as well as breaking down the fourth wall by chatting to the audience.
To complete the circle, the actors periodically get to comment on the way the show is being handled and the parts they are required to play.
Many of the major events of the period are touched on, including Zimbabwe independence, the Falklands War, the miners’ strike and the Brighton Grand Hotel bombing, but this is anything but a dry history lesson. We will never know what actually happened every Tuesday for 11 years in those meetings but tonight’s production gave us a glorious peak into what might have been.
Do try and see this if you can as it offers a great evening’s entertainment which won’t disappoint.
Farm Boy – The Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Photo: Robert Day
What a charming piece of theatre this is. With 2 actors, a musician and a collection of props including a tractor this production, which is aimed at the younger generation was heart-warming and emotional, showing a wonderful relationship between Grandfather and Grandson and all the life stories Grandpa can impart to him and the audience watching.
Danny Childs as the Grandson led us, like a narrator through the piece, his ability to bring to life every character and to show us a wide range of emotions through his face was captivating. As an audience you relived every joy and every sorrow with him.
On the other side there was glorious interaction from Gary Mackay as Granpa. He bumbled and staggered through the characters with such charm and affection that you loved him as if he were your own grandfather.
The play dovetails into the War Horse story perfectly which is also by Michael Morpurgo- introducing it to a younger audience who may not be familiar with the piece. Farm Boy was not only wonderfully written but beautifully acted with all the different parts both characters portrayed. The inclusion of snippets of music here and there from Ru Hamilton added extra depth making it even more thrilling in places.
There were times when I had a tear in my eye and couldn’t help but think about my own grandfather.
As one of the few adults without children in the audience it was a pleasure to see so many young faces also captivated by the performance and I hope for many it is the start of many years visiting the theatre. If this was their first step into live theatre and the arts, I could not think of a better play to see and to encourage them to see more. However, this is not just a piece for children and any adult privileged to see it will walk away as we did full of memories and having enjoyed a wonderful piece of theatre.
When Frank Met Ella – Blackmore Players, Blackmore Village Hall.
When you see Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald in the same sentence you are talking about 2 all-time greats – legends in fact! So, going to see an evening of their music I wasn’t sure whether it would live up to expectations.
On arrival, it was clear a high amount of effort had gone into the evening from the red carpet with the nightclub name on to the coasters on the tables – all adding to the overall ambience. The actor/waiters impeccably dressed and all wearing radio mics also gave a slight feeling of a Disney Themed restaurant where you expected them to jump on the tables and belt out a number or two and in that aspect, we were not disappointed.
Other than a steady diet of Musical Theatre I was brought up on the big band sound of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and the Rat Pack so I recognised most of the songs on the playlist and knew if nothing else I would have a grand sing-along night however, once the band started up and the evening was opened by the lovely Lisa Rawlings, I knew it was going to be far more than that.
I must commend all the performers tonight, it is always challenging standing up front and centre and to sing in front of a half-lit house with little else to distraction from your vocals.
There were some great moments in Act 1 – the fun duet between Barbara Harrold and Martin Herford, the Bad, Bad Leroy Brown sung by Sam Haskell which was Good, Good and Matthew Pearsons rendition of Strangers in the Night which showed great phrasing and breath control. There were other moments when numbers were pitchy or a little shouty but we must remember that these songs have been made famous by true stars and we can’t all deliver a number like Frank Sinatra or Aretha Franklin.
One young man who showed great promise – if only he would relax a little was Ryan Stevens – I was praying for a smile or even a small grin because when we smile on stage we are inviting the audience to smile with us. Ryan has a good singing voice and with work on relaxing his body and letting us see it isn’t as torturous as he made it look we would all enjoy his performances far more – I really thought in his Duet in Act 2 – he would manage a small grin –I felt we were so close and I was rooting for him the whole way! – that little smile would make such a big difference.
Sandra Trott delivered both Georgia on My Mind and Misty with great confidence and was a steady and reliable performer who showed her strengths easily.
However, there were a couple of complete stars with Linda Raymonds ‘Stormy Weather’ which was a fabulous bluesy rendition in both feel and tone and this was then topped by her duet with Simon Haskell as Louis Armstrong with ‘Summertime’ – this was an outstanding delivery and as good as any professional performance I have ever seen.
Act 2 also delivered on many levels – opening with James Hughes interpretation of Minnie the Mooch complete with Audience participation which was a light relief after lots of traditional numbers in Act 1. James also delivered well in his duet with Simon and ‘Aint that a kick in the Head’. Lisa Rawlings was a sensational songstress in this act and not only sang all her numbers with great panache she acted them well – making it as interesting to watch as it was to listen to. Barbara also sang well and her vocals really took me back to the era of the songs she performed and without being insensitive, I was impressed that as a more mature woman she has little vibrato in her voice which is a usual trait of singers as we age.
There were many great numbers in Act 2 – particularly ‘Mack the Knife’ and ‘The Lady is a Tramp.’ I thought that as the show came to a close, there were some lovely moments but I must comment that James number ‘All the Way’ perhaps needed different staging. It was more of a Television level performance – almost too cool for school and whilst I don’t want to take anything away from him – I felt we were right at the front of the hall and could see every tiny move but those at the back may not have done – I would have taken this down to a follow spot or special and focused in on him without other on stage distractions.
Once again the highlight of this act was Simon Haskell and his delivery of ‘One for the Road’– the subdued lighting and staging was perfect.
This was a great evening with lots of great songs and some stunning performances. Congratulations to all involved.
Footloose – Springers Amateur Operatic Society, Civic Theatre – Chelmsford.
Footloose is best known from the 1984 film and in 1998 it was released as a Musical on Broadway and has been a popular choice for amateur societies since.
The music written by Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford is a joy to listen to and the Band under the baton of Ian Myers did it credit.
The show started in 1984 glory with rara skirts and neon colours in a Chicago nightclub and with some fabulous choreography courtesy of Helen Arbor it exploded onto the stage. The action then takes us to Bomont where ‘Dancing is against the law’.
The story pivots around Ren McCormack who struggles with his fathers abrupt departure and a constrictive new life in Bomont. Jon Newman as Ren found much of the torment that he goes through and tackled the dance part of the character well. He was paired well against Mae Pettigrew as Ariel, daughter of the Towns Reverend who is a rebellious and troubled teenager.
Colin Shoard as her father Reverend Moore delivered a passionate performance as a man torn between his fear and his love and his wife Vi Moore played by Deborah Anderson, gave a strong thought-provoking performance as a woman ‘Learning to be Silent’. This is one of my personal favourite numbers in the show and Mae, Deborah and Catherine Gregory who played Ren’s mother Ethel did not disappoint with this rendition.
I love the show and I enjoyed this version but I have to comment on the lack of diction which at times made it difficult to hear both the vocals during the songs and the dialogue. If there was one word of advice I could give this company was to annunciate better so we can enjoy every single moment of their performances.
Much of the lighter element of the show comes from Willard played by Daniel Shultz and Rusty played by Alexandra Philips. This was a lovely pairing and both worked well together in fact “Let’s Hear it for the Boy’ in Act Two was my highlight of the show. Alexandra has a fabulous voice and especially when blended with Nicola Myers as Urleen and Kat McKeon as Wendy Jo, the trio sang well and delivered some great harmonies. However, at times I felt perhaps the sound was not quite on par as it sounded very shouty which was a real shame. Daniel grew into the character of Williard throughout the show, I felt he could have perhaps taken him a little further towards the simple country lad but he came into his own with his backing group in my other favourite number in the show – Mama Says!
I am not a fan of big scene changes and I felt there were times when these could have been done on an open stage as audiences today are used to seeing them happen as part of the action rather than during a dark void but I have great respect for all who work behind the scenes and appreciate we can all criticise without knowing the circumstances.
As a big dance show this is always a challenge for any amateur society who traditionally have a dancing cast with different levels of ability. It was clear that Helen Arbor worked extremely hard with this cast to deliver strong dance routines and from a choreography point of view I loved her concept of “I’m free” with the different groups doing different steps like a singing round.
Every member of the cast looked like they were having a complete ball on stage and it did come across to the audience. I’m not sure if there are still tickets available but if you can get a ‘golden ticket’ to see this show – go and I am sure you will leave with a smile on your face as we did.
Hot Mikado – Shenfield Operatic Society
Modern variations of Gilbert and Sullivan classics are something we have all become familiar with and The Mikado has seen many of these including the Black Mikado and the Jazz Mikado. The Hot Mikado is no exception.
Shenfield embraced this show from the opening with a strong male company performing Gentleman of Japan. It was notable that some of the older gentlemen certainly had ‘all the moves’ and that swing feel and it was a real pleasure to see them dancing with such commitment and enjoyment.
Jack Lloyd as Nanki-Poo had the looks of a heart-throb in his first entrance and delivered his introduction to the character with the song ‘Wandering Minstrel’ well but it was when he was paired with blonde bombshell Liberty Watts as Yum-Yum that he really got into the character. The two worked well together, particularly in “This is what I’ll never do” Liberty also shone in her solo “The Sun and I” which she didn’t just sing beautifully but acted it well too.
Jamie Fudge as Pish-Tush and Lloyd Bonson as Pooh-Bah/’Lord High Everything Else’ were both strong and reliable performers on stage and were excellent foils to Allister Smith as Ko-Ko. Allister reminded me very much of Ray Bolger (famous for his role as Scarecrow with Judy Garland in Wizard of Oz) with an amazing rubber face and almost freakishly flexible body moves.
Paired opposite him as Katisha was Kerry Cooke who embraced this role fully. Her solo “Alone and Yet Alive” was so soulful and delivered a real punch in this otherwise upbeat and clap-happy show.
For me, however, the stars of this show were the voices of Kate Smith and Rachel Watson who both delivered exceptional vocal acrobatics in the end of act one section. This is what the show needs to give it the lift and different feel from the G&S original.
I absolutely loved the setting being ¾ in the round meaning that the cast had to work to all sides and I thought Director Louise Byrne did an excellent job in putting the show together in that format. The set’s simplicity with the stairs and side rostra gave height and allowed lots of lovely pictures adding to the overall enjoyment of the piece.
My only down on the evening was not related directly to the show but did affect my enjoyment and that was the theatre seating, there was simply not enough leg-room to sit comfortably and sadly I couldn’t wait for both acts to finish so that I could stand up and stretch my legs.
However, we left the theatre singing and dancing and the show was a delight from start to finish. I understand ticket sales have been good but if you can buy, borrow or steal a ticket to see this before it finishes then you will not be disappointed!
The Rivals, Kelvedon Players – Kelvedon Institute
This Comedy of Manners was Sheridan’s first play and was considered to be one of his masterpieces, even coining the reference “Malapropism” taken from the famous character Mrs Malaprop – a moralistic widow. Set in Bath in the 18th Century, a town that was legendary for conspicuous consumption, fashion and wealth; The Rivals centres around the story of two young lovers, Lydia and Jack, infatuated with their alter egos that they portray to each other, whilst also poking fun at the upper classes and their social etiquettes.
As soon as you enter the auditorium you are taken back through song. The light melodic tones on the Harpsichord are heard over the speakers, inviting you in. This was coupled with a few members of the cast, in character, greeting audience members and even having Lucy deliver the standard “please turn off your mobile phones” message, again perfectly in character.
Director Andrew Millward, who also made an appearance as Thomas the Coachman, clearly put a lot of thought into how to convey this almost 250 year old play to a 21st Century audience. There were a couple of instances where references to modern society and pop culture were made; a fist bump handshake and a homage to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”. They were perfectly considered and executed but unfortunately with so few similar references, felt a little out of place and didn’t have the desired impact overall.
For a cast of 13 it was delightful to see lots of great performances, too many to talk about individually, but all must be commended for their strong and varied characters. However special mention must go to Lucy, played brilliantly by Barbara Hardwick, who had great stage presence with expert comic timing throughout. There was always a twinkle in her eye which told you she was up to mischief!
Other notable performances were given by Heidi Hamber, who played Lydia Languish; Russell Winsor, Sir Anthony Absolute and Michael Howard, Faukland (the applause after his first appearance was very much deserved!). Although everyone held their character throughout, projected clearly and had excellent diction, the 3-aforementioned had exceptional rapport with the audience which helped to invest in them completely.
It is a shame, however, that there was an issue with the stage right door during the first half but the cast dealt with it professionally and didn’t let it deter from their scenes. Thankfully this was rectified in the interval and was no longer a problem afterwards.
Away from the cast, a nod must be directed towards the tech team. Although the set was kept minimal, there were many scene changes throughout and all were handled with speed and precision by a team that had clearly planned, choreographed and rehearsed the changes to a very high standard – well done!
Although not the societies fault, the length of the play did detract from the all round enjoyment towards the end; there were a few tired eyes in the audience! This is something that hampered the play even in 1775 and required a rewrite from Sheridan 11 days after first opening. That said you can’t take away from the sheer hard work and energy that Kelvedon Players put into this production. It was very much a labour of love and it was great to see that radiating from everyone on stage.
If you are passionate about plays, especially the “less obvious” ones then this society deserves your patronage. Do keep an eye out for their Autumn 2017 production of “Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!” by Dario Fo.
“9 to 5”, Little Theatre Company – Palace Theatre, Southend
Based on the 20th Century Fox Pictures film starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomin and Dolly Parton, the musical gives us the same story but with the wonderful Music and Lyrics from Dolly herself.
Opening the show with a personal statement to the audience and introducing the characters Dolly sets us up for an evening going back in time to the late seventies when the office was the male domain and the women ‘mere secretaries’ but at Consolidated Industries all is about to change….
The cast is led by three strong women, all well cast and who are equal in strength as the shows conspirators against male dominance.
Lianne Larthe as Violet Newstead is completely in control as the executive secretary with her eye on promotion. She has strength and charisma and delivers a very competent performance throughout giving great stability to the show. Alongside her are Louisa Strachan as Doralee and Eleanor Softly as Judy. Both these ladies ‘Shine like the Sun’ in their respective roles, Eleanor as the recently single Judy who is trying to find her way in the workplace, develops the character beautifully throughout the show from the shy and weepy to the strong and independent. Sadly, I found the activity of Hart on stage during her number ‘Get and and Stay out’ extremely distracting and I felt it was a disservice to her wonderful performance of this highly emotional number.
Louisa Strachan as Doralee was just divine, every nuance was perfect with a real Dolly Parton feel to the character but with her own interpretation. She was captivating every time she came on stage.
The three ladies all delivered their own numbers beautifully but together they were simply outstanding.
Ian Benson as Franklin Hart gave a solid performance as the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical, bigot however, I still felt he could be more sleazy in his character but maybe this was because he is a modern man and just not used to the 1970”s ‘Life on Mars’ type of guy. Playing against him as Roz his ever-loving administrative assistant was Stephanie Wilson. Her number Heart to Hart was great and showed us the real provocative side to the character. This was a real case where experience and talent came to the fore.
There were many other great characterisations from the cast in some of the minor roles and I have to despite what was a small cast size for a big all singing, all dancing show the company singing was top class along with a fabulous orchestra – which was probably one of the best I have heard recently.
The company coped extremely well with a large and cumbersome set but they never let it stop the flow of the show and the audience watching tonight enjoyed everything from start to finish. This is a “feel-good” show with uplifting music and a fun storyline and LTC delivered it in an engaging and exciting way.
“Waiting for God” – The New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
Based on the 1990’s TV series of the same name which starred Stephanie Cole and Graham Crowden, this adaptation by original writer Michael Aitkens, has all the best bits of the TV series and lots more new laughs too.
Nichola McAuliffe as the cantankerous long term resident Diana Trent is the star of the show with superb timing and a look that could wilt spinach at 30 feet! When Tom Ballard played by Jeffery Holland comes to stay at Bayview we see their friendship blossom. Holland has all the charm of an older gentleman but with the twinkle in his eye of a true rebel – and who doesn’t love that quality. As a pairing, they work so well together making you relish their outrageousness and in a slight change in the words of Nora Ephron – “I’ll have what they’re having”!
Watching life through their eyes including a heart attack, a birth and prostrate problems we witness the acerbic comments and emotions of the residents who feel anything but old!
Much of the humour revolves around McAuliffe but she is superbly backed up by a small but perfectly formed cast. Samuel Collings as Harvey Baines the self-obsessed retirement home manager is suitably irritating and gets his fair share of her walking stick and abuse while Emily Pithon as Jane Edwards, Harvey’s sweet and childish assistant is charming in her naivety and simplicity.
David Benson as Geoffrey Ballard gave a humorous performance as the cuckolded son and Sarah Chase as Diana Trent’s niece was perfect as the next generation Trent with a backbone of steel.
As someone who is no longer a spring chicken – this production resonated with me as Holland and McAuliffe smack the conventionality of growing old in the face and remind us age is only a number.
A fantastic nights entertainment – including the odd cheeky adlibs – god bless a runaway grape – but if you haven’t seen it – get to the New Wolsey Theatre this week and relish the art of growing old disgracefully!!
“Spamalot” – Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Monty Python, I am often told isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but there is no mistaking their talent & their creativity. I remember watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail in my youth and laughing out loud throughout it.
The audiences tonight at the Mercury Theatre were also all laughing out loud throughout the entire show. Spamalot is a cross between a musical and a pantomime which lovingly takes the mickey out of itself and what we now know as a musical theatre.
From the opening with the Historian and the misunderstanding of Finland for England you know that you are in for an evening of belly laughs and giggles.
I particularly liked Bob Harms as King Arthur – sometimes Arthur is played as the straight man to Patsy’s comedy but Harms gave the character depth and showed some great comedic moments. Partnered with Dale Superville as Patsy it would be easy for Harms to be constantly upstaged with Superville’s rubber face and excellent comedic timing but the two worked in perfect harmony – never more so than in ‘All Alone’ – which has always been a personal favourite of mine – this was a wonderful piece of acting with Superville’s easy facial expressions and Harms command of the stage.
Working with a small cast means everyone must play a wide variety of parts and go through constant crazy costume changes and accents! I only missed there being a larger cast in a couple of the company numbers where a few more bodies would have stopped the stage looking a little bare but I cannot say this was detrimental in any other way to the overall performance.
I also should pick out Marc Ankinfolarin who seemed to be constantly on stage playing such a wide range of characters and who kept me in stitches throughout the evening – never more so that in the Lancelot number and I can honestly say I could not take my eyes off John Brannoch who was the third laker girl – he out danced the girls in every way!
I could name the entire cast person by person but they were all excellent and the whole cast had perfect timing and it was greatly appreciated by all the audience around me who cheered, laughed and applauded in equal measure.
Despite knowing the whole show word for word – dialogue and lyrics – I was so entertained and challenge anyone to go see the show and not feel the same. Get your tickets sit back, forget global issues and laugh! I promise you won’t regret it.
Chelmsford Young Gen’s – “13” – A musical story about becoming a teenager, a boy in a new town and young love… (24th April 2017)
In the world of amateur theater it is sometimes difficult to find something new, or at least, something you haven’t seen before. So tonight I went to see Chelmsford’s ‘Young Gen’ production of 13 the musical. So what’s it about? A story about all the bad luck in the world? No! Not that kind of thirteen.. or is it? The story is based around turning thirteen and all the trials you face growing up. A kind of High School The Musical meets Looserville , with a little bit of Fiddler thrown in for good measure if you like.
The story begins when New Yorker Evan Goldman (Played by Charlie Toland), a young Jewish boy, talks of his becoming a man and looking forward to the best Bar Mitzvah ever. Evan, centre stage, is joined by his class mates as he hands out the invites and the cast build the intensity in a ‘Busted’esk style routine. A number full of youth and abundant vigour gets the musical off to a great start – only to be interrupted by Evan’s mother calling him on his mobile and destroying his dream. His parents are splitting up and he is moving to Indiana!
Thirteen is a show with many parts for a cast to play and each has its own nuance making it individual from the other. The part of Patrice is one such role. Played well by Heather Nye, as she takes an emotional journey through the ensuing scenes. Shunned by her peers, let down by her new friend Evan, yet deep down inside the beating heart of a teenager begins to stir. In stark contrast, enter on stage the swagger of Brett (Played by Matt Barnes) in what can only be described as the most unlikely wooing technique. But it seemed to work as he got the girl (Kendra – Played by Phoebe Walsh)! Both parts were played well and casting seems to have been just right – Football champ and all round Mr Popular meets ditsy cheerleader. But love, or getting Mr Popular, is not quite so easy when supposed ‘BFF’ Lucy (Played by Hope Davis) is on the scene. Played well by Hope, her crafty and underhanded tricks certainly made the character one to watch out for; however, vocally I feel Hope struggled in some of her numbers. In fact this is true of many of the cast, which I put down to a combination of first night nerves and a issue with the balance of sound. Often cast seemed to be shouting the louder sections which lead to a few tuning issues, which is my only real criticism of the show.
Other nice characterisations were performed by ’The Girls’ Cassie, Charlotte and Molly (Oliva Khattar, Lois Chapman and Amy Hollingsworth) and not to forget Archie, Exquisitely portrayed by Oliver Gardener, who eked out every bit of comedy from the role. But with all this, wait for it… They were all upstaged by the Jersey boys of Malcolm, Eddie and Richie (Reuban Beard, Matt Wickham and Jack Toland). What dream parts to play and a very good lesson for all budding young actors. Not all principle roles and certainly leading principle roles are the best parts to play. Well done for bringing an enjoyable slant on musical style in the show.
A show where musical style was so varied it gave us pop and hip-hop to soul and a touch of traditional ‘Musical Theatre’ meaning all the numbers had a separate identity, something a lot of modern musical seem to lack. The imaginative use of the set with revolving flats kept the movement of the scenes flowing and led to the feel of youth and that time in school throughout many of the numbers. However, youth theatre is about learning the craft and the art of entering and exiting, whilst ensuring the flats were returned to the closed position, was far from the minds of some members of the cast. The occasional arm reaching out from behind the scenes was evident, but it was clear that, for some, the stagecraft had been learnt as they went out of their way to set the scenery right.
So thank you for a new and enjoyable all-round experience… Well done to Young Gen for doing it! All too often these lesser known musicals are put on the back burner as they are too risky financially for societies to put on. But how are they to become known if nobody does them. Bravo and here is to a good run!
click for ticket information