Reviews

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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

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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

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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.
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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

Full Cast - The Weir - Photography by Marc Brenner

 

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

Ru Hamilton, Gary Mackay, Danny Childs - Farm Boy - Photo Robert Day
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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

LTC 9 to 5 show image

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

Simon Shorten, Marc Akinfolarin, Norton James, Daniel Cane & Bob Harms - Spamalot - Photo Robert Day
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)

13

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!

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