Sunday, January 15, 2017



Audrey Longman Studio at Brentwood Theatre

Seagulls and Beyond The Sea on the soundtrack, and two chairs on the deck.
Pamela – nicely characterized by Janet Oliver – floral print dress, white cardie – is cruising alone, relaxing after an eventful coach journey. A lovely moment when she empties everything – sun-cream, Jilly Cooper - out of her beach bag to answer her phone. Her space is soon invaded by shameless silver fox Gerald; he was on the same coach, and now he's deftly moving his chair closer, boasting about his lunch box, hoping to get his new bosom buddy interested in something more exciting than horticulture. A typically hilarious performance from Vernon Keeble-Watson, finding an infinite variety in calling Pammie's name, doing press-ups on deck, sorting out the lead in his pencil, and, in an unexpected change of mood, overcome by a melancholy loneliness in his “to be or not to be” moment.
Like Sarah Brown with her Cuban milk-shake, Pamela is inspired by an exotic cocktail to involve Gerry in an Agatha Raisin fantasy. There are other passengers on board, of course, and it would be good to see a little more of the doctor, the masseuses and the lounge singer, for instance.
Not all the sequences ring as true as the initial meeting, but there are plenty of laughs before the two singles go off together to swim with turtles by way of the on-board bingo.
Written and directed by Andrew Alton-Read, this rehearsed reading is a work in progress; it's already an enjoyably gentle observational piece, bringing two contrasting characters together to fine comic effect.

Friday, January 06, 2017


Trinity Methodist Music and Drama

A new recruit to the ranks of community panto.
Tony Brett's production turns out to be a traditional, vintage romp through the familiar story. Though the music includes Buble and Beyonce as well as Flanagan and Allen. There's a nod to the Disney show, as well. And of course a generous helping of songs from the shows: Flower Drum Song, Grease, Annie Get Your Gun, Mary Poppins and more ...
There's a great ghost, UV skeletons, a shrinking Wishee and a custard pie. Not to mention a splendid Sand Dance [Wilson Keppell and Betty style] and an impressive production number to Siegfried Line. Cultural references range from policemen on point duty to Pokemon Go.
The settings are simple, with a backcloth which looks as if it's been too often to Twanky's laundry. But the pyrotechnics look good, as do the costumes, with a magnificent walkdown outfit for the Dame.
She's nicely played by Howard Brooks, with George Robey eyebrows and a pleasant baritone. Emma Byatt makes a fine principal boy; her Princess – more fabulous frocks – beautifully sung by Charlotte Reid. Best make-up goes to Paul Osborne's evil Abanazer; Neil Tuttlebury's Emperor is a sadist to rival the Mikado, Alison O'Malley brings an attractive innocence to the mute mime So-Shi. And Alex Wilson works hard as Wishee Washee, forever afraid someone will try to pinch his Pikachu.
Sue Edwards is the MD at the keyboard, with Mark Edwards on the hi-tech drum kit.
It's back to G&S for Trinity's Civic show in May; following their inventive Pirates of 2015, we're promised a fresh look at Trial by Jury and HMS Pinafore, though Music Director Gerald Hindes assures us that Sullivan's music will be heard as the composer intended.

production photograph by Val Scott

Sunday, January 01, 2017



Three shows to review a week on average again this year; there's been so much great work, too. In this selection, I've restricted myself to those events I was invited to review which earned five stars in my increasingly generous rating system.

Musically, there were predictably fine performances from the Chelmsford Singers, the Stondons, Singers of Writtle and Waltham, including this memorable March world première.
Impressive music-making from the ESO, too, from the Essex Chamber Orchestra, and from the professional bands brought to the Civic by the wonderful M&G concert series, including welcome visits from Martin Roscoe with the Northern Chamber Orchestra and John Wallace with the Philharmonia Brass.

Dramatically, it was often the small-scale and obscure which impressed us most. St Martin's in Colchester hosted two Shakespeares; the Bard had a particularly good year, of course. A poignant WWI Henry V in Middle Temple, and, at the Wolsey, a magical
Midsummer Night's Dream – Trevor's, not Emma's … The Queen's Hornchurch had my favourite of the Much Ados this year [and another hit musical, Partners in Crime].
Over-sexed, over-paid and over here. The Yanks in East Anglia triumph twice – once in the touching Somewhere in England from Eastern Angles [whose final visit to the Hush House, We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea, also makes the top twenty], and the hilarious Handbook for American Servicemen at the Cramphorn, which has hosted some excellent fringe work this past year, including The Collector, Mountains of Madness and Vamos Theatre's Best Thing. The Civic, though, seems to struggle to attract many worthwhile tours – thank heavens for the big shows from local amateur
companies. But it was Witham's Half a Sixpence [in a year which saw a great professional re-written revival] and LODS' Spamalot which stick in the memory.
Much interesting work at the Old Court, including Gaslight, Mr Kolpert and Compleat Female Stage Beauty, and at Brentwood Theatre, notably Glenda Abbott's My Boy Jack.
Young performers continue to make their mark – amongst many other shows, the Essex Dance Theatre's summer showcase, and, back in January, a stunning Les Mis from KEGS Drama; their next, Miss Saigon, eagerly anticipated in February 2017.

Floriane Andersen as a nurse and Freddie Stewart as a wounded soldier in Antic Disposition's Henry V  
Image: Scott Rylander

Wednesday, December 21, 2016



The Stondon Singers at the Priory Church, Blackmore

The passing of another year is marked by this annual Christmas treat; as so often, the last of the carol concerts in the calendar.
The Singers, conducted by Christopher Tinker, began with the fifteenth century simplicity of Busnois' Noel, Noel, Noel, written when the Augustinian priory here was at its most prosperous, and ended with an equally simple, equally moving My Lord Has Come, written in 2010 by Durham composer Will Todd.
Loyset Pieton, of whom little is known, worked in Dijon at the start of his sixteenth century career; his O Beata Infantia was a wonderful discovery. Other highlights of a varied programme were Alan Bullard's Shepherds, Guarding Your Flocks, premièred here a year ago, Malcolm Archer's A Little Child There Is Yborn, with its haunting Alleluias, a nimble arrangement by Mark Wilberg of Ding Dong Merrily, and the sweet harmonies of Gabriel Jackson's lilting Christ-child. Michael Frith was the accompanist at the organ.
The capacity crowd got a chance to sing, too, and after a rousing O Come All Ye Faithful, the Stondon's traditional Christmas encore, an a cappella Silent Night from the west end of the nave.
As Nick Alston pointed out in his introduction, a choir is not just for Christmas, and the Stondon Singers' busy diary for 2017 includes a Marian anthology in Queen of Heaven, Evensong in St Paul's Cathedral, and the eagerly awaited William Byrd Anniversary in Stondon Massey.

William Todd - My Lord has come  from , A Christmas Eucharist from Bath Abbey, 25th December 2015. directed by Peter King



European Arts Company at the Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford

Read by Mr Charles Dickens. The Author”. Well, we can only speculate on what those hugely popular readings were like, and how close Mr John O'Connor comes to the original. Personally I have always imagined a bold, melodramatic rendition, but this is largely a question of personal taste.
A single chair, the famous reading desk, put to many and varied uses, and some vaguely Victorian screens are the simple setting; unlike Dickens, director Peter Craze is able to call on sound, and to a lesser extent lighting, to conjure up Scrooge's world.
There have been cuts [Dickens sometimes took three hours to tell the tale] – the school room and Joe's rag-and-bone shop two of the casualties – but the key scenes are all in place: The Cratchits' festive meal and Fezziwig's dance both excellently brought to life.

An enjoyable reminder of the original behind so many adaptations and parodies. And, which would have delighted the Charitable Gentlemen, a performance that emulated the original in its charitable purpose, in this case raising funds for Dr Barnado's.