Saturday, December 10, 2016


at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch
for The Reviews Hub

“Well it's good, but it's not what I'd call traditional ...”
Soundbite from the little old lady just along the row. She has a point.
Andrew Pollard's script has more than a few novel touches. Baron Hardup has expired, leaving his wicked widow free to bully poor Cinders unchecked. Cinders herself is feisty and forceful (and in this company plays a mean trombone). Hard to imagine her knuckling under for long, and indeed she does turn on her tormentors before the happy-ever-after ending. The ugly duckling turns into a bevy of swans to pull the pumpkin coach. No riches to rags transformation, very few pyrotechnics, some witty cultural asides, and the jokes a mixture of the amusingly original and the junior school playground. And, surely a first, the panto song is that old Pat Boone favourite Quando Quando Quando.
But there's a proper staircase for the walk-down, a traditional ghost routine (done to the Ghostbusters theme), and an opening number in the village square featuring the Young Company, one of three teams of ten local children.
Martin Berry's production, a little coarse and raucous for some tastes perhaps, keeps up an energetic pace from the off, only some of the longer songs slowing the action. Most of the numbers, though, were apposite and excellently delivered by the talented company of actor-musicians, with Joshua Goodman the MD. Christina Aguilera's Words Can't Bring Me Down, for example, Dreamgirls' One Night Only or Adele's To Make You Feel My Love, with a great fiddle obbligato from Dandini.
Jonathan Charles is superb in this often thankless role – a poor Italian immigrant, reeling off a stream of Italian names, playing his violin and teaching his master the art of love before changing identities, in a very thin disguise, with Sebastian, aka Prince Charming of Chelmsford (Jamie Noar). His Cinders is played with gutsy charm by Natasha Lewis, with some outstanding vocals, too.
Buttons, the Justin Bieber of Romford, is Alex Tomkins, playing on the sympathy of the audience, and rewarded by an invitation to join the happy couple in their new life together. The Fairy Godmother, her wand a silver flute, is beautifully spoken by Etisyai Philip.
The trio of baddies – all firmly rooted in Essex – are Kylie amd Miley, ugly sisters (Carl Patrick and Simon Pontin) and the Baroness, Hornchurch regular Georgina Field squeezing every last drop of evil from her role, and proving a fine saxophonist to boot. The trombone/sax face-off one of many inspired moments in this innovative production.
Mark Walters' design is sparkly and pretty as a picture-book. His costumes range from the cygnets' feathery drawers through the elegant gowns for Cinders and the Good Fairy to the OTT creations for the Sisters: designer handbags, Christmas gift-wrap, and, cleverest of all, the cocktail dresses.
Shouting out advice, encouraging bashful Buttons, screaming out that Behind-You “meta-theatrical rubbish”, the opening night audience of “children and coffin-dodgers” loved it all, from the “sniffle-stopper” - an ingenious tissue dispenser projecting loo-rolls over the front stalls – to the giant beach balls for the megamix party finale.

production photograph: Mark Sepple

Rave reviews for Cinderella at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch from Queen's Theatre Hornchurch on Vimeo.


Made in Colchester at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester
for The Reviews Hub

Beneath the impressive 21st century gloss, and despite the Trump gags, this is a warmly traditional panto, its appeal effortlessly spanning the generations.
Director and co-writer Daniel Buckroyd has wisely re-hired many of last year's Aladdin company; they seem very much at home in the Mercury, and their banter with each other and rapport with the audience are a delight.
Dale Superville makes a perfect Idle Jack – Roger the cabin boy on the Saucy Sally, getting the kids on his side instantly; he's the ideal foil for Antony Stuart-Hicks' glamorous Merseyside Mrs Suet, alias Sarah the Cook. Tall, glamorous with ever-higher heels and coiffure, George Robey eyebrows and a tasty line in crudities, this is a classic Dame. Ignatius Anthony relishes every moment of Ratty King (“a child crying, music to my ears”), a role cleverly re-imagined as a raffish villain out to seize political power in the City of London.
Gracie Lai is an agile Thomasina the Cat – wordless, as tradition demands, but very expressive nonetheless, and superb in a mewed rendition of Memory (from Cats, in case you'd forgotten) as she hypnotises the rats in the Sultan's palace.
The fruity-toned Fitzwarren is done with some style by Richard Earl, and Barbara Hockaday pulls off an unlikely double as Fairy Bow Bells and Captain Barnacle.
Love interest in the youthful shape of “Poundland Poldark” Whittington (Glenn Adamson) and his charming Alice (Grace Eccle).
The gloss includes David Shields' wonderful set, a centre circle, the face of Big Ben projected onto it, with clockwork designs, or the houses of old London, curving around it. The Epicurean Emporium, and the pitching ship's galley are beautifully realised.
The costumes too – not only Ratty's Dickensian outfit and the Dame's eye-catching creations (bathing drawers, Essex girl beehive, and she's the only one to get a change for the actual walk-down), but the attention to detail throughout, the sparkly shoes and fezzes for the Moroccan rats, for instance.
And the timeless tradition extends to some very venerable jokes (“Avast behind!” and “All hands on deck!”, shared with the equally saucy ship at the Wolsey this year), a UV underwater ballet, a ghost routine with a rather unconvincing camel, an old-fashioned Friendship medley for Dick and his Cat, that good old campfire classic Bobbing Up and Down Like This, and a wicked Twelve Days parody featuring a huge inflatable gin bottle and celebrity chefs - “Mary Berry's cherry”.
Charlie Morgan's choreography is snappy and inventive: the talented Junior Chorus excellently employed on board ship and in the Madness rats number. Richard Reeday, who's contributed lyrics and arrangements, is the Musical Director.
One of my three wishes after last year's Aladdin was for more of the same. The Made In Colchester genies have certainly delivered, - an object lesson in how to bring fun and freshness to a winning formula.

production photograph: Pamela Raith

Thursday, December 01, 2016


at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich


All the traditional ingredients of the Wolsey's wonderful rock'n'roll offerings are there: the actor/musicians, the chorus of cute critters, the visual puns [“pulled pork”] and the sound effects.
And after last Christmas's Sword in the Stone, this year we're treated to another fresh new storyline, and some unexpected characters. Our story-teller, and good fairy, is Scheherazade [Elizabeth Rowe], who brings the three couples to her love shack for the wedding finale. Our hero is Sinbad, of course, a likeable Steve Rushton, who woos the Princess Pearl [Daniella Piper]. His rival for her hand is the evil Sinistro, played by Wolsey favourite Dan de Cruz. He gets to quote Lear for his storm scene, which also has one of the best numbers, Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water. Much of the music is from the 70s and 80s: one of the most successful is the hilariously subverted Living on a Prayer, complete with smoke machine and fan supplied by a nimble stage-hand. Possibly a thinly disguised Graham Kent, who gives us a brawny Dame Donna. His stooge, Tinbad the Tailor, was very amusing done by Rob Falconer.
Half the fun for the grown-ups in the audience is seeing everyone slickly swapping instruments: the Dame on trumpet, the three girls a great saxophone trio, and almost everyone behind the drum kit at some point. The direction – Peter Rowe, who penned the witty, naughty script – is lively and energetic. The ten-strong company seem genuinely to be having a good time – though come the end of January that might be hard to sustain – Sinbad's Saucy Sausage sails on at the Wolsey until the 28th.
production photograph: Robert Day

Sunday, November 27, 2016



at Christ Church, Chelmsford

Back to back piano concertos, with Chelmsford-born Alisdair Hogarth as soloist with the ESO under Tom Hammond.
Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue top of the bill. Not really jazz, according to Hogarth before the concert, though the players did manage a convincing jazz sound, as well as the big orchestral palette, with a muscular soloist to match.
Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto – a repertoire favourite, and recorded by three generations of the Shostakovich clan – was given a similarly bold reading; the outer movements sometimes sounded more deliberate, less delightfully delicate, than usual, but the sublime slow movement, with its rich string tone and eloquent piano phrasing, was superbly done.
Ten years now since Malcolm Arnold left us. And this enterprising programme opened with A Flourish For Orchestra, commissioned in 1973 by the City of Bristol. Then the Third Symphony of 1957 – the same year as the Shostakovich. A much darker piece, a memorial to the composer's mother, impressively played by the ESO, led by Philippa Barton, with sweeping, brooding strings, ominous tympani rhythms, and fleeting solos from oboe, clarinet, piccolo and of course Arnold's own instrument, the trumpet.



Stock Drama Group at the Village Hall

The room – the “shrine” - is shrouded in dust sheets, the cast list in the programme is deliberately unhelpful.
This melodramatic thriller by Ira [Deathtrap] Levin has some clever, chilling twists, even if it lacks practical or psychological credibility. Like the later, better, piece, it has plays within plays … Not to mention timeslips and philosophical questions about the nature of reality.
Stock, directed by Peter Baker, give it a stylish outing, with a nicely furnished 1930s room and some believable 70s costumes. The lighting is atmospheric, although more dark corners would have helped the mysterious mood.
Sarah Kettlewell is the unfortunate young heroine at the heart of the increasingly nasty plot – a Cordelia at school, she is left alone to create the tension before the twist at the end of Act One, which she does very effectively; her litany of 1973 is another fine moment.
Greg Morgan – is he really a lawyer, is that toothbrush moustache really a fake ? - is her unlikely boyfriend, and a more sinister professional after the interval.
The resident staff – at the start at least – are excellently characterized throughout by Sylvia Lanz and Ian Stratford.

Maybe a little less shouting, a little more underplayed menace, would have strengthened the dramatic impact. And if the action is to be shifted from Boston MA to Oxfordshire, then more work needs to be done on the text: summer camp, goosebumps, the Depression all betray its true origins.