Wednesday, September 28, 2016



Icarus Theatre Collective at the Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford

HP Lovecraft's cult classic from the early 30s is a natural for the stage.
It's narrated in the first person by geologist William Dyer, reluctantly reliving the horrors of the past in order to dissuade others from following in his snow-tracks to the white, dead world of the Antarctic.
Other voices are quoted. In this uncomplicated adaptation they emanate from the old-fashioned wireless receiver, part of an evocative soundscape with music by Theo Holloway.
Icarus Theatre's hour-long version trims the text of some of its worst excesses, concentrating on the narrative and the mounting sense of buried horror. There's little to distract from the voice and the visions it conjures up: the shimmering medieval castles and the towering cathedrals of the ice cap, the arcane animals, the sculptures left by the Old Ones [Lovecraft's Elder Things], the giant eyeless penguins.
Dyer is played by Tim Hardy, who adapted the piece with director Max Lewendel. His compelling voice, often subdued and broken with emotion, skilfully draws the audience into the tale.
The show is impressively polished technically, with the timing of the sound and light impeccable. The setting is simple, with a lectern, a chest, a chair, a lantern and the radio, and on the floor, a pentagon of Persian rugs …

We see the terrors only in our mind's eye, but who needs CGI with such a captivating story-teller ?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016



Blackmore Players at the Village Hall

The intrepid Blackmore Players – one of the best village companies in the area – breathe new life into this old farce, penned back in '71 by Foot and Marriott, not alas credited in the programme.
The critics panned it then, but it did excellent business in the West End, and has been popular with am-drammers ever since.
It's a huge challenge, though, not least because an amateur group will lack the rehearsal time – and the audience previews – when slapstick and repartee can be honed.
And there were some slow moments at Blackmore, with the all-important doors poorly co-ordinated and actors waiting for an interruption.
But Andrew Raymond's production was great fun, boasting some excellent performances and a splendid set, with orange doors, lovely works of art, and an efficient, if bizarrely placed, serving hatch. An excellent period radio for Jupiter, but some other props failed to convince: the super-8, the “1001 Perversions” and the camp snaps, possibly due to a commendable ignorance of the ins and outs of erotica.
Matthew Pearson and Rebecca Smith were the hapless newly-weds who unwittingly get mucky books and blue films sent through the post [very retro], dressed respectively in a staid suit and a shorty negligée.
Visitors to their love-nest over the bank include his snobbish mother [a lovely character performance from Linda Raymond, even if several boroughs removed from Chelsea], his pompous boss [Keith Goody], Superintendent Paul [Ryan Stevens – is it me, or are policemen getting younger all the time ?] and two oddly assorted good-time girls [Lisa Matthews brandishing a rubber cudgel, and Ela Raymond, wielding a feather duster].
But the comedy gongs must go to Old Mr Haskell as the bank inspector with the Union Flag flying beneath his jim-jams, and Young Mr Haskell as the chief cashier – aka the Phantom Pornographer - who struggles to limit the damage the tide of Scandinavian filth might cause to the National Union Bank in this unnamed respectable Thames Valley town. Simon and Sam caught the style, both physical and vocal, to perfection, sliding sleepily down the wall, or losing the use of both feet. Sam, whose truly hilarious performance included not one but two suicidal leaps through the hatch, could happily have understudied Crawford at the Strand.

The cast thoroughly deserved the gales of laughter that greeted the better jokes, and the whoops and cheers on their tardy curtain-call.



at the Rose Playhouse, Bankside

We walk into a desert, strewn with the essentials of survival. Boxes, a camping stove. A lone prisoner, in orange overalls, lies chained under a polythene shroud.
It's Othello, whose inner turmoil – the torments of hell, maybe - make up this compelling monologue.
Marco Gambino makes a welcome return to the Rose, after performing the Italian version of this piece – La Colpa di Otello – at the ancient amphitheatre in Segesta this summer.
The words are Shakespeare's, repeated and re-purposed by director Roberto Cavosi.
Key words and phrases recur: “What dost thou think, Iago?” - handkerchief, confession, slave - “Leave me, Iago!”, “I am bound to thee forever.” Like Jekyll and Hyde, the two men seem locked in a self-destructive struggle, Othello's jealousy fuelled by his nemesis Iago. Occasionally another voice is heard: Emilia, Desdemona.

Gambino's Moor is a tortured soul – farewell the tranquil mind; he utters his thoughts in a rich Shakespearean tone with a touch of his native Sicily. There are snatches of dramatic music – Alfredo Santoloci the composer. And Othello's solitary life is punctuated with small rituals – making coffee, taking a piss, failing to light a roll-up, clumsily shaving. Sand runs through his fingers as Desdemona protests her innocence. He contemplates the green-eyed monster through a glass darkly. And finally crawls back under the polythene to lie with arms outstretched.
A powerful, poetical study of one man's conscience, making for an intensely moving hour in the company of a captive racked by guilt, grief and remorse.

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Trinity Methodist Music and Drama

Those intrepid Townswomen get their teeth into saucy French farce in their latest dramatic offering.
The hotel set boasts a Dansette and five doors, none of them working quite as it should. No French window, but a French maid called Fifi, and a cast of characters with ominously similar names.
The Farndale Ladies – and their one male member – have countless costume changes and false entrances, as they double and treble as wives, mistresses, friends, secretaries and the plumber's wife.
The confusion is complete, the plot as tangled as Minnie's knitting. So no surprise that it all got too much by the end, life imitating art; even the attentive prompt – Terrie Latimer – struggled to rescue the floundering actors.
Some priceless performances, notably Sue Bartle as Minnie [“Are we acting again?”] Robinson, physically superb as Roger, gamely struggling with the script, a last-minute substitution from wardrobe. Jenny Edler was scatty Felicity, Alison O'Malley the formidable Phoebe Reece, and Helen Wilson her sister Sylvia, cast as both Frank and Mary Carrott. Emma Byatt, an assured farceuse, also played a married couple, as well as a mistress. They all seemed adept at handling male parts, but their SM, Gordon [David Ehren], was pressed into service as a wonderfully wooden Barrett.
Much to enjoy in Tony Brett's production, from the invisible partition to the Cancan kickline finale. The surreal door sequence went very well, but the “this is my husband” routine could have been a little slicker. Many of the classic amdram pitfalls were featured: the garbled prompt, the nightmare drinks table, the wig and the moustache. And there was a memorable rendition of the Marseillaise, with spoons and washboard obbligato.
I hope that Brexit will not mean an end to their cross-channel ventures; I was sorry to have missed previous attempts, including the intriguing “Cave, girls, it's Fraulein Humperdinck”.

production photograph by Val Scott, who was also responsible for the amusingly authentic programme

Sunday, September 18, 2016



Renegades at Brentwood Theatre


Caryl Churchill's playlet from 1980 takes us into the bedroom with three couples, whose relationships are rocky, raw and toxic.
She writes two kinds of fight – one a restless, wordless desert, one a torrent of words, tumbling over one another, in the over-lapping dialogue for which she is famous, used for the first time in this early piece.
The triptych begins with the strongest element – Frank and Margaret, ten years wed, and launching late at night into the vicious war of words we imagine is not unusual.
Both actors are excellent at the rhythms of the recriminations – Sara Thompson entirely believable as the anguished, frustrated wife; Tim Murphy perhaps not quite menacing, or drunk, enough to give his wounding words full weight.
The Hammers programmes are cleared, the phone changed, and we're in another room, another bed for a different kind of dialogue of the deaf, where Richard Spong's subtly delineated Pete takes refuge in nerdy talk about movies as his depressed wife Dawn [Candy Lillywhite-Taylor] paints on scarlet lips and pathetically pleads for help.
The last scene has the immature film fan again, but this time shacking up with Margaret from scene one. But their ex's are never far away: “We talk about them a lot, say the same things over and over.” Jealousy, loneliness, unfocussed angst, a wonderfully effective emotionally-charged silence, and then the whole things fades in the middle of Pete's mansplaining Apocalypse Now.

An interesting early work, and well worth reviving, especially when it's done with this kind of artistry and attention to detail. Directed for The Renegades Theatre Co. by Lin Pollitt. Even if 50 minutes is little short for an evening's entertainment.