Friday, 30 October 2015

Entertaining Angels, Greville Theatre Club, The Barn Theatre, Little Easton, Great Dunmow

Despite the best efforts of The Guardian to rubbish the first production of Richard Everett's play at Chichester, I was not the only audience member in tears on first night of this Greville show. Not because it was awful but because so many of us recognised in ourselves just what he was writing about where family relationships are concerned.
It opens in a lovely rural English vicarage garden where Diana Bradley's recently widowed Grace sits and ponders life without the presence of her beloved Bardolph, believably created by Michael Gray in battered straw hat, shirt and corduroy trousers. Believably created are the right words as by some miracle Grace is able to talk to a doppelganger  of the man she was married to for umpteen years and who was faithful to the last. Or so she thinks...
For Grace is also moaning about the unwanted presence of so many people around her - fussing, and the prospective loss of her beloved house and garden, since the clergy are like farm worker - they live in tied properties.
Among those included who irritate Grace intently, there is her long lost missionary sister Ruth, with director Jan Ford playing a blinder. She has turned up from Darkest Africa with some very unexpected news. For a strange and very weird moment I thought the writer had come up with a copy cat, middle class version of Dancing at Lughnasa.
Grace's daughter Jo (played by her real life daughter Laura Bradley) is gruffly told off for fussing around her. While to add extra joy to the occasion Carol Parradine's honest new Vicar Sarah has turned up for a recce and presses all the wrong buttons for the widow, including the fact of being a woman. 
The cat is most definitely amongst these pigeons as each one of them is carrying a secret, even including the saintly Bardolph.
You may well guess what the secret is but I'm not going to reveal it to you in case you have an opportunity  to see the play in the future.
Suffice it to say that Jan Ford has carried off with great elan the theatre pitfall that traps so many unwary, and inexperienced, directors - appearing in a play that you are directing. It is one of the Mount Everest's of dramatic productions. Carefully and thoughtfully she inspire her team of actors and technicians alike.
Supported by an experienced onstage team and an equally good backstage one the enjoyment starts with the details of the set. From the trellis fence creating a further garden beyond, a very believable greenhouse created without any glass, and across the front apron of the stage a stream with real waterside plants. The garden is also full of real flowers including black-eyed Susans, geraniums and tomatoes on their plants.
The stream's watery sound track rising at the end of scenes and falling back for the action is thanks to the art of Steve Bradley and Adrian Hoodless and Lynda Shelverton did duty on the props while Richard Pickford ran the lighting.
One of Richard Everett's talents which he shares with the director is honesty especially when asking Grace and Ruth to argue and fight like cat and dog when reliving their childhood antagonisms. These were another aspect of what our audience shared too. Just who is the victim and who the saint?
The Barn Theatre has been in existence since Tudor times. More recently it was converted by Edward VII's mistress Daisy, Countess of Warwick, to "amuse my growing family".
Long may this relationship between the Greville and The Barn endure if it means we can enjoy such entertainment.
Mary Redman
October 30 2015

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Someone Else's Pretty Toys, The Phoenix Theatre Company Chelmsford, Christchurch Hall, London Road, Chelmsford

Billed as a "Drama of Mystery and Suspense" this play by Sam Bate is set in the 1960s. It would appear to have been written back then because as a result of missing curtain up by a minute. I honestly felt I had wandered back into the glorious age of Women's Institute drama with all its innocence and naivety.
So either Mr Bate (I assume this Sam is a he) wrote this some decades ago or his memory is not necessarily as trustworthy as he might hope. Both dialogue and the plot are all too obvious and signalled well ahead of revelations. Plus the writer's time scales appeared at with the casting ages as in my memory it was my mother who had danced to the Black Bottom, not my grandmother as in the script.
There were some quarrels among the costumes too with the Policewoman dressed in a modern costume although the transistor radio and telephone looked of the right vintage and there was a gorgeous black dress for one character complete with correct net petticoat.
Unusually for Phoenix, for the first time they were fielding an all female cast of seven actresses while their husbands and boyfriends looked after the front of house and interval drinks, although the director Chris Wright is male.
One thing casts need to remember about Christchurch Hall is its enormous size from back to front and side to side so that voices get so easily lost. While there is a tendency for directors to underestimate how far upstage they are placing their acting areas. In this case placing of the sofa so far back meant that the cast voices were lost if they were underprojected. 
Sarah Wilson playing Mrs Appleby has a light voice and tended to drop her voice level when talking across the stage. Of course the so far upstage sofa position didn't help her so we  missed some vital clues. The transition from Writtle Cards tiny stage and hall to Christchurch made life difficult for her too.
Jo Fosker playing Nancy was a very strong, level-headed character and full of energy as the older daughter of Mrs Faire the village shopkeeper with a secret. As Judith the depressed teenage daughter Gemma Anthony alternated between the depths of despair and elation. Angie Gee played their mother well except that she appeared strangely unmoved when it came to recounting her husband's imprisonment and the shocking events leading to his incarceration.
As it turned out it wasn't teenage pregnancy that caused Judith to swing from one extreme to another. It was blackmail and drug dealing.
The set could usefully have been made smaller which would have helped with the dropped voices and the upstage left door needed some attention as it refused to stay shut. 
Finally the curtain call was too slow. This breaks the atmosphere that the cast have built up
over the length of the play. With this production I think it was just the wrong play to choose 
for this particular cast.
Mary Redman
July 18 2015.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Out Of Order, Hutton Players, Brentwood Theatre, Brentwood

This would not be an honest review if I didn't mention that I was absolutely dreading seeing again Ray Cooney's umpteenth crude farce, which takes every opportunity to mangle an unbelievable plot. Flaunts the most unsubtle of double entendres imaginable to man (or woman). Even the names of certain characters don't escape the Cooney "magic" touch.
Having experienced it once I really had no inclination to experience it yet again, but "critique oblige" so I took a deep breath, approaching it with hope in my heart.
It was thanks to June Fitzgerald's imaginative direction, excellent ensemble work by the cast, plus the teamwork involved in the spot-on timing of a recalcitrant window refusing to obey orders, that the audience was almost constantly laughing heartily. Even I had a lot of laughs generated by the cast, not the script.
The action opened in Suite 648 of the Westminster Hotel, London within striking distance of Big Ben and the Division Lobbies, where we enjoyed a preview scene of speeded-up mime display reminiscent of a Benny Hill chase as the cast dashed around setting the scene.
Then things really got going as William Wells's thoroughly guilty, married MP set about ordering champagne and oysters for his naughty secretary Jane Worthington played by Romy Brooks. Hardly was she through one of the many doors a good farce needs, than she had disrobed into a mindbogglingly revealing, see-through outfit. This didn't leave very much to the imagination. As one gentleman remarked afterwards he felt "quite refreshed" by this sight.
The sight, however, which discombobulated our "hero" Mr Willey most was that of Justin Cartledge's dead Body stuck halfway through the aforementioned recalcitrant window. Panicking, Willey sent for his Parliamentary Private Secretary in the shape of Gary Ball's naive George Pigden. He then was tasked with body disposal, placating David Lintin's dour hotel manager, while paying off the blackmailing Waiter superbly played by Richard Spong. Richard certainly made an ongoing impact with this role.
Liz Calnan also made the most of her stereotypical non-English speaking, immigrant Maid role by constantly interrupting with simple pleasing smile, offering to make the beds.
Yet more complications followed as circumstances conspired to threaten Willey with public exposure of his marital infidelity. First the Body regained consciousness; or what passed for it, following probable Class A or alcohol intake,as he struggled to remain awake, giving Justin plenty of opportunities for hilarious physical comedy; then Ben Martins as Jane Worthington's muscular and outraged husband turned up all too keen for vengeance; followed by Lindsey Crutchett's nice Mrs Willey who just wanted to surprise her husband, whose excuse for not going home was a late Parliamentary Division and finally Susie Faulkner as a nurse. Just don't ask!
The pace got faster and more furious in this BOGOFF production, in which we had not simply one naked actor but two, both of whom very discreetly yet cheekily exited dropping towels behind them.
 One of the secrets of playing great farce (regardless of the quality of the script) is to believe utterly in what you are doing and the more serious you are about it, the funnier it becomes for the audience.
Director June Fitzgerald asked for and was blessed with this prized quality and a great ensemble spirit from her cast. This included the highly professional manner in which William Wells, blaming anything and everything but himself for his self-imposed woes, while he and Gary Ball's hopeful yet hopeless PPS  worked so easily together batting the lines back and forth at speed. A pleasure to watch. 
This approach cascaded down to Romy Brooks' secretary flaunting her body; the staggering about Body played by Justin Cartledge causing great hilarity; and so forth and so on - impeccable team work. Pace and energy just got faster and faster as the show went on.
Despite the wobbling of some of the flats and the choice of dreadful matt brown paint on doors, plus the lack of a backcloth showing the Houses of Parliament, this production was
excellent entertainment.
Guy Lee ran lighting and sound, Paul Sparrowham designed the programme but there was no mention of a stage manager. When I asked why this was so it turned out that the tech side had been affected by illness so all the cast had taken responsibility for the perfect timing of the window's performance and all other stage management needs.
By the way, if you are looking for another Ray Cooney farce try It Runs In The Family. Set in a teaching hospital a consultant finds out more than he hoped for about unexpected research results.
Mary Redman
July 3 2015 with apologies for the the delay

Monday, 22 June 2015

The Importance of Being Earnest, Guildonian Players, The Little Theatre, Harold Wood, Hornchurch

Oscar Wilde's play which he subtitled "A trivial comedy for serious people" is a gem which can be polished intricately to a lapidary marvel as far as production values go, or it can equally be simply set as a solitaire to be admired as a piece of work perfectly capable of shining in its own right.
This observation comes from many years of seeing different directorial approaches and, rather like Shakespeare, Wilde is capable of withstanding most approaches. I've seen it done with ornate furnishings and top notch set and costumes, or as an utterly simple stripped-to-the-bone Beardsley-style production. Both worked.
Here in the pleasant Saturday afternoon matinee surroundings of the Little Theatre, even if the weather outside wasn't cooperating, we could relax and enjoy director Chrissie O'Connor's middle ground production. 
Middle ground in that although there were no unnecessary flourishes in set or costuming, her production was full of extremely well thought out details which were a constant delight throughout the play.
Starting with the joy of Mr Tom Hind at the pianoforte entertaining us before curtain up, during the interval and at the end of the show with his Music Hall songs and brass band tunes such as Daisy, Daisy and other delights like I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside, that we all hummed along to with glee. While the play itself was introduced to the tune of The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo. 
Iain Attiwell was a perfectly suave, skilled and excellent Manservant Lane, (even if his hair would have benefited from a tidy up trim) his smooth movements a treat as he served his master the somewhat flighty Algernon Moncrieff. Tim Tilbury created Algy as a young man utterly devoted to a life of personal pleasure with no real thought for tomorrow. Matt Jones as his friend John Worthing was totally at ease and elegant in his formal morning dress, while using his expressive voice and face to advantage.
Margaret Corry's presence as Lady Bracknell preceded her on to the stage. A vision in lavender and lace she took naturally to being the object of everyone's attention as she laid down the Bracknell law on every subject of conversation that came up, either from her own or other people's opinions. The hall, however, is large so her voice was at times fighting a losing battle with it.
As the Honourable Gwendolen Fairfax Charlotte Jones was a smart young woman determined not to do what her mother ordered but, as has been observed elsewhere, was probably destined to turn into her formidable parent at a later stage. Louise McMorrin's  delightfully bright, sweet young lady Cecily, entirely driven by "romantic" vibrations from books and her own notions, was a charmer.
In the engine house of this comedy Catherine Attiwell's sturdy Miss Prism not only minded her own ps and qs, but also those of her charge, and fluttered nicely at Mark Godfrey's extremely tall Canon Chasuble. His splendid emphasis on literary allusions alternately rising to a peak and then falling to a whisper in true oratorical style.
Then, of course, there was Merrieman, the butler at the country residence, in the shape of Vernon Keeble-Watson tottering on stage as though he might not make it; appearing in the last stages of decrepitude and increasing irritability.
Delightful surprises included the appearance of John Worthing's perfect, surprise entrance at the end of Act 2 in the full panoply of heaviest Victorian mourning including black bordered handkerchief, to the piano accompaniment of Where Shall We Be In A Hundred Years From Now? Which brought the house down.
Yet more delight from something I always love - choreographed scene changing. Instead of going to black, taking ages to change scenery and actors having to work up again to previous levels of tensions, lights were dimmed but the stage management crew of Ed Shearer's team of Peter Farenden and Martin Tilbury were choreographed and costumed as house movers of the period who moved in, took off unneeded items and changed town to country so smoothly to piano accompaniment. Every time this earned them enthusiastic, well deserved applause.
In Chrissie's pretty traditional production set in 1910, scenery and set dressing were relatively simple, but had some good touches such as the Beardsley-style screen, the Gustave Klimt-style painting, and other indications of decadence including the bust wearing a black fedora with a red ribbon band, set at a rakish angle.
Costuming was good, influenced by The Dressing Up Box, although some corseting wouldn't have gone amiss. Even though I know it adds to the cost but period costumes don't hang or look right without this. John Gadd's wigs were excellent.
All in all, yet another triumph for the Guildonians and for Chrissie O'Connor in this enjoyable production. I so enjoyed the attention to detail, even the tiniest things.
Mary Redman
June 22 2015   

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Dance Fusion, Havering College of Further and Higher Education, The Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch

This "Celebration Dance Showcase of New Talent and Student Achievement" was an absolute cracker. If we could only bottle the youthful high energy shown on stage there might be a cure for what ails those of us of a rather more than somewhat older generation.
About 70 performers aged from 16 to 23 were backed by their fellow students acting as stage managers. And what stage managers!  A grand piano carefully yet rapidly moved on or off stage without fuss every time needed was totally impressive.
Performers they ranged from A-Level equivalent (Level 3) to second year degree students and even when an experienced eye could tell that they were relative newcomers to various techniques, they still showed poise, dedication and confidence.
For instance, it was an amazing experience to witness a young soprano soloist coping with the demanding high notes of the classical opera aria Visse d'arte, alone on the huge stage, apart from the expert accompaniment of pianist Simon Gray. Equally matched by the demands on the en pointe ballet dancers.
The show opened with Burn The Floor, followed by Mash Up, then a complete change of technique for the classical ballet of Sleeping Beauty.
Among the truly outstanding performances were contemporary dance The Fallen choreographed by Melissa Weir, danced by her and Lee Howard; Elaine O'Connor's ingeniously reworked Thriller with the Year 2 Musical Theatre students; also by Elaine the sheer romanticism of Isn't It A Lovely Day by HNC Dance and Musical Theatre students; and the exuberance of the 1950s Big Band American Cabin Pressure from Level 4&5 Tap choreographed by Sarah Woodroof that ended Act 1.
We came back to the fun of three female dancers en pointe and one male dancer in a 1930s style Tuxedo Junction referencing Gene Kelly's muscular style in a melange of bebop and classical. Arabian Nights was a whirl of colour harking back to this year's drama presentation of Scheherazade and her stories of  A Thousand Nights and One Night. Yet more O'Connor choreography from Year 2 Musical Theatre's version of Mack and Mabel's celebratory anthem If Movies Were Movies which contrasted with Tina Turner's meaty Nutbush from the Level 3 Jazz dancers.
Brass bravado arrived courtesy of the invigorating Sousa march Stars and Stripes by Level 4 Ballet performers followed by Broadway Jazz from Level 4 Jazz.
Particularly unusual and of great interest was HNC Dance with Sandra Broxton's choreography performing to contemporary composer Gavin Bryars' Out Of Zaleski's Gazebo. This piece makes what is normally considered rare use of the Tuba's sonorous tones. Also totally impressive was the grown up composure and control of her warm voice by the performer of Ella Fitzgerald's Every Time We Say Goodbye accompanied by Simon Gray. This was a truly mature performance.
Having missed a couple of year's productions what really struck me were the colours, glamour, glitter and sheer numbers of costumes on stage this year, often in matching sets for large teams. Knowing as I do the struggle that staff went through to achieve impressive results on less than a shoestring in the past, this sock-it-to-them costuming was wonderful to see. Especially in the light of ongoing financial cuts.
More power to both students and staff elbows in the future!
Mary Redman
June 16 2015

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Theatre at Baddow,Parish Hall, Great Baddow, Chelmsford

Shakespeare is justifiably considered to be a genius towering over all other playwrights: his work being timeless and unlikely to suffer serious damage by being mucked about by others. There is, however, something else other than the word "unlikely" to be considered. Is it being done simply for the sake of it? Or because you can't cast it otherwise? If you are going to dabble with his words and plots be sure the changes all fit seamlessly, are justifiable, and that you know precisely what you are doing.
If you can't cast it - don't do it; and that applies to any play. 
The premise behind TAB's production was to make this play accessible to modern young people using gender-blind casting to accentuate just how much modern society is changing as, and how, we live. in so doing it raised some intellectual and emotional questions in my response to this experiment.
If, however, the first change is your motive you risk cutting your youthful audience off from such serendipitious delights as a bellows mender. How then are they to relish their history and Shakespeare's gift for precise language: "Oh Bottom! Thou art translated!"
This is not just pedantry. I have witnessed at first hand how a fractious, over-excited teenage audience at the Barbican was silenced immediately into rapt attention as the curtain went up on the famous production with Alex Jennings as Oberon. With it's gaudy purple and pink upturned umbrella bower and the large electric lightbulbs scattered through the heavens, it was a joy to behold. 
If the second change is your motive then why not carry it out in its entirety? That is by swapping: Oberon and Titania; Theseus and Hippolyta; even Egeus?  Plus doubling of the chief Fairies and leading mortals would have eased your casting problems. Even Brook's acrobatic Dream and Bogdanov's controversial Romeo and Juliet with motorbike gang worked because care had been taken. Closer to home at KEGS Jon Vaughan's open air Dream production with Puck changed into a bat, worked wonderfully because sunset time coincided as the bat descended the buildings upside down.
It will also add to your challenges if you try to both direct and act at the same time. In this production Director Jim Crozier chose modern dress which led to some moments of confusion at the start as his Theseus and Fabienne Hanley's Hippolyta appeared in very dressed down and nonaristocratic fashion.The Lovers in their relatively casual Primark-style clothes also looked unlike the children of extreme privilege. Peter Nerreter's Egeus in his smart tailored suit was spot on.
Nicholas Milenkovic was an elegant Philostrate, observing events. Ruth Carden, Andrea Dalton, Mabel Odonkor and Nikita Eve were the lovers Hermia, Demetria, Lysanda and Helena quarreling in lively fashion until the ultimate solution of their difficulties. Barry Taylor was a noisy Oberon constantly moving in circles, who needing to find his inner stillness. Natalie Patuzzo's Puck was eager and appeared to almost worship her master, yet somehow missed the magic of the role. Diane Johnston's Titania was a beautiful, flighty, naughty creature, utterly enamoured of Bob Ryall's sturdy portrait of the leading actor of the Rude Mechanicals complete with a fine donkey's head.
The "amateur dramatic team" consisted of Roger Saddington's Peter Quince directing the play within a play, plus Liam Mayle's highly effective Flute who enjoyed himself enormously as the melodramatic heroine Thisbe; David Saddington's Starveling whose reactive facial expressions were worth their weight in gold; Malcolm Johnston's Snout; and Wylie Queenan's Snug. 
The Fairies were a marvel - very different and entertaining. From Donna Stevenson, Angie Budd's Peaseblossom, Sarah Dodsworth's Cobweb, Sheila Talbot's Moth to Leonie Parker's Mustardseed they were a surly, mutinous tribe. So much so that you never quite knew what they would get up to next. 
Going back to the question of costume brings us to the final scene. This was a magnificent spectacle with gorgeous evening frocks and suits which easily and appropriately suited  a ducal level of society. Apart from one short elasticated dress threatening to cause a wardrobe malfunction of its own.
Scenery was mostly very basic but when the interior of the forest was revealed with its skeletal painted trees plus Titania's netting bower it came together and worked really well thanks to David Saddington's team. As did the final scene.
More attention to verse speaking and care for Shakespeare's words would have been useful in the area of audibility. While the usual TAB problem of shoes clattering across the wooden floor raised its ugly head again.
It was good to hear original music created by Owain Jones, but the master stroke came with the joke of setting the final Bergamasque to Up All Night.
Definitely interesting to experience this experimental production, but in the final analysis for me it was like the infamous parson's egg - good in parts.
Mary Redman
June 8 2015

Friday, 29 May 2015

Hot Stuff, Cut to the Chase, Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch

At the Queen's it was back to the 1970s: the era that high fashion forgot. As a result, I can't get through this review without mentioning the never-to-be-forgotten horrors for those of us who lived through the reality of flared trousers (male and female); tank tops (ditto); curly permanent waves (yet more ditto); ABBA; and of course - Disco music with its pounding beat rhythms and catchy tunes.
This cornucopia of familiar music and dance couldn't possibly function without recalling the classic music of the era: Saturday Night Fever; YMCA; Le Freak; Devil Gate Drive; Space Oddity; Nobody Does It Better; Bad; and I Will Survive to name only a tiny few. Artists remembered with delight include: Tina Turner in Nutbush; the amazingly original Queen; Michael Jackson; John Lennon and Imagine; Mick Jagger and his Honky Tonk Woman; and even our honorary Essex Girl Suzy Quatro. 
Costumes, created by the inhouse team gave them and Assistant Costume Designer Lydia Hardiman opportunities galore to go crazy with sparkle and bling at every change of outfit. You really have to admire just how they created so many costumes from the very economical use of expensive fabrics. As someone (possibly from the Dolly Parton school of dress design) once said "It costs a fortune to look this cheap!".
Many of the younger cast members are newbies to this theatre and to the acting profession. Yet despite problems that let to cancellation of one preview night, what we saw was a team which worked extremely hard in this technically demanding show.
Notable for their outstanding contributions were Richard O'Brien-style Narrator Cameron Jones who also revealed his devilish side; Matthew Quinn's humble local boy who longs to be a star to the dismay of his Tesco checkout girlfriend Julie, excellently played by Sarah Mahony who also had another arrow to her bow. This came especially true when her moving version of Midnight Train To Georgia earned her well-deserved audience acclaim.   The utterly uninhibited Hollie Cassar is the very naughty Miss Hot Stuff.
Presiding over the whole team is the so-called Lady Felicia as Lucy Fur whose acting pedigree is not a hundred miles away from that of Queen's regular Fred Broom. Her performance ticked off every drag queen cliche in the book including the virtually obligatory nun in spangles. It takes some chutzpah to come on stage in all the OTT costumes complete with outrageous wigs and make-up.
The simple all in red and black set with its horseshoe staircase was a very effective backdrop and Chris Howcroft must have upped the electricity bill with his staggering myriad light sources while Dan Crews sound design left our ears ringing after the show. Valentina Dolci not only appeared as an ensemble member but created the almost nonstop, high energy choreography. Musical Director of the long list of numbers was the highly musically-experienced Julian Littman.
Matt Devitt directed the show which ended Act 1 with a mini rock concert in its own right. So much so that I really wondered how they were going to follow that. Well with Tina Turner and David Bowie of course. Even Punk and safety pins appeared with giant photos of HM The Queen accompanied by Johnny Rotten's anthem and Mrs Thatcher watching hawklike as Money, That's What I Want filled the theatre.
Unfortunately, despite a standing ovation there was no getting over the fact that the show overran by at least half an hour, so hopefully Matt has been out with the hedgecutters since press night!  
Meanwhile the Cut to the Chase Company was honoured with a press night visit from its founder Bob Carlton. A happy return by an innately talented, genial person who was welcomed by scores of theatregoers.
Mary Redman
May 29 2015

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Steel Magnolias, Greville Theatre Club, The Barn Theatre, Little Easton near Great Dunmow

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology I have "walked " around Chinquapin, Louisiana near Pasadena. Seen the typical houses with plenty of ground or "yards" surrounding them where the youngest heroine of the play held her wedding reception and where Truvy had her beauty salon adapted from her garage. 
Robert Harling's play based upon his sister's life first came to our attention when it appeared in a 1989 smash hit London run directed by Julia McKenzie. Starring: as Shelby - Joely Richardson, a young member of the Redgrave acting dynasty; Rosemary Harris as M'Lynn; Jean Boht as Ouiser; Janine Duvitski as Annelle; Stephanie Cole as Clairee; Maggie Steed as Truvy. A very powerful cast in very emotionally moving roles. When we saw it then we were crying as the comedy drama unfolded.  Amazed over the way in which Harling had created from people he knew in real life, such amazing roles for actresses of all ages as heroines. And that a totally female cast and director had taken the script and run with it. Another source of amazement was that sharp observer Harling had given voices to women with ordinary everyday lives. So many of our responses consisted of an 'oh yes' of recognition. The play was also a revelation in hearing these ordinary women being entirely honest with each other. The lines were full of quirkiness, snappy replies and jokes.
Steel Magnolias is still as popular today even though some of it has dated as society has changed. Greville Theatre Club's production directed by Jonathan Scripps fielded yet another good cast, each of them having power in her own fashion.
Just like any classical Greek or French tragedy, the action is confined to a single location: the beauty salon where Truvy rules her world, working her magic on the women of Chinquapin. 
Created and dressed by a stage management team including Rodney Foster, Diana Bradley and Jan Ford, the set was a marvel of a small salon. The fashions, props and wig hairstyles of the 90s were created by Judy Lee and Patsy Page while Robert Pickford was in charge of lighting and Steve Bradley ruled the sound world even if the shotgun shots sounded more like starting pistols.
Saira Plane played the hesitant new apprentice with a past Annelle, causing hilarity among the salon owner and customers with her stupid mistakes including using left over burger water to make coffee. Owner Truvy played with sharp-edged wit by Marcia Baldry-Bryan was mistress of all she surveyed, but backed it up with sympathy and an enormous heart of gold.
Madeline Harmer had a whale of a time as cuppa, cuppa, cuppa cake magician Clairee, a super elegant fashion plate from head-to-toe, with a sharp tongue when necessary. 
Sonia Lindsey-Scripps was a perfect Shelby, giving a very confident performance full of stage presence. Living her necessarily circumscribed Diabetic Type 1 life by  "I'd rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing at all." Incidentally her idea of the perfect wedding to end all weddings was to have everything contrary to her mother's wishes. Totally pink with babies' breath flowers in her hair; nine bridesmaids; colours Blush and Bashful or "pink and pink" including the carpet; fifty pounds of marinated crab claws and two wedding cakes - the groom's one well away from the bride's cake.
Pam Hemming as her mother M'Lynn was all dignified resignation but brimming with mother love. When tragedy really struck after a mother-to-daughter kidney transplant failed it was clear to see that for all her gravitas this was a devastated woman who could not save her own child from death.
As Ouiser the town's queen of sour grapes, Lynda Shelverton also showed that there was definitely something called a heart beating beneath that hard exterior.
There were plenty of chuckles from the first night audience but more security on words would probably have helped increase the production's pace and pointing of lines. Equally the Deep South accent is highly tricky to catch reliably and certainly not a walk in the park. And would the programme team please note that a colour scheme of red and black with tiny printing in colours absorbed by the background is almost impossible to read for many of us?
Yet this was an entertaining evening that was also moving to experience.
Mary Redman
May 24 2015 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Arabian Nights, Horizons Performance Company, Havering College, Brentwood Theatre

Last year this young company performed Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan. So this year it was a case of from haute bourgeois London at the beginning of the 20th Century, to the lost and magical world of old Baghdad. 
Originally known as A Thousand Nights and a Night, this set of humourous, scatological (How Abu Hassan Broke Wind), cheeky and very human stories with strong moral messages, are renowned in the Arab world and taken up by European pantomime and other theatrical productions.
Presented by Havering College's teenage, fully integrated cast of students of BTEC Level Three Extended Diploma in Acting, this production used the script by Dominic Cooke, originally written for The Young Vic, later adapted for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2009/10.
The production was crammed full of imaginative technical wonders designed to amaze us, as much as the wife-killing emperor. Including a massed army created by the oh-so-simple device of multiple photostat repetitions of enemy warriors' heads mounted on wooden yokes on the horsemen's shoulders. Or the black umbrellas which, when reversed, turned into the gold that Ali Baba discovered in the cave.
Drum music played by one of the cast and dramatic lighting helped to set the atmosphere as the beautiful Scherazade, elegantly created by Songul Gilgil aided by her sister Dinarzade (Kavneet Padam), subtly and carefully outwitted the all-powerful Emperor Sharayar, strongly performed by Joe Nutter.
In addition there were varied and interesting performances by Charlie Bailey as Ali Baba; Jaanae King as the Captain; Gemma Willson as The Bird: Shannon Scantlebury Cameron as Kaseem's Wife; Luke Edmunds as Kaseem; Tianee Harvey as Marjanah; Hannah Robertson as Baba Mustapha; Darren Jobson's notoriously flatulent Abu Hassan; Sarah Thrower as Amina; Liam O'Connell as a bright, convincing Sinbad; and Megan Price as Parizade. 
Intensely bright and dazzling colour was used to the maximum for costumes and scenery to create a world away from our everyday lives thanks to Director and Designer Julia Stallard. She was greatly assisted by performing arts technician Matt Hudson who with volunteer ex-staff member Lynne Trubridge and ex-Havering College student Jamie Brown interpreted and created Julia's ideas for the stage, such as the dog masks and stick puppets.
I have just two drawbacks to mention. Audibility was a great problem even though I was in the second row. Projection is something you cannot ignore so please don't just talk to each other. Also make certain you are aware of lighting areas so that we don't see only half your face.
Apart from those comments I thoroughly enjoyed this voyage to Old Baghdad.
Mary Redman
May 18 2015  With apologies for the delay in posting this due to unforeseen circumstances.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Cemetery Club, Little Waltham Drama Group, Memorial Hall, Little Waltham, Chelmsford

This American comedy by Ivan Menchell is set in a very particular section of US society - a cluster of three Jewish widows named Ida, Lucille and Doris, plus the local butcher and widower, Sam.
It was fascinating to see just how these ordinary women with individual quirks and beliefs grieve for their husbands who've gone before them, during both their daily lives and their monthly visits to the graves.
It wouldn't surprise me if the women's caustic, often hilarious, comments about men (including their lost husbands) appealed more to the female audience members. But at the same time there were many male guffaws whenever marriage in general was the topic of conversation.
Also under discussion was the lack of available live men to take an interest in our widows.
American in origin Linda Burrows was, I think, probably the most at home in the production warmly and sensitively directed by Mags Simmonds. Maybe the words were easier for her to learn being in a familiar style but she was very secure on her lines. Her confident performance underlined her character's down-to-earth nature.
Her guests and long term friends included Vicky Weavers' flirtatious airhead Lucille who main aim in life was to get a bargain, any bargain, preferably made of second hand mink at what she thought were bargain basement prices. Her disappointment when her friends knew exactly how much the "bargains" were truly worth, made for some hilarious reactions.
Helen Langley's Doris was the one still stuck in four years of mourning for her husband and as yet unable to understand the need to move onwards.
At the cemetery they encountered Brian Corrie's hardworking Sam. Only too ready to move on.
Events do move on, however, as les girls, by now dressed in unflattering matching frocks, act a bridesmaids for a mutual friend who is on her umpteenth marriage. Sam, having shown an interest in Lucille, turns up with a triumphant and younger love interest, Mildred. Played by Sally Lever with her claws out for a devastated Lucille.
Our heroines get plastered and the subsequent hangovers tell their own tales.
This lovely, warm production benefited greatly from Mags's set including the cosy little retirement apartment contrasting with the cold looking cemetery which had appropriate gravestones and pebbles. Making full use of the apron stage with Liz Willsher's good use of perspective of the iron gates and Autumn trees fading away into the distance, all underlined 
by Walter Huston gravel-voiced original version of Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weil's haunting September Song.
Somebody with excellent lung power acted at the whistling kettle. Kim Travell choreographed the cha cha cha. Viv Abrey and her team costumed the cast appropriately  for each character.
Yet, delightful, enjoyable and entertaining as it was, the production would have been even better with more security on words for some, because the voice of the prompt was heard just a bit too often.
Mary Redman
Next show: A Musical Evening in Two Halves July 16-18 2015 Bookings:

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Elephant Man, Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch

Having seen Bernard Pomerance's highly powerful play twenty years ago in a thoughtful, strongly acted amateur production I was looking forward enormously to finding out how Director Simon Jessop would handle it in today's society.
It's also a fact that if a group, whether amateur or professional, chooses a play that is very well written, with characters which suit the available cast then success is certain to follow. In view of the two most recent productions at the Queen's having flaws which left casts struggling to convince us that they could inhabit their characters, it's a genuine pleasure to say that this was an enormous success of great sensitivity which both emotionally moved and informed us.
Walking into the theatre the astonishing, massive and skeletal set towered into the lighting rigs, reminiscent of both a circus tent with its draped curtains at the back and circular stage within a stage. Set and costume designer Mark Walters had created five different levels of acting spaces. Meanwhile a figure draped in cloth from head to toe lurked at the shadows at the back.
Matthew Eagland's lighting design used differing levels of chiaroscura shadows to great effect, underlining the power of the drama unfolding on stage. Musical Director Steven Markwick's score incorporated his own original music which went from speaker to speaker until it collapsed into Nik Dudley's dramatic soundscape even incorporated rhythms created with chains.
Mark Walters' basic cast costumes were evening trousers and shirts with added pieces of clothing plus Victorian chorus girl-style sexy outfits for the Pinheads and tailored business suits for the professional male characters. Brechtian announcements were displayed on the stage side for each scene while Dan Crews video projections and other visual effects were used as necessary.
In fact all the technical effects combined so seamlessly with the images and actions on stage that these aspects were truly right.
For some of the cast who had struggled with characterisation in Boeing! Boeing! this must have seemed like bliss to be able to slip into really believable characters that fitted them like gloves.
Tom Cornish, portraying the title character "John" Merrick, perfectly captured the anguish of the sensitive soul whose body governed everything he did. This was due to Proteus Syndrome causing parts of his anatomy to grow out of all proportion and made some people fear him. Until they got to know him that is.
Fred Broom also inhabited completely the compassionate Dr Frederick Treves who rescued Merrick. With the help of Stuart Organ's dignified Carr Gomm, administrator of the London Hospital, gave him a home where he was visited by high society dignitaries such as Joanna Hickman's Mrs Kendal; Megan Leigh Mason's Duchess and Princess; and Ellie Rose Boswell's Countess.
This helped Merrick put behind him the degrading years of touring Europe in a steampunk freak show with Ellie and Megan's two weird Pinheads and James Earl Adair's ruthless proprietor.
This production (not suitable for young children) must surely be one of the Queen's most outstanding shows and I was so pleased and delighted to see them all working at full power.
Runs to May 9 2015
Mary Redman  

Monday, 6 April 2015

Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahagonny, The Royal Opera, The Royal Opera House, Odeon Live Cinema, Chelmsford

Thanks to the wonders of modern digital technology and having waited many decades to experience this rarely performed opera by Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weil I found myself sitting in the dark of my local cinema to see a cinema relay transmitted live from London.
This transmission very nearly didn't happen after a massive fire and electrical breakdown in London's Kingsway, a short step away from the Opera House meant that their patrons had no refreshments other than water. Meaning we were the luxury end of the market that evening.
One thing struck me watching this vicious morality tale of the effects of greed and in particular listening to Weil's music how it was influenced by Prokofiev and then on down just what an effect it in turn has had on succeeding generations of 20th and 21st Century composers. At the moment Steven Sondheim's Sweeney Todd is on stage at the Coliseum just around the corner from the ROH, in a concert version. 
As a teenager, simply to hear the astonishing opening chords of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet I was hooked for life. Yes, there were many melodies in his work but come down to Weil whose effect on me was again instantaneous in songs such as Surabaya Johnny and you cannot relax into comforting melody. So then on down to Sondheim whose truncated melodies in By The Sea or A Little Priest try never to let you go.  Weil just lets you sink into the first few bars of The Alabama Song - Show Me The Way To The Next Whiskey Bar and you are off into discords and deliberately chosen clashes of harmony.
But still days after experiencing all of them I'm either humming them still or I can hear them in my head. Enough of the musical discursion. 
Back to Mahagonny. Jeremy Sams did the English translation, which I approved of since I wanted to know every word and phrase. Mark Wrigglesworth conducted the massive orchestra. The exaggerated costumes designed by Christina Cunningham were witty and beautifully made. Lighting design by Bruno Poet underlined the constant changes of plot, place and weather.
Es Devlin's imaginative, colourful, erotic set designs were based on a transport truck. She (an Olivier winner 2015) was able to revolve it and by using its curtain walls to their maximum, framed what Director John Fulljames described as a mini stage within a stage.This and the use of video and sharp choreography enabled him to force us to concentrate on the mindbending actions of the plot.
The superb casting included Anne Sofie Von Otter as the Widow Leocadia Begbick whose performance and singing were an icy portrait in sound and acting of a woman determined to rule her two fellow caricature criminals. Peter Hoare's excellent Fatty in his pin stripe suit and Willard White's Trinity Moses. This unholy trio set out to create a city where everything was allowed.
Among the unfortunates they encountered and exploited were Christine Rice's superb Jenny, beautifully sung and full of sadness; Kurt Streit's eyecatching Jimmy Mcintyre, Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts' Jack O'Brien and Darren Jeffery's Bank-Account Bill were high rollers intent on enjoying themselves using the proceeds of their hard work in Alaska.
Nobody succeeded in their nefarious intents and it was all introduced by the handsome and wittily cynical Paterson Joseph.
Mary Redman
April 6 2015

Saturday, 4 April 2015

It Could Be Any One Of Us, The New Venture Players, Brentwood Theatre, Essex

Alan Ayckbourn's 1980s "comedy thriller" is set in a rotting country pile where the only person in the family with any money is composer Mortimer Chalke. The programme even has a couple of pages devoted to the score of his latest work Parametric Revelations. Plus his "explanation" of what the work is about. Sample quote "My new piece mirrors life in all its manifestations. It is based around the parameters of the 12-tone system; as the parameters continue to combine, collide, reverse and shift...". Having seen the production of this play that was unknown to me, I should think it was a pretty good description of the plot.
Formerly the Timothy White and Taylor's Young Composer of the Year 1966, Mortimer the melodramatic musician played by David Pitchford, having inherited all of his parent's money and estate despite having other siblings, rules the house with a rod of temperamental iron.
Directed by Joan Scarsbrook-Bird, the action takes place on a very solid set occupying the whole width of the theatre's acting area. Well furnished with old furniture and knickknacks, it was comfy with lots of lamps. 
Opening with Mortimer "playing" his piano work with loads of those agonised expressions many people think all pianists use when performing in public. Boredom reigns among his listening, quarrelsome relations. Apart from bolshie teenager Amy played effectively by Candy Lillywhite-Taylor complete with headphones. Headphones? In 1983? Mind you she did do some very useful crying later on.
Mortimer's brother Brinton, an angry artist played by Barry Howlett, who's absolutely at loggerheads with him; they rowed continually about repairs to the house and Mortimer's meanness with money.
Also involved in the mayhem were Janet Oliver as Jocelyn a would-be writer, James Biddles as Norris a claims investigator who fancies himself as a detective yet is unable to solve a crime and Vikki Luck as Wendy, a face from the past.  
Misunderstandings galore, some accidental, some deliberate including the attempted murder could have done with more pace and energy instead of patchiness
It puzzled me that in a play with so much emphasis on music why the director didn't use music to cover the sometimes rather lengthy scene changes, but the sound effects especially of the thunder were great.
It did strike me that maybe this play was Ayckbourn's idea of a theatrical joke.
Mary Redman
4 April 2015 

The Ladykillers, Latchingdon Arts and Drama Society, The Tractor Shed Theatre, London Hayes Farm, Latchingdon

As genial Joe Gargery writes to Pip in Great Expectations, "What larx" would sum up completely this classic Ealing Comedy of 1955 in my opinion. Originally starring a cast including the sombre Herbert Lom, it took us inside an incompetent criminal gang foiled by a very old but shrewd lady and her parrot.
In this production directed by Carole Hart, General Gordon the obstreperous parrot was never seen but thanks to Jacob Tonbridge made his voice heard on cue, on many occasions.
The set was astonishing as it so often is with LADS. Multilayered and stuffed to the rafters with old bricabrac, it included landlady Mrs Wiberforce's apartment complete with sink, cooker, sofa and entrance door on the ground floor, with stairs leading up to the small but perfectly formed bedsitter including a shower room on the first floor. This is where all the criminal plotting took place under the guise of posing as a rehearsing string quartet with music thanks to a Dansette record player. The set even revolved when someone went out of the window so we could see the roof outside.
This version was created  for the stage by Graham Linehan from the original film script by the very gifted William Rose, whose film successes included the wonderful Genevieve, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner and It's A Mad, Mad World and many others.
The script included some gems from the past which modern, younger audiences would just not understand - "Press Button A" on a public telephone was obligatory once you had been connected which then allowed you to speak.
The action started with the friendly but a bit dim local copper played by David Hudson checking on Joan Cooper's marvellous creation of the landlady. Dignified, beautifully spoken and fiercely sure of herself and what she thought was right.
Into her life came the oligeanaceous "Professor" Marcus with his scarf trailing even further than a Doctor Who. Daniel Tonbridge appeared at ease on stage in this role in which his character was the brains of the outfit and knew exactly the answers their landlady required. Until things began to fall apart that is.
His handpicked gang consisted of some of the London underworld's most prized specimens but action was their forte, rather than thinking. Robin Warnes was ideal as Major Courtney whose stutter didn't help him. He was the victim of the running joke with the portrait on the wall constantly changing position. This was just one of the small visual jokes that enlivened the production.
Harry Robinson the Teddy Boy was a very effective and assured performance from Adam Hart. Keith Spence was the rough, tough One Round Lawson. Whether that was one round of drinks or one round of bullets was left to the imagination.  Alan Elkins's Louis Harvey gave us his mad Romanian accent.
The criminals plan was to steal a large sum of money and drop it out of the bedsit window onto a goods train going North situated as the house was over the mainline railway out of London. Into their plotting came a visit from Gill Bridle's Mrs Tromleyton and her troupe of Friends costumed eccentrically by Cath Lang and Judy Embling. Played with gusto by Cathy Hallam, Mandi Tickner, Angela Gardner, Sharon Lindsell, and Chris Bird.
All in all it was a well thought out production with excellent picking up of sound cues, even train smoke coming through the window. Period detail was spot on which was an added delight. The sheer idiocy of the plot included the line "being fooled by art is one of the pleasures of the middle classes" after the quartet conducted by the Professor had entertained the visiting ladies.
Although it could have done with more pace and plenty more projection for audibility, for me it was an evening of pure nostalgia, glee and giggles.
Mary Redman
April 4 2015

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Chelmsford Ballet Company, Pineapple Poll and Carnival Of The Animals, Civic Theatre, Chelmsford March 18-21 2015

As a veteran of many delightful and entertaining productions by this amateur company with professional guest artistes, their annual shows are events that I look forward to with enormous anticipation.
Regular audience members always appreciate the elegant and disciplined professional presentation of the dancers of all ages, with not a hair out of place and freshly designed costumes made by the loyal in-house team of parents and supporters led by Ann Starling.
This year's choice of was a double bill of John Cranko's now vintage ballet Pineapple Poll which was originally arranged and conducted by Charles Mackerras. 
Based on Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore it is a thoroughly jolly entertainment about a team of young ladies who disguise themselves as sailors in order to follow the men of the ship when it sails. Much confusion follows but the ending is a very happily romantic one.
Choreographer Annette Potter tweaked Cranko's original to suit the varying ages and capabilities of the company. Scarlet Mann was an extremely flirtatious and fiery Poll with guest artiste Stephen Quildan as Jasper the Potboy determined not to take no for an answer from her. Together with Megan Mclatchie's elegant Blanche, Company Chairperson Marion Pettet as a constantly bustling around chaperone Mrs Dimple, and Andrew Potter as the bluff, self-admiring Captain Belaye, everyone was smartly and colourfully costumed, exuding an air of joyousness.
The jolly music was a bit too loud at first, especially for the two-week-old brother of one of the cast who was in the audience at the start.
Then came the first big surprise of the evening. Christopher Marney, choreographer, dancer with Matthew Bourne's companies, and Patron of the Company, had created for the company his own distinctive and witty ballet Carnival Of The Animals. Set to music by Camille Saint-Saens, Francis Poulenc's Rag and Mazurka from Les Biches and Johann Strauss II's The Blue Danube this was an exuberant and ebullient piece of entertainment, beautifully danced by the company and guests.
Set in a 1930s London Theatre we were entertained by what was to me a totally new side of Marion Pettet's acting and dancing. She was the very elegant and extremely demanding socialite mother of guest artiste Jasmine Wallis's Girl who wanted to dance in a modern fashion, but Pettet's mime was absolutely clear in its intentions to remain unmoved by this. Her graceful performance was underlined by a polished and very precise technique.
As the moderniser, whose head is turned by Stephen Quildan's factotum and stage hand, Central School of Ballet's Jasmine Wallis's lively and expressive  performance was a delight from start to finish. This ballet also gave Stephen Quildan opportunities to show off his strength and great capacity for acting as well as some amazing aerial performing.
This ballet with its very French atmosphere and look, really suited them all while Chris's great jokes delighted the audience. The scenery was classically simple, including some real trees which showed off the brilliant costuming including Autumn leaf-shaped and seasonal-coloured tutus plus some delicious white dresses.
Mary Redman 31.3 2015

Monday, 16 March 2015

A Murder Is Announced, The Guildonian Players, The Little Theatre, Harold Wood

Agatha Christie's who-dun-it adapted for the stage by Leslie Darbon followed the usual pattern for this writer by filling the hall and making me wonder yet again why and how she still manages to do this.
The mystery is intriguing but the style of writing is so laden with old fashioned ideas and morals, that you would think that the audience would get fed up to the back teeth. Not so with this production because the Guildonians have many years of practice and when the denouement came it was both a shock, and an oh, of course it was so and so!
Thanks to her years of experience Susie Faulkner as the leading lady was completely at home with the role of the genteel Miss Letitia Blacklock introduced to the accompanying sound of gentle piano music on the wireless.
Christie's plays are ideal for a group that wants to use a large cast. A round dozen in this case.
Among the most notable were Margaret Corry's dear, demented Bunny; Emma Stacey's angry foreign cook who had some of the best lines; and Tony Szalai's Inspector Craddock who took charge of events following the murder.
It was strange that in this tale Carole Brand's Miss Marple was so comparatively quiet and subdued even though she did manage to solve some of the clues.
Some of the minor characters had a few quirks such as every time Ian Russell appeared as June Fitzgerald's mother-pecked Edmund he bounded on stage, crashed past other characters and popped up wherever the director Vernon Keeble-Watson had told him to aim for. At least that what I think was happening.
As is so often the case with this group many of the frocks for the women were superb. Made in heavy, expensive materials they were exactly of the period.
Unfortunately the sound of the prompt was heard far too often which led to the production being very slowly paced and I rather think many of the cast weren't aware of the stage's acoustic and how it affects the projection of your voice.
Mary Redman
The Guildonians next production is The Importance of Being Earnest from June 10 to 13 at 8pm Saturday matinee 2.30pm. Bookings: 01708 782118 or email

Boeing! Boeing!, Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch

Boeing! Boeing! is set a world away in the early 1960s when two thirds of the world was a closed book to the remaining third. No mobiles, no rolling news, not even live television from America. Which meant that a randy bachelor could keep three (or more) air hostesses on a string, provided he had access to the flight schedules. These time tables strictly governed where these attractive young women would be at any one time and only he and the young woman concerned knew where she was, so if take offs and landings were on schedule, where was the problem?
Performed on an elegant Parisian apartment set it should have run like clockwork, but it really didn't suit actor Fred Broom as the miscast leading man Bernard. In his cheap shiny tailoring and clearly not at home in the role he struggled with Marc Camoletti's writing translated by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans.
His naive friend Robert was played by Tom Cornish as a super hysterical, body twisting, bit of a maniac, unable to believe the wealth of pulchritude available around him just for the asking or so it seemed.
Les Girls (which how they would often have been described at the time) consisted of American Airlines southern belle Gloria plus Joanna Hickman's dreadfully accented Lufthansa fraulein Gretchen and the luscious Italian Gabriella played by Sarah Mahoney.
The star of the performance, however, with her rapid fire dialogue and knee-high socks was Megan Leigh Mason's snappy, Le Monde-reading Bertha the French cook. Every line perfectly timed, roasted and served up with more than a hint of sauce, and cheek!
Things just didn't really gell under Matt Devitt's direction. Norman Coates's stylish set also clashed badly with the appalling tailoring of the air hostesses's uniforms which were known then for their super chic tailoring.
Remembering just how declasse this comedy cum farce was in the early 1960s when it first arrived on the London stage, it's difficult to see why the Queen's should choose to revive it now. It just wasn't funny, apart from Bertha.
Mary Redman
Runs to March 28 2015. Bookings 01708 443333.

Friday, 13 February 2015

cut to the chase... theatre company, Deadly Murder, Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch

David Foley's why-did-they-do-it? is so full of breakneck twists and turns that it's not always easy to follow the plot as it chops and changes on a sixpence. Or perhaps as it's an American play that should be a dime or cent.
Premièred in 2007 under the title of If/Then, at the International Mystery Writers' Festival in Kentucky, this production is the first in the UK. On this occasion director Simon Jessop was offered three plays to work on with the company. The result was something he describes as “not turning its back on our traditional and loyal audiences, but would also entice and excite new ones.”
Television star Lucy Benjamin, plays the glamorous yet neurotic, wealthy and middle aged widow Camille. It's the early hours of a night when when she has brought a toy boy she picked up back to her elegant apartment. Tom Cornish plays Billy, admittedly not the physically sleekest of toy boys, and the plot takes off from there.
It also includes Sam Pay as the apartment's night security man Ted, but I can't tell you anything more or you wouldn't be intrigued enough by the plot to go and enjoy just how intricately things pan out.
This may be a shortish review, but the play itself is a short one. We were out by nine forty five including interval, yet it packs a real punch with the totally unexpected events on stage. The three actors work their socks off on a shiny New York apartment set designed by Rodney Ford and I'm here to reassure you that the advice of the RSPCA was adhered to for the welfare of Camille's fish in their tank. Malcolm Ranson was the fight director. The production runs to February 21.
Mary Redman
February 9 2015.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Theatre at Baddow, Jane Austen's Sense And Sensibility

The Parish Hall, Maldon Road, Great Baddow

Originally adapted by the brilliant Andy Graham and Roger Parsley for the equally brilliant SNAP Theatre Company that flourished during the end of the 20th Century this 1999 version of Austen's novel was performed with style and verve by them.
It's not easy to condense 118,544 words in which a lot happens and a lot is spoken too since this story of the Dashwood sisters has a great deal to communicate about life in the early 1800s.
Donna Stevenson made a very lively, rather flighty Marianne with Helen Quigley as her more reserved and sensible sister Elinor.
Forced by straightened finances to live in Devon the audience watches their romances and non-romances. There they are under the minutest observation of their delighted and scatty yet strict Aunt Jennings played with great glee by Beth Crozier.
The "events" include the various men who come and go in their lives. The local gentlemen include Nick Milenkovic's young and good looking Edward Ferrars, Roger Saddington's elegant, older and so much wiser Colonel Brandon. There's also an acting treasure in Liam Mayle's intelligent and so at ease on stage characterisation of anti-hero Willoughby.
When everybody decamped to Aunt Jennings's house in London in search of entertaining society, Ruth Westbrook as a very composed Lucy Steele, intruded with disturbing news. 
There were some delightful frocks for the women and smart suits and uniforms for the men.
Unfortunately this is where I parted company with the directors Pauline Saddington and her assistant Pauline England. Why was Aunt Jennings in the country dressed as a drab housemaid? This is a lady of a certain standing and even her maid wore 20th Century cap and apron of the "Nippy" period. Why were so many of the cast under projecting their words so that we couldn't hear them? This was partly caused by the ceiling above the stage which carries voice upwards and partly by all the black curtains of the set.
All too often cast members were arranged in lines on stage or upstaged because a piece of furniture was badly thought out for a conversation.
As for the habit of blacking out completely between virtually every scene - there's absolutely no need for it. It wastes so much time and lowers the pace because the cast then troops to centre stage. This is followed by working up to the levels of energy previously established.
The backing music and sound score created by Craig Greenslade was excellent though.
Mary Redman
February 8 2015