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 susiedrama@gmail.com

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.