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.