Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Read Not Dead at Gray's Inn

A pretty hall, this … “ A welcome return visit to the historic Gray's Inn, after this summer's stylish Comedy of Errors.
This Beaumont and Fletcher was first published 400 years ago. It's almost entirely forgotten now, but for many years it was a staple of the comedy repertoire; Sam Pepys was a fan; he saw it several times, both with an actress in the title role and in the original version with a cast of boys.
It was done by one of the very profession children's companies, who boasted among their number specialists in old men [and women], young lovers and everything in between.
The piece was also a favourite with amateur actors, so it was appropriate that this staged reading featured members of the Inn embedded in the cast of players from Shakespeare's Globe. Most notably High Court Judge Sir Michael Burton relishing the role of Abigail - “sweet bratch”, ageing and lecherous maidservant to the Lady in question [Emma Denly]. Sighing, chewing the cud – a posset – he won over his audience with practised ease. As did the “talking nightcap”, Sir Roger the curate [Roger Eastman].

Flighty wenches, merry companions, Savil the Steward [kin to Malvolio], the Loveless brothers [Alex Mugnaioni and James Askill], a cross-dressing suitor [Robert Heard], a trio of hangers-on – a rich cast of characters in a complex, and rather long, intrigue of misogyny, deceit and sexual politics, directed by Read Not Dead regular James Wallace.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


WAOS at the Public Hall Witham


A sprightly Spamalot from WAOS, with a great chorus and some very amusing animations.
So alongside the colourful live action, there's a crashing chandelier for the pastiche number, useful glosses for the Chosen People song, a Wikipedia entry for The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, a wheel of fortune for Camelot, and much more. The back-drops, too, are digital.
No shortage of proper Pythonesque performances either. Amongst the knights in woolly tights, Kris Tyler's bold Sir Lancelot and Michael Mundell-Poole's spineless Sir Robin – both sounding more Essex Yeomanry than upper crust - and Phillip Spurgeon's Melchett-moustached Sir Bedevere. Craig Tyler – a convincingly radical Dennis – is the dashing Sir Galahad.
His old mum is played, a la Mother Riley, by Edward Groombridge, who's also a French taunter and a priceless Prince Herbert [another hundred people just contracted the plague...]. This kind of imaginative doubling is crucial to this show: Nik Graham is the other taunter, Tim, and the Knight of Ni, Harry Tunningley an irrepressible Not Dead Fred and Lancelot's trusty Concorde. Even Richard Cowen, an amusingly Starkey-ish Historian, is the tedious Brother Maynard in Act Two.
Camelot's first couple are Constance Lawton's diva Lady of the Lake, and David Slater's impressively sung Arthur – a genial, formidable presence. His hang-dog Patsy, a brolly in his knapsack, is Trevor Marks.
Similar umbrellas for the big production number, with tap-dancing playing cards. The chorus is brilliantly used, from the campest copacabana for the out-of-the-closet Lancelot to the athletic cheerleaders. Good to see Marcel Marceau with the onion seller amongst the French People.
The audience on opening night were enthusiastically appreciative – whistling, singing along and laughing immoderately at the excellent guard panto routine, the snippet of vintage Python, the Brexit joke.
An impressive production of a cult classic, directed by Nikki Mundell-Poole, assisted by Gemma Gray, with Geoff Osborne in charge of the music. A good omen for another off-the-wall show next spring – Bob Carlton's Return to the Forbidden Planet, Shakespeare's forgotten rock'n'roll masterpiece.
production photograph: Matilda Bourne

Saturday, October 22, 2016


Leigh Operatic and Dramatic Society at the Palace Theatre Westcliff


A very British blend of Python and panto, it's curious to think that it was born on Broadway.
The show certainly seems very much at home in the lovely old Palace Theatre; good to see one of the stage boxes used briefly.
LODS, directed by Sallie Warrington, give it their all, playing up the silliness, the high camp and the parody in a gloriously enjoyable couple of hours of escapist laughter.
It helps to have a company of consummate musical theatre performers, of course.
The excellent programme lists thirty named characters, so please forgive only a passing mention for Nathan Gray's Nun, Bradley Gull's Monk and Mick Felgate's Sir Not Appearing. Surely some mistake – he sneaks on for at least one other cheeky cameo.
Intellectual high point of the show is Anthony Bristoe's bow-tied historian right at the start; he also gets to play Brother Maynard and a lovely Mrs Galahad, mother to Stuart Woolner's superb knight, “dashingly handsome” with his Cavalier curls. A somewhat less convincing wig for Peter Brown's Sir Robin, clutching his rubber chicken; a great comedy performance, with a chance to relive his Man in Chair triumph for the Broadway number. The fleeting scenery gag is a particular delight.
His unlikely pair is Lewis Sheldrake's Sir Lancelot, transformed for the finale, outed in a disco number, ready for his “still controversial” wedding to David Shipman's Prince Herbert.
Paul Ward makes a perfect Patsy, the Baldricky side-kick to the King of the Britons. His coconuts carefully placed, always in the moment, especially in the Act Two All Alone number.
Overacting like hell” as the Camelot couple, Neil Lands' flamboyant Arthur King – I never saw Simon Russell Beale in the role, but I imagine it was something after this style – and Helen Sharpe's unforgettable Lady of the Lake, wringing every last drop of gold top out of her big numbers: the Grail Song, the meta-theatrical front-cloth lament and of course The Song That Goes Like This.
The music – and the essential slapstick sound effects – are excellently done; the MD is Rachael Plunkett, with Clare Penfold waving the stick in the Palace pit. Amateur productions have the edge in the chorus numbers, fielding a stage-full of song-and-dance people: the lovely, hard-working Laker Girls, plus assorted peasants, nobles and Knights of Ni.

The scenery, and the shrubbery, are [deliberately?] uninspired – the code set in stone, for instance – and I find the camel gag works best with a gap, and the E at the end. But the Wooden Rabbit is impressive, and the Black Knight the best I've seen. And the show has so many clever, delightful touches: the entry of the Knights stage left, Fantine amongst the French extras, the slapping of the fish echoed by the head-banging Friars ...

production photograph: Gareth Poxon

9 TO 5

9 TO 5
Brentwood Operatic Society
at Brentwood Theatre


Dolly Parton's “spankin' new musical” - based on the 1980 movie – was a sell-out success for BOS.
Ms Parton did the music and the lyrics; the book is by Patricia Resnick. It's a feel-good feminist-lite workplace story, in which the MCP CEO is ousted, first in fantasy, then for real, by a feisty trio from his office.
The music is big-hearted and brassy, excellently handled by the Ian Southgate's off-stage rock combo. The story is simplistic, the samey songs sometimes slow the action, and the first act seems far too long. But the BOS company give it their all, with outstanding performances by Rachel Lane as the widowed mother, Louise Byrne as the Backwoods Barbie - “too much make-up, too much hair” - and Juliet Thomas as the band-box neat newbie. An amazing character turn from Mandi Threadgold-Smith as dear old Roz with the hots for her boss; her Heart to Hart routine, backed by a chorus of look-alikes, is a highlight of the show.
Apart from Martin Harris's splendidly loathsome “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot”, the men are mostly ciphers, though we have a nice cameo from Bob Southgate as deus ex machina Tinsworthy.
Emma Sweeney's staging is inventive and stylish: the opening title number, the I Just Might trio, the power-dressing One Of The Boys. The scene shifting – everything is on castors – is impeccably choreographed, making the most of the stage area and bringing welcome variety to this uneven crowd-pleaser of a show.

company photograph: Brentwood Gazette

Friday, October 21, 2016


Kathryn Barker Productions / London Classic Theatre

Cramphorn Theatre Chelmsford

Henry Naylor's three-hander looks back to Iraq in 2003. Much has been written since about the abuse of prisoners, the plight of the Iraqi interpreters.
Here, three monologues are interwoven, the actors move around the three simple stools, naked light-bulbs above them recalling the interrogation rooms where much of the imagined action takes place.
The verse prologue takes us to the land of Sinbad and Saddam, an Arabian nightmare; the epilogue deplores man's greatest enemy, his own brutality.
The three actors give intense, horrifyingly believable performances.
Anna Riding is Zoya, a young Iraqi woman whose fiancé, Nasir, whom we never see, is pivotal to the story. They meet through music, “proper music”, Eminem, Ludacris, Dr Dre. He's something of a subversive, but leaps at the chance of translating for the Americans in their prison.
It's run by Kasprowicz, played by William Reay, a veteran of the first incarnation of the piece on the Edinburgh fringe. Foster,”a woman in the war zone”, is an interrogator who believes that a psychological approach - “pride and ego down” - will get the best “intel”. She's played, with a searing honesty, by Olivia Beardsley, making her UK début in this production.
These three actors, story-tellers really, bring the other characters to life too: Valle the sadistic loudmouth grunt, Faisal the war-lord and many more. And their words paint a terrible picture of darkness overcoming enlightenment, of treachery and humiliation. Kasprowicz, brought down by the sexual chemistry between him and Foster, must watch powerlessly as Saddam's notorious gaol sinks back into inhumanity at the hands of the occupying US Army. And his own liberal patriotism is shaken by the traitor he once trusted.
A powerful piece, part history, part tragedy, given a strong production in this LCT tour, directed by Michael Cabot.