Thursday, December 01, 2016


at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich


All the traditional ingredients of the Wolsey's wonderful rock'n'roll offerings are there: the actor/musicians, the chorus of cute critters, the visual puns [“pulled pork”] and the sound effects.
And after last Christmas's Sword in the Stone, this year we're treated to another fresh new storyline, and some unexpected characters. Our story-teller, and good fairy, is Scheherazade [Elizabeth Rowe], who brings the three couples to her love shack for the wedding finale. Our hero is Sinbad, of course, a likeable Steve Rushton, who woos the Princess Pearl [Daniella Piper]. His rival for her hand is the evil Sinistro, played by Wolsey favourite Dan de Cruz. He gets to quote Lear for his storm scene, which also has one of the best numbers, Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water. Much of the music is from the 70s and 80s: one of the most successful is the hilariously subverted Living on a Prayer, complete with smoke machine and fan supplied by a nimble stage-hand. Possibly a thinly disguised Graham Kent, who gives us a brawny Dame Donna. His stooge, Tinbad the Tailor, was very amusing done by Rob Falconer.
Half the fun for the grown-ups in the audience is seeing everyone slickly swapping instruments: the Dame on trumpet, the three girls a great saxophone trio, and almost everyone behind the drum kit at some point. The direction – Peter Rowe, who penned the witty, naughty script – is lively and energetic. The ten-strong company seem genuinely to be having a good time – though come the end of January that might be hard to sustain – Sinbad's Saucy Sausage sails on at the Wolsey until the 28th.
production photograph: Robert Day

Sunday, November 27, 2016



at Christ Church, Chelmsford

Back to back piano concertos, with Chelmsford-born Alisdair Hogarth as soloist with the ESO under Tom Hammond.
Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue top of the bill. Not really jazz, according to Hogarth before the concert, though the players did manage a convincing jazz sound, as well as the big orchestral palette, with a muscular soloist to match.
Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto – a repertoire favourite, and recorded by three generations of the Shostakovich clan – was given a similarly bold reading; the outer movements sometimes sounded more deliberate, less delightfully delicate, than usual, but the sublime slow movement, with its rich string tone and eloquent piano phrasing, was superbly done.
Ten years now since Malcolm Arnold left us. And this enterprising programme opened with A Flourish For Orchestra, commissioned in 1973 by the City of Bristol. Then the Third Symphony of 1957 – the same year as the Shostakovich. A much darker piece, a memorial to the composer's mother, impressively played by the ESO, led by Philippa Barton, with sweeping, brooding strings, ominous tympani rhythms, and fleeting solos from oboe, clarinet, piccolo and of course Arnold's own instrument, the trumpet.



Stock Drama Group at the Village Hall

The room – the “shrine” - is shrouded in dust sheets, the cast list in the programme is deliberately unhelpful.
This melodramatic thriller by Ira [Deathtrap] Levin has some clever, chilling twists, even if it lacks practical or psychological credibility. Like the later, better, piece, it has plays within plays … Not to mention timeslips and philosophical questions about the nature of reality.
Stock, directed by Peter Baker, give it a stylish outing, with a nicely furnished 1930s room and some believable 70s costumes. The lighting is atmospheric, although more dark corners would have helped the mysterious mood.
Sarah Kettlewell is the unfortunate young heroine at the heart of the increasingly nasty plot – a Cordelia at school, she is left alone to create the tension before the twist at the end of Act One, which she does very effectively; her litany of 1973 is another fine moment.
Greg Morgan – is he really a lawyer, is that toothbrush moustache really a fake ? - is her unlikely boyfriend, and a more sinister professional after the interval.
The resident staff – at the start at least – are excellently characterized throughout by Sylvia Lanz and Ian Stratford.

Maybe a little less shouting, a little more underplayed menace, would have strengthened the dramatic impact. And if the action is to be shifted from Boston MA to Oxfordshire, then more work needs to be done on the text: summer camp, goosebumps, the Depression all betray its true origins.

Friday, November 25, 2016


at the Playhouse, Salisbury

Alan Bennett looks increasingly like Betjeman's natural heir. And Hugh Whitemore's elegiac entertainment has more than one resonance: Edward Fox's rich voice – no more like Sir John's than his dapper linen-suited persona – is very like the patrician, academic tones that Bennett favours in pastiche. His “north of the Trent” town clerk, too, with “Bournemouth's looking up”. Not to mention the “grapefruit drying on the after-dinner speaking circuit. Both writers confess to a love of church-crawling, life on the film set, with its camaraderie and arcane jargon - “hair in the gate” …
Set in what could be a summer house, this 90 minute monologue is a shared delight; Fox's eyes are often screwed up in mirth, laughing, as Sir John did, immoderately at his own bons mots. And there are plenty of those, some new to me [the du Maurier limerick], some very familiar [Churchill on Tom Driberg's bride, a naughty Max Miller rhyme].
Names are casually dropped – pale green intellectuals and fin-de-siecle pederasts – Eliot, Auden, Blunt and Waugh, C S Lewis, Osbert Lancaster, Elizabeth Jane Howard. And of course there are the poems – Joan Hunter Dunn, Summoned by Bells, Dorset, Devonshire Street W1.
A disappointment to his father, Moth to Oscar's Bosie, delighting in old books - “through leaves” and London's Music Halls, [all but Wilton's, which he helped save from the wreckers, now vanished] – a “fascinating study to the world”.
Fox got a round on his entrance – life-time achievement applause, perhaps. But his affable, engaging performance certainly merited an ovation; this has been a long tour, but he appeared to be enjoying each anecdote and reminiscence afresh – a generous touch of genius on the Salisbury stage.

We used to picnic where the thrift
Grew deep and tufted to the edge;
We saw the yellow foam flakes drift
In trembling sponges on the ledge
Below us, till the wind would lift
Them up the cliff and o’er the hedge.
Sand in the sandwiches, wasps in the tea,
Sun on our bathing dresses heavy with the wet,
Squelch of the bladder-wrack waiting for the sea,
Fleas around the tamarisk, an early cigarette.

There was a young lady named Gloria

Who was had by Sir Gerald Du Maurier,
        And then by six men,
        Sir Gerald again,
And the band at the Waldorf-Astoria.

Monday, November 21, 2016



Writtle Singers at All Saints' Church

The programming for this enterprising chamber choir has invariably been interesting and rewarding.
This concert, taking us from a damp Essex November to the heart of Spain, was affecting too, reminding us of a time when the church's rites alone held the keys to heaven, and pilgrimage was an obligation to which all aspired.
Luis de Victoria's Officium Defunctorum, based on the plainchant of the requiem mass, was given an atmospheric performance in the consecrated darkness of the church, the polyphony subtly underpinned by the cello of Alastair Morgan. The central Sanctus was especially moving.
The Singers, directed by Christine Gwynn, were joined by the cellist, and by Chris Brice and Nathan Gregory on a variety of bells, for Gabriel Jackson's To The Field Of Stars, commissioned to mark the 400th anniversary of Victoria's death in 2011. Challenging for the choir, it blends ancient pilgrim hymns with settings of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson – Miracles and Our Journey Has Advanced – as well as a prayer for travelling, a history lesson [spoken by bass Andrew Taylor] a murmured evocation of the stars, and at the last a glimpse of the glorious Basilica of Santiago, using an elaboration of the motet O Quam Gloriosum which opened the concert. 

An intriguing poetic reflection on pilgrimage and life's journeys, its elusive melodies and rich harmonies beautifully handled by the choir. Especially magical, suspending time for a moment, was the whispered litany of star names, decorated with tinkling bells and high cello melodies in a luminous evocation of Compostela, the Field of Stars.

Our journey had advanced —
Our feet were almost come
To that odd Fork in Being's Road —
Eternity — by Term —

Our pace took sudden awe —
Our feet — reluctant — led —
Before — were Cities — but Between —
The Forest of the Dead —

Retreat — was out of Hope —
Behind — a Sealed Route —
Eternity's White Flag — Before —
And God — at every Gate —

Emily Dickinson

pilgrim path photograph by Bishop Stephen Cotterell, who recently completed the Camino - his blog here