Tag Archives: Chelmsford Civic Theatre

Footloose
reviewed in Hornchurch on 22 May

The energy displayed by the cast of this remastered tour of the stage musical based on the 1984 film Footloose is breath-taking. The whirl of dance and movement, some of it performed while playing a brass, woodwind or stringed instrument, hardly slows down. The current vogue for all-round actors-musicians-dancers has certainly roduced some excellent performers.

In this story of a mother and teenage son, reluctantly moving ten hours’ drive south of Chicago to Bomont when her husband walks out without warning, the older characters have their lyrical moments. Reuban Gershon as Bomont’s pastor Rev. Moore and Maureen Nolan as his wife both have extremely good voices with crystal-clear intonation.

There are also two young couples – Joshua Dowen as displaced Ren, Hannah Price as the Moore’s daughter Ariel and Gareth Gates as farmboy Willard with Laura Sillett as Rusty (who rather fancies him but can’t quite make him react as she would wish) – who give very well thought-out characterisations.

Dowen is all tennage angst, Gates acts as well as sings and dances while both Price and Sillett makes us believe in these two girls. Lindsay Goodhand as Mrs McCormack, having to cope with the financial and emotional fallout from her husband’s desertion, and Connor Going as Chuck, Ariel’s dominating and abusive boyfriend also make their mark.

Matt Cole’s choreography and Sara Perks’ clever settings which allow our imaginations to fill in the physical gaps suit the show perfectly. Direction is by Racky Plews and sound (be warned: it’s loud) has been designed by Chris Whybrow.

Four-star rating.

Footloose runs as the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 27 May with matinées on 25 and 27 May. it can also be seen at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford between 14 and 17 June and at the Towngate Theatre, Basildon from 21 to 26 August as part of the 2017 national tour.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

Strictly Murder
reviewed in Basildon on 10 May

It’s April 1939. We’re in a farmhouse deep in Provence. Hitler’s rantings and British peace-or-war ditherings can surely have no impact on the lives of English artist and part-time grape-harvester Peter Meredith or his girl-friend Suzy. Josef, who has strayed into their lives as a derelict from the previous conflict and who dosses down in their outbuildings, may have a different reaction.

This 2008 thriller by the late Brain Clemens ratchets up the suspense quite cleverly. Peter (Gary Turner) has no good reason to give Suzy (Lara Lemon) why they don’t marry. As the radio keeps them abreast of what’s happening so rapidly in the wider world, Peter’s suddenly condenses with the arrival of Ross (Brian Capron), a former detective (or is he?), whose cheery manner hides what could turn out to be a lethal purpose.

Clemens’ son Samuel is the director and knows how to paper over cracks in plausibility. He’s aided by Alex Marker’s excellent set and David North’s lighting which reminds us that this farmhouse is dependent on a somewhat tempremental generator. The performances are all good, with Andrew Fettes’ Josef both pathetic and menacing as the war clouds gather and people have to decide where their loyalties lie.

The second act introduces us to Ross’ identical-twin brother – they are well characterised and subtly differentiated by Capron, who rather walks off with the acting laurels. Corinne Wicks is Miriam Miller, another person who is not what she originally appears to be. Suzy, pregnant with Peter’s child, also holds attention as portrayed by Lemon.

Turner has in many ways the most difficult role; it is hard to warm to Peter even before aspects of his past spill out. But it all holds together with conviction during the performance. And that, after all, is the essence of drama.

Three and a half-star rating.

Strictly Murder can be seen at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 23 and 24 May, the Gordon Craig Theatre between 5 and 7 June, the Mercury Theatre, Colchester between 8 and 10 June, the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft on 16 and 17 June, the Grove Theatre, Dunstable on 10 and 11 July and the Key Theatre, Peterborough on 10 and 11 September.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

Hysteria
reviewed at Chelmsford Civic on 7 February

Farce is the bright side of the tragic mask – and vice versa. Take Terry Johnson’s Hysteria, which postulates a meeting between the fathe of psychology Sigmund Freud and surreal painter and sculptor Salvador Dali. The one is Viennese old-school, formal – almost repressed, if that isn’t too much of a contradiction – coming to the end of his life with non-curable cancer, in exile, in Hampstead.

The other is as extrovert in his flamboyant lifestyle as on canvas or marble. He too is an exile, in just as many ways as Freud. Both try to shut out those aspects of the late 1930s which they knw they cannot ameliorate and which are therefore better left to simmer by themselves. But in farce, reality keeps on butting in; for Freud it is persnified by his doctor and friend Abraham Yahuda who sees all too clearly what Kristalinacht is heralding.

All good farces require doors to be locked or flung open at the author’s whim. There should also be a scantily-clad young woman and the development of a whole sequence of situations which the other characters always misunderstand. Enter Jessica, in search of a particular case notebook. The trouble for any director, here London Classic Theatre’s Michael Cabot, is that our perceptions of what are now historical characters and events have changed (I hesitate to say, matured) in the past 24 years.

There’s an excellent set by James Perkins and a real sense of ensemble playing (a prerequisite for farce) from the cast. Ged McKenna is sympathetic, as well as deliberately infuriating, as Freud while John Dorney gives a nuancedly over-the-top portrait of Dali, a many who is not alays sure that he is entirely comfortable in the persona he has created for himself.

Moray Treadwell’s Dr Yahuda comes over as a man who has made a place for himself in this strange country while being actively concerned with the fate of those less fortunate than he. Summer Strallen is a soft-voiced Jessica, which may suit the young woman’s quiet determination to achieve what she so desperately wants, however embarrassingthe situations into which that leads her. But it does put a strain on the audience’s attention, particularly in the first scene.

Three and a half-star rating

Hysteria is at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 8 Febryary and tours nationally until 20 May, including the Key Theatre, Peterborough (7-8 March) and the Mercury Theatre, Colchester (18-20 May).

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

Jack and the Beanstalk

(reviewed at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 3 December)

It’s billed as “a giant of a pantomime” and this One From The Heart production measures up to that description. Simon Aylin’s script falls tidily on the ear and Kerris Peeling’s direction keeps the action fast moving. Damian Czarnecki’s choreography gives excellent opportunities to both the ensemble (from Laine Theatre Arts) and the local juvenile dancers.

Costumes are bright and the fary-tale book sets have the right suggestion of not-quite real. Ben Ellis Strathie makes a dashing Jack with David McKechnie’s Fleshcreep as a worthy opponent, eminently hissable. Neil Bromley’s Dame Trott is in the traditional mould, trying (and failing) to keep both Jack and his brother Silly Billy (Samuel Parker) under her thumb. Both quickly establish an excellent rapport with the audience,

Daisy the cow knows how to dance (has she perhaps been watching the Lipizzaners of the Spanish Riding School?) and uses her doe eyes and long, long lashes to good effect. Gabriela Gregorian is Jill, a princess who knows her own mind – not necessarily following her father (Stephen McGlynn)’s instructions. Trying the lead the forces of good is Katie Brennan as Fairy Nuff, not the brighest student at fairy school, but willing to persevere.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford until 2 January. Check the website (chelmsford.gov.uk/theatres) for performance times.

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Filed under Pantomimes & other seasonal shows, Reviews 2016

Aladdin

(reviewed at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 5 December 2015)

One From The Heart is again the producer, in association with Chelmsford City Theatre, of this year’s pantomime. It’s the ever-popular Aladdin with Liam Ross-Mills in the title role. His somewhat naïve quest for the riches which will enable him to obtain the hand of the Princess Jasmine (Gabriela Gregorian) is, of course, triggered by his encounter with Shaun Chambers’ Abanazar.

Last year’s Peter Pan is this year’s Wishee Washee – Samuel Parker. He establishes an instant rapport with the children in the audience, abetted by Tim McArthur’s Widow Twankey. Then there’s David Tarkenter as the Emperor, all bombast and fluster as he seeks to find a wealthy prince to wed his feisty daughter and restore his crumbling finances.

The immortals are Millie O’Connell as a no-nonsense Slave of the Ring and Neal Wright, a commanding presence with a voice to match, as the Genie of the Lamp. Damian Czarnecki’s choreography is bright and puts the ensemble and juvenile dancers and those youngsters playing Abanazar’s minions through their energetic paces.

In Act One, the slop scene in the laundry has acquired a couple of novel twists (and slips) while Aladdin’s magic carpet journey to Abanazar’s lair elicits a proper response of gasps as he swoops over the stage and orchestra pit. Tim Curran is the musical director; Simon Aylin both wrote the script and directed it.

Aladdin runs at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford until 3 January.

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Filed under Pantomimes & seasonal shows, Reviews 2015

Groovy Greeks

(reviewed at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 23 October)

The voice of the king of the gods, Zeus himself, is a fitting introduction to this latest addition to the Birmingham Stage Company’s repertoire of Horrible Histories. Appropriately enough, he’s Terry Deary, actor-author of the original series of books.

In Groovy Greeks Zeus is confronted by a modern family. There’s Mum (Laura Dalgleish), bright-as-a-button daughter Alice (Hannah Boyce) who is just as inquisitive as her Lewis Carroll namesake, somewhat know-all Dad (Charlie Buckland) and stroppy son Rob (Ashley Bowden).

They are invited (threatened? challenged?) by Zeus to enter the world of the highly competitive ancient Greeks. Troy and its ten-year siege is the appropriate beginning. Rob confuses Homer the poet with the Simpsons’ patriarch which allows for some clever cartoon-derived headgear designed, as are the projections by Jacqueline Trousdale.

The harsh, military-focussed city-state of Sparta, the Olympic Games and the rise of Athens are the next to tax our quartet’s survival skills. Slavery was a fact of everyday life in the ancient world; there’s a timely statistical reminder that it’s still prevalent today.

Horrible Histories on stage wouldn’t live up to their name without Bogglevision, as devised by Whizzbang 3D Production. The Minotaur lurks in a distorted labyrinth to claim his tribute of young human flesh. His vanquishing by Theseus is attended by some fright-inducing spiders as well as other monsters.

Both the historical encounters with the Persian empire – Leonides’ doomed but heroic defence of the Thermopylae Pass and the vital sea battle at Salamis are alive with hurled spears and rocks (I challenge you not to duck!), the foam and hiss of oar-beaten waves and the crunch of armoured prows caving in wooden triremes.

Tere’s a hilarious Britain’s Got Talentt-style contests for the audience’s favour with Aphrodite’s sexy show-girl routine easily out-voting Poseidon’s trident-waving rock star or Athena’s pop singer attempt. Our time travellers return to the present-day having learned a lot about the past and the way in which it continues to inform the present.

You see, history really can be great fun. It just takes imagination.

Groovy Greeks runs in repertoire with Incredible Invaders at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford until 24 Octover and also at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge between 26 and 31 October.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Reviews 2015

Incredible Invaders


 
(reviewed at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 20 October)

 

Horrible Histories, in print, on television or – best of all – live on stage throw a particularly well-disguised punch at their public. You learn something while enjoying the experience. Take Incredible Invaders, for instance.

England from 56BC to that final lethal invasion of AD1066 covers a lot of ground, both literally and metaphorically. Linking it all is an outspoken British girl called Mavis (Hannah Boyce) who has the audience immediately on her side as her potential sacrifice by the Druids is interrupted by the Roman army (well, just two soldiers) – but who can afford a cast of thousands these days?

Neal Foster has written the scripts as well as directing the fast-moving action. But it’s the work of set, costume and screen image designer Jacqueline Trousdale that really takes centre stage. The projections give us a three-dimension set even before the second half intervention of the Whizzbang Bogglevision sequences.

After the Romans (in retrospect probably the best of the invaders) and the suitably wild revolt by Boudicca (Laura Dalgleish) come the Saxons with some particularly nasty execution practices (Foster doesn’t veer away from these). Ashley Bowden and Charlie Buckland stand in for Hengest and Horsa as the fragmented Britannia succumbs to a different sort of brute strength.

The Vikings, those Norsemen who also colonised Normandy, arrive in their longboats, one of which has a marvellous, slightly camp talking figurehead. King Alfred (Bowden) now takes centre stage with his possibly mythical cake-burning (Arthur has already been dismissed as mere legend). We may think of him as a good and just ruler but Foster makes clear that late 9th century justice had its own savageries.

And so to the Normans and the Battle of Hastings, flowing in Bogglevision straight out of the Bayeux Tapestry. Adults in the mid-week audience may have thought that their attendance was something of a chore. My impression is that they revelled in it all just as much as the children did.

Incredible Invaders plays in repertory with Groovy Greeks at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford until 20 October and at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge between 27 and 31 October.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Reviews 2015

Absent Friends

(reviewed at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 19 May)

Nobody does the tragi-comedy of the wrecking of relationships more skillfully than Alan Ayckbourn. Absent Friends, now 40 years old, offers us four such couples; however, one husband is bed-ridden at home and the other has lost his fiancée through a drowning accident. Michael Cabot’s new touring production for London Classic Theatre eschews the temptation to update it but treats it naturally, as a piece of its period which still has something to say to its audience even after a lapse of time.

Simon Kenny’s set – an affluent couple’s living-room in a house in an upwardly mobile area – displays all the most-have style of the period. It’s the home of businessman Paul (Kevin Drury) and his increasingly disenchanted wife Diana (Catherine Harvey). Colin (Ashley Cook) is a long-time member of their circle, perhaps less so now than when they were in their late teens and twenties. Diana is throwing a tea-party for Colin, now that he has so tragically lost his beloved Carole.

Except, of course, that he doesn’t really want consolation; he’s content with his memories of an untroubled, beautiful relationship (one which time had ensured would never even begin to sour). Marge (Alice Selwyn) has pampered her husband Gordon to such an extent that he is now an obese hypochondriac; her compensation is shopping. Hopeless salesman John (John Dorney), a man of perpetual motion, has acquired a wife Evelyn (Kathryn Ritchie), all monosyllabic estuary-English and laconic gum-chewing, and a baby, son Wayne.

Ayckbourn has laid these characters out on the table for examination, and Cabot performs a decisively neat dissection of them. From Dorney’s near-manic twitches and shuffles as John through the anger which is scarcely controlled in Drury’s thoroughly unpleasant Paul to the almost gormless bonhomie with which Cook invests Colin, the detailing is precise.

Diana has a couple of opportunities in which her frustrations boil over; the first is ostensibly aimed at Evelyn and the second (actions sometimes speak louder than words) at Paul. Harvey makes the most of these. One yearns to shake Marge out of her febrile complacency – she’s killing Gordon with pandering to his malaises while over-feeding him – Which is a tribute to Selwyn’s characterisation. As for Ritchie’s Evelyn… one can only say that if there is to be a survivor in their marriage, it won’t be John.

Absent Friends plays at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 20 May and at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds between 2 and 6 June as part of a national tour to 18 July.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015

The Tiger Who Came to Tea

(reviewed at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 10 May)

It’s hard to believe that David Wood’s adaptation of The Tiger Who Came to Tea has been around since 2008. The Nick Brooke-Kenny Wax production seems to have been refurbished for the current tour; children who know every syllable and every picture from Judith Kerr’s now-classic story won’t be disappointed in seeing and hearing it all in three dimensions.

Susie Caulcutt’s set and costumes are colourful, and there’s an excellent mask and full furry body for the eponymous tiger. Benjamin Wells has the height for the part and carries off the courtly bows in greeting and farewell while allowing us that frisson which such a large non-domesticated feline needs to evoke. Wells is also the somewhat dozy father, who really does need his wife (Jenanne Redman) and young daughter Sophie (Abbey Norman) to work hard if he is to get to work on time, the doddering postman and glib salesman milkman.

We all know that the incursion of milkman and postman are there just to build up to the moment when the tiger insinuates himself into the kitchen, but it’s cleverly handled and works. Wood’s music and lyrics are a catchy as ever and suit Emma Clayton’s choreography well. Norman is a delight as the little girl who loves the toy kitten which has been her uncle’s birthday gift but is also fascinated by the tiger’s incursion.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea runs at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge between 10 and 13 May and at the Watford Colosseum 11-12 July.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Reviews 2015