Tag Archives: Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

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.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

Educating Rita
reviewed in Hornchurch on 25 April

How do you react when you’re out of your comfort zone? Some become verbose. Others might take to drink. When we meet onstage the two characters of Willy Russell’s 1980s success Educating Rita (as with the rest of us) their lives are populated with a host of people who may be physically offstage but become just as real as Rita and her reluctant Open University tutor Frank.

Ros Philips’ production brings the action forward onto a thrust stage with the audience on three sides. I’m not sure that this makes it more immediate, even with Polly Sullivan’s suitably dishevelled set. Sally Ferguson’s lighting design is either deeply symbolic or somewhat perverse; I have a feeling that, on the opening night, it was the latter.

As Frank, Ruairi Conaghan manages to keep the uaidnece’s sympathy, no mean feat when what we are watching is a past poet now a reluctant academic (“those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach”) de-constructing his own life, his partners’ and then what’s left of his second career. Frank is the sort of man interesting to talk to when sober but profoundly irritating when he’s not and indulging in yet another round of self-pity. All this Conaghan accomplishes admirably.

Danielle Flett’s Rita erupts into Frank’s study as a whirlwind of physical restlessness and verbal overspill. Flett establishes this hairdresser who wants to improve her mind with an intensity which makes most of her first act speeches too much of an accented gabble. The part requires some extremely quick costume changes as time passes and Rita grows out of her restrictive home and work life into one which broadens both her cultural and social existence.

Three and a half-star rating.

Educating Rita runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 13 May with matinées on 27 April and 6 May.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

Worst Wedding Ever
reviewed in Ipswich on 2 March

Weddings last for a few hours, usually involve a great many people and can cost a great deal more than a brand-new car. Marriages are something different, a compact of commitment between two indivduals. The drama of a wedding is a cumulative effect. The drama of a marriage is much more slow-burning.

Originally premiered at the Salisbury Playhouse three years ago, Chris Chibnall’s Worst Wedding Ever has been updated and is now given in a new production by Gareth Machin, the first fruit of a new partnership between the Playhouse, Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre and the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch. Rachel and Scott know what they want – a simple registry office ceremony with just a pub lunch for a few close friends and family.

After all, money will be tight until he finishes his teacher-training and there’s the mortgage on a flat to take into account. But Liz, Rachel’s mother, has other ideas; they involve wedding lists, a lavish church ceremony, a sit-down meal in a marquee, top-of-the-range photography and – of course – a gasp-eliciting wedding dress.

As with any comedy which threatens to tip over into farce (or perhaps even into tragedy), we meet membes of a somewhat disfunctional family. Julia Hills as Liz, the micro-managing mother in question, dominates the action, well contrasted with her husband Mel, to whom Derek Frood imparts a distinctly laid-back quality. Nav Sidhu’s Scott is a young man with principles – and he’s sticking to them.

Elisabeth Hopper’s Rachel is another credible character, knowing what she wants n her heart of hearts, but concerned not to wreck her family in the process. Wrecker in chief is her elder sister Alison (Elizabeth Cadwallader), going through a messy divorce process with Mike (Lloyd Gorman), and matter aren’t helped by Kiernan Hill’s Graeme, a vicar too trendy for anyone’s good. Then Andy (Ben Callon), the son of the family drifts in…

The garden set by James Button has its own surprises, with musicians materialising from some unusual places, not to mention a selection of projections. Machin keeps the action fast and suitably furious, though the script could perhaps be better for a little trimming. There’s a superb coup de théåtre towards the end with a repercussion with is equally unexpected.

Four and a half-star rating.

Worst Wedding Ever continues at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 11 March with matinées on 8 and 11 March. It then transfers to the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch between 15 March and 1 April.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

The Crucible
reviewed in Hornchurch on 20 February

What is arguably Arthur Miller’s best play – and certainly it is among his most popular – is a layered affair. Ostensibly a realistic drama about the notorious 1692 witch trials in Salem, it is a searing indictment of the 1950s McCarthy-led witch-hunt for potential Communist sympathises and, by extension, any similar houding under the guise of defence of a national interest.

Because it is now judged to be a lassic, productions veer from the straightforwardly realistic to the copletely deconstructed. Douglas Rintoul, abetted by his designer Anouk Schiltz, lighting designer Chris Davy and sound designer Adrienne Quartly, goes in for a variation of the Berliner Ensemble’s alienation effect. The setting is stark, the costumes are dust-bowl drab, the soundscape is almost cinematographic and we are never allowed to forget that we are watching actors on a stage set.

They can be seen preparing for their entrnces and, once off the scene, sitting at the sides waiting for their next cue. It’s all effective enough, but there’s a fine play with interesting dialogue and characters in wheom one can believe struggling to over-ride this staging. It’s not helped by the breakneck speed at which much of the early dialogue is taken and is not always completely audible.

The performances ar good, with Eoin Slattery making John Proctor into a fallible husband, well aware that his sexual lapse with Lucy Keirl’s flame-haired Abigail may well wreck not just his marriage with Elizabeth (Victoria Yeates) but the whole balance of his rual existence. Yeates suggests that John’s betrayal still rankles deep inside Elizabeth; not only does she also have the same red hair as Abigail, but perhaps the two women are more alike than either would care to acknowledge.

Augustina Seymour is a gentle Rebecca Nurse, albeit sporting the worst-fitting wig I’ve seen for a long time, and a suitably pliable Mary Waren. Charlie Condou suggests that the well-meaning Reverend Hale is never going to be a match for Cornelius Clarke’s ferocious Reverend Paris, let alone Jonathan Tafler’s Judge Danforth; both granite pillars of the overlapping establishments. David Delve, as Giles Corey – a man who prefers to beat out his own path – also offers a well-rounded characterisation.

If you’ve seen the play before, then you can very likely extricate its heart from the production. I am a good deal less sure whether someone unfamiliar with the text will succeed. Yes, witch-hunts of one sort or anoher are an unpalatable fact of life as much now as in the historic past and, regrettably, in the future. But – Miller’s message is surely one of hope; that good will eventaully triumph over evil. Rintoul, SellaDoor Productions and Les Théàtres de la Ville de Luxembourg suggest otherwise.

Three and a half-star rating.

The Crucible continues at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch until 11 March with matinées on 23 February, 2, 9 and 11 March. The national and international tour continues to 18 June and includes the Mercury Theatre, Colchester 29 May-3 June.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

Cinderella

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 5 December)

 

This is probably the favourite pantomime story, which raises high empectations in its audiences. The magic trick is to blend the familiar, much-loved rags-to-riches story with enough variations to spice it up while never smothering its essence. Andrew Pollard’s script in Martin Berry’s production manages to achieve just that balance.

The Queen’s Theatre tradition of using actor-musicians comes into its own – Natasha Lewis’ Cinderella must be the only trombone-playing one  in this year’s national crop. Jonathan Charles’ Dandini is a wandering fiddle-player, taken on by Jamie Noar’s Prince Charming, desperately trying to disentangle himself from his father’s plans for his future.

No Baron Hardup in this version. Rather, we have his spiteful widow (Georgina Field) keeping her two chip-off-the-matriachal-block daughters Miley (Simon Pontin) and Kylie (Carl Patrick) very much under her sharp-nailed thumb. No wonder the household is reduced to a single servant, Buttons (Alex Tomkins), who only stays because of Cinderella.

Mark Walters has designed a deceptively sumptuous set and costumes in a vaguely late 18th century style. Joshua Good man is the hard-working musical director, joined in the pit by Al Twist and Sarah Workman, and the on-stage cast. Field has a commanding way with a saxaphone, even when Liz Marsh’s choeography keeps her feet fully employed.

That all-important wow! factor comes also from Etisyai Philip’s Fairy Godmother, who manipulates the whole story, including Cinderella’s swan-drawn carriage as she leaves for the ball. Sherry Coenen’s lighting adds to the magical impression. Highlights include a well-handled rejection scene for Buttons and Cinderella, to which both of them bring the right degree of sincerity.

Well-loved gag scenes also make their appearnace, including the endless stocking and false foot in the slipper trying-on episode, Cinderella being made totear up her coveted invitation to the ball (by her step-mother, rather than step-sisters here) and locking her in a chest (even less comfortable than the usual cellar) in the attempt to hide her from her questing prince.

Cinderella runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 14 January. Check the theatre’s website (queens-theatre.co.uk) for performance times.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Pantomimes & other seasonal shows, Reviews 2016

Partners in Crime

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 31 October)

The autumn season of in-house and shared productions at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch ends with a real corker of a show, as its hero Tommy Beresford might have said. It’s a co-production with Eleanor Lloyd in association with the Watermill Theatre and is a thoroughly gorgeous piece of stage-craft and ensemble work.

Designer Tom Rogers, choreographer Nancy Kettle, consultant magician John Bulleid, lighting designer Howard Hudson and sound designer Adrienne Quartly must take proper credit. And that’s as well as director John Nicholson and writers Sarah Punshon and Johann Hari, who have made a fine piece of Twenties pastiche from Agatha Christie’s original 1922 story The Secret Adversary.

Those glitzy Hollywood films of the period between the two world wars with their wisecracking sophisticated heroines and dashing heroes are cleverly referenced in the crisp dialogue as demobbed soldier Tommy (Richard Holt) meets former Army nurse and vicar’s daughter Prudence Cowley, known as Tuppence (Naomi Sheldon), and renews their pre-war friendship.

Both are financially broke and not helped by the economic depression which will culminate in the 1926 General Strike. Revolutions in Europe, especially the Bolshevik one in Russia, led to a degree of paranoia in countries otherwise stable through military victory in 1918 – the 19th century perceived threat of anarchists lurking with bombs and fell intents was fast developing into a Reds under the bed syndrome.

This is the background as Tommy and Tuppence find themselves in a spy drama of global importance. What they, their helpers and their opponents say is what most people of this social class would have thought and said at the time – no false anachronisms here. The night-club setting with its ruched curtain which reveals a rather sinister grey-walled structure pierced by more doors than in the average French farce is a delight.

Musical director Inga Davis-Rutter sets the mood at the keyboard with the remaining members of the multi-rôle cast – Rebecca Bainbridge, Isla Carter, Philip Battley, Nigel Lister and Morgan Philpott – joining her to provide the music for the song and dance scenes. Bainbridge and Carter make the most of their contrasted female characters and come close to rivalling Sheldon in the audience’s affections.

I won’t spoil your pleasure by unmasking the villain before Tuppence and Tommy do; suffice it to say that you can choose between Lister’s Sir James, Philpott’s Mr Whittington and Battley’s Julius – and you’ll probably choose wrong. First night applause can be misleading, even artificial, but this was an audience which was enjoying itself and delighted to show its appreciation.

Partners in Crime runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 19 November with matinées on 3 and 12 November.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

A Month of Sundays

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 26 September)

Old age is something which comes to most of us. There are just as many ways in which we progress through it. That’s the theme of Bob Larbey’s 1986 wry comedy, now given a rare revival by Russell Bolam as part of the Queen’s Theatre’s autumn season on ageing.

We are in Cooper’s room at what is obviously a fairly up-market residential care-home in Surrey. His wife of many years is dead and their daughter, married to a somewhat dull lawyer, visits from Milton Keynes with her husband (and occasionally their son) on one Sunday a month. Hence the title.

Cooper (William Hoyland) served in the Second World War and has a slightly military approach to his physical decline. What worries him and his crony Aylott (Robin Hooper) is the possibilityof mental decline, joining what they nickname The Zombies at the care home. They play chess as one means of staving this off and indulge in escape (of the Colditz variety) scenarios.

Those dutiful monthly visits, with the travel traumas they involve, are making Cooper’s daughter Julia (Sophie Russell) even spikier than usual. Husband Peter (Gareth Clarke) is marginally (only marginally) more sympathetic. Both Russell and Clarke inhabit their characters to the full.

Rather more appreciative of the care-home inmates is nurse Wilson (Anne Leong Brophy), a professional who knows how to balance genuine affection for those she looks after with some minor hiccoughs in her own private life. Brophy’s scenes with Hoyland are genuinely moving, two real people sharing an occasional but very important (to them both) wavelength.

Mrs Baker (Connie Walker) has the task of cleaning the rooms, which she does briskly and with just a dash of envy at the space each resident occupies. I’m not sure that I’d want personlly to emply Mrs Baker, but Walker brings her to life.

The key performance is Hoyland’s, a man whose catch-phrase “mustn’t grumble” sums up a whole no-whine generation of men. Aware that the next physical indignity will most probably be a colposcopic bag, even this is turned into a joke. Hooper’s handle-bar moustached Aylott is made of softer material, but the two actors play well off each other.

A Month of Sundays runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 15 October with matinées on 29 Septeber and 8 October.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Made in Dagenham

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 30 August)

This new joint production for the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch and the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich is based on the 2014 musical which in turn was based on the 2010 film. Making stage shows out of cinema favourites is rapidly becoming an industry in its own right, somewhat reversing the older trend to film successful Broadway and West End productions.

It’s an apposite theme for Hornchurch, not too far down the road from Dagenham where the women sewing machinists went on strike in 1968 for equal pay with their male colleagues (their jobs had just been downgraded) and better working conditions. The first night audience picked up the local references with glee; it will be interesting to dicover whether or not the same reactions will apply in Ipswich.

Central to Richard Bean’s book is Rita, a multi-tasking wife, mother and factory worker. Daniella Bowen hits her off perfectly; you warm to the characer as she transforms from being just one of the girls working at a boring job to help the family finances to a woman with a mind (and a voice) of her own. Richard Thomas’ lyrics are witty; David Arnold’s score comes over as a bit relentlessly strident – but Bowen copes admirably.

Alex Tomkins is Eddie, her husband who is really much more at ease joshing with his work mates than being domestically considerate. He too matures as the story progresses, but not to catch up with his wife. The large cast provide amusing sketches, caricatures and cameos of the Ford hierachy, the union bosses at local and national level and the politicians who so reluctantly have to become involved.

These include Claire Machin’s no-nonsense Barbara Castle, Graham Kent’s pipe-chewing, raincoated Harold Wilson, Angela Bain’s loud-mouth machinist (every other word an expletive), Loren O’Dair as the intellectual wife – who rebels against being a mere decoration – of the personnel manager (Jamie Noar) and Jeffrey Harmer’s show-stopping Mr Tooley, the US boss flown in to get things moving his way, a sort of Donald Trump avant le lecture.

In the late 60s and mid-70s, agit-prop theatre seemd to dominate the fringe, both in London and in other conurbations. Douglas Rintou’s production has strong elements of this, reinforced by Hayley Grindle’s bleak set which, with its minimal use of furniture, keeps the action fast-moving. Many of the cast are also instrumentalists, well co-ordinated by musical director Ben Goddard.

Made in Dagenham runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 17 September with matinées on 1, 8, 10 and 15 September. It then transfers to the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich between 21 September and 15 October with matinées on 22, 24 Septeber, 1, 5, 8, 1 and 15 October.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music & music theatre, Reviews 2016

The Romford Rose

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 31 May)

There are some shows when one simply accepts that the sound is going to be amplified but the words aren’t so important that it matters whether they are distinguishable or not. The Romford Rose, a new collaboration between writer Chris Bond and composer Jo Collins, isn’t one of these. It’s basically through composed, and Bond is a writer who uses words very precisely to tell the story.

Basically it’s a family four-hander about teenage daughter Rose (obsessed with Dolly Parton in particular and country-and-western music in general), her semi-criminal father Frank (obsessed unhealthily with his daughter), her mother Yvonne (the recipient of too many years of domestic violence) and Harry (a young soldier who Rose meets at the lavish birthday party thrown for her by her father) and with whom she starts a Romeo and Juliet romance.

No man is ever going to be good enough for his daughter as far as Frank is concerned. Sam Pay plays the heavy, besotted and violent father with frightening conviction. Nicky Croydon shows us the desperate vulnerability of Yvonne, with the social mask increasingly unable to find the bruises, as well as the sequinned manifesto of Rose’s idolised singer.

Harry is an interesting part, on the outside an apparently relaxed and self-assured squaddie, but one whose has already experienced dark moments in service which are going to colour – or will that be, stain? – his whole life. Wade Lewin gives us both sides of this complexity and is a sympathetic partner to Sarah Day’ Rose in the dance and other duet sequences. Choreographer Rachel Yates gives Day some energetic routines, using steps, lifts and jumps which fuse classical ballet with modern and line dance moves.

You do feel for this teenager, living with as much comfort as a doting and well-to-do father can provide, but now old enough to want a life which she can regulate for herself. Day offers us a rounded portrait of a girl who is beginning to recognise that other people have fantasy lives which aren’t necessarily as straightforward and harmless as hers.

Collins directs the six-piece country-and-western band with several of its members playing acting roles – Jennifer Douglas, Liz Kitchen, Howard James Martin and Iain Whitmore (the two former mainly as twittering party guests and the latter pair as a couple of heavies you really wouldn’t want to come across in a dark alley. BJ Cole is the pedal steel guitar maestro. Bond acts as his own director; the designer is Ellen Cairns.

The Romford Rose continues at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 18 June with matinées on 2 and 11 June.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music & music theatre, Reviews 2016

Laila

(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 27 April)

It is said that there are only five basic plots from which to construct a story. Young love thwarted by a combination of family, political and cultural pressures is surely one of these. In the West, we probably think of those star-crossed lovers Juliet and Romeo. In the East, there is the story of Laila and Qays.

Laila, the new musical from Rifco in association with the Palace Theatre, Watford and the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch has a fusion score by Sumeet Chopra, played under the direction of Benjamin Holder, lyrics by Dougal Irvine and a script by Pravesh Kumar. Choreography is by Cressida Carré, and is also a fusion of Indian classical and western modern steps and gestures.

The stry begins today, with a young British Asian girl Laila (Mona Goodwin) refusing her father(Ravin J Ganatra)’s injunction to marry the man he (but not she) has selected with due regard to that dangerously nebulous concept of honour. Then we step back several hundred years to a kingdom ruled by a man who has fought his way to his crown and now has a crown prince waiting impatiently for his turn.

Qays (Reece Babia), his father (Surrinder ‘Shin’Singh Parwana) and his cousin are the dispossessed previous ruling family; they are concerned that Qays’ passion for Laila will bring further destruction to them. But love will find a way – particularly young love seeing only black and white, and never the grey nuances so apparent to their elders.

The designer of the sparse set with its billowing drapes transforming from palace pillars to wind-scorched desert to ferocious flood is Libby Watson. There’s a shadow puppet sequence by Matthew Robins which is effective but needs a little more subtlety of manipulation (hands too visible) and atmospheric lighting designs by Philip Gladwell.

Goodwin, Bahia, Parwana and Ganatra are all effective in making their characters live and there’s a nice study of Laila’s maid by Sheena Patel. Sufi singer Asif Raza dominates some of the musical nubers; for my ears, the whole thing is somewhat over-miked, but that seems normal for musicals of all genres nowadays.

Laila runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Watford until 30 April with a matinée on 30 April. It also plays at the Arts Theatre Cambridge (9-14 May) and the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch (17-21 May).

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music & music theatre, Reviews 2016

The Silver Gym

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 18 April)

Nichola McAuliffe’s new comedy The Silver Gym premiered at Hornchurch’s Queen’s Theatre is in the tradition exemplified by Richard Harris’ Stepping Out of 1984. We meet a disparate group of women signing up for the gym which former soldier Stella (played by McAuliffe) is setting up in a near-derelict building in an equally ramshackle part of town.

Stella has ploughed all her savings into the venture; at first one wonders why on earth she should do it. Her new clients are nigab-masked Assieh (Susan Aderin), Jewish former pole-dancer Lysette (Kim Ismay), overweight Cerise (Pauline Daniels) and Violet (Suzanne Bygrave) and that token man Franklyn (Peter Straker), a street trader of fruit and vegetables. His laid-back performance almost runs away with the show

She also has a secretary Doucette (Houmi Miura), Rather more interested in doing her manicure than actually working. Into this mix add Casey (Carol Sloman), an upper middle-class wife with an agenda of her own. It’s all directed with considerable fire by Glen Walford within a realistic setting by Amy Yardley which works well until the final intended show-stopper sequence.

The individual performances are all very good; we can sometimes feel during our encounter with these slightly oddball people that we might might encounter them on the street in everyday life. McAuliffe has done her best to show us human beings, well aided by her cast, director and in the initial design. But ultimately they are types. Not quite two-dimensional, but never fully three-dimensional either.

The Silver Gym runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 7 May with matinée performances on 21 and 30 April.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Much Ado About Nothing

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 7 March)

Expect a lot of new Shakespeare productions this year – it’s his quatercentenary. Hornchurch under its new artistic director Douglas Rintoul has been quick of the mark with what is my personal favourite of Shakespeare’s comedies – Much Ado About Nothing.

Rintoul and his designer Jean Chan have kept the Sicilian setting but opted for the end of World War II period. There are also some gender-shifts in the casting; Leonato (Mark Jax)’s broher Antonio is now his widowed sister Ursula (Eliza Hunt) and Pamela Burgess doubles Dogberry and Margaret.

What stands out in this interpretation is the characterisation of the two main characters. Thomas Padden’s Benedick and Hattie Ladbury are both outsiders in their respective milieux. One feels that he has developed his blistering wit as a fitting-in device with his fellow officers. She is a land-girl type, preferring slacks to skirts, and perhaps also concerned, as a poor relation, to prove her usefulness to her uncle and aunt.

Both catch the audience’s attention and affections from their first exchanges; we have all of us known the type and understand the vulnerability under the carapace. James Siggins’ Claudio suggests that it is Hero (Amber James)’s fortune as her father’s heir which initially attracts him. Both Liam Bergin’s Don John (all fascist black and bitter with it) and Sam Pay’s rough-hewn Borachio are excellent portraits, and there’s a good sketch of the Friar by Jamie Bradley.

But the play stands or falls by its Beatrice and Benedick. Ladbury and Padden wear these personalities with complete comfort and naturalism. I was waiting for the nervous laugh which so often follows her “Kill Claudio” and his immediate reaction “Not for the wide world”. It doesn’t happen here; just a gasp of horror has the injunction and rebuttal sink in.

Much Ado About Nothing runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 26 March with matinées on 10 and 19 March.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Aladdin

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 4 December 2015)

It can be tricky for a theatre to decide on which traditional story is to be the basis for this year’s pantomime. One for the girls? or one for the boys? Aladdin was a favourite last year, and here it is once again winning the popularity stakes.

Matt Devit is the director for this year’s Hornchurch show with a script by Nicholas Pegg, designs by Mark Walters and original music and arrangements by Carol Sloman. This is a team which knows its audience and gives it a clever blend of twists on tradition to hold child and adult attention alike.

In a career first, Fred Broom plays Widow Twankey. He has clear ideas about how the Dame role should be played and has eye make-up which looks like a tribute to the 19th century’s favourite Dame Dan Leno as well as a nice line in outrageous frocks. Twankey also has a running “Chinese proverb says…” joke.

Starting it all off is Sam Pay’s Abanazar, as slinky and slimy a villain as you could wish to encounter in or our of his green follow-spot. That endangered species, the female Principal Boy, is represented by thigh-slapping, heel-booted Naomi Bullock. She has just the right degree of swagger which the part demands.

Rachel Nottingham doubles Princess Jasmine (not a lady to be walked over) and the Essex-girl Slave of the Ring. The Genie of the Lamp and the oh-so-obsequious Vizier are doubled by Thomas Sutcliffe. But of all the characters, it is Wishee Washee who the youngsters really take to their hearts. This year it’s Matthew Quinn’s turn to keep the audience returning his greetings and be the fall-guy at his mother’s laundry.

The Emperor is Callum Hughes – and look out for the Yeti once the snowy regions of Tibet are encountered. Dan de Cruz leads the three-piece band; the “we’re okay” number is particularly catchy and the choreography of Donna Berlin and Hannah Harris fills the stage with movement.

Aladdin runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 9 January.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Pantomimes & seasonal shows

Don’t Look Now

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 26 October)

What sends shivers down the spine where tales of the supernatural are concerned is often less the visualised than the imagined. We all cast our demons from different moulds. Nell Leyshon’s stage adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s short story Don’t Look Now is given a production by Simon Jessop which knows when to make evil concrete – as little as possible.

It is the Venetian setting designed by Norman Coates with the visual effects projected onto its bridges, water and shuttered windows by Dan Crews and the trickling soundscape devised by Andy Smart which create the atmosphere. We begin by an open grave before which grief-striken mother Laura (Charlotte Powell) stands motionless. Hymns and part of the Requiem Mass are heard while we watch the image of Laura and John’s young daughter Christine drown.

John (Tom Cornish) whisks Laura away to Venice, where they spent their honeymoon. He’s prepared to move on – after all their son John is alive, well and safe at his boarding school. As one cannot help but empaphise with Laura, to whom Powell gives sincerity in her grief and inevitable feelings of guilt (“why didn’t I…?), Cornish balances this by showing John less as unfeeling but more as something of a pragmatist.

The hotel bedroom scene where his desire to make love with his wife at first meets resistance that (perhaps) melts into acceptance, is cleverly played on two levels with the live actors and their projected images. The mutual ground which constitutes terra firma for this husband and wife is quietly crumbling. Their encounters with two strange, identically dressed elderly women (Gillian Cally as the sister with explanations, Tina Gray as her blind mystic sibling) display brutally the gulf opening for Laura and John.

You probably know what happens next. Onlookers and participants in their own parallel civic drama are the police chief (Stuart Organ) hunting a serial killer, the hotel clerk (Callum Hughes) and the restaurant proprietor (Sam Pay). A mysterious beak-masked sacristan – a commedia dell’arte character or a plague doctor? – and a diminutive red-cloaked figure (Karen Anderson) haunt this winter Venice.

Don’t Look Now runs at the Quen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until14 November.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015

Steel Magnolias

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 21 September)

Woman may be a delicate blossom, like the white flowers for which Robert Harling named his 1987 play, but women are infinitely less fragile, hence the second word in the title Steel Magnolias. We are in small-town Louisiana in the south of the USA, specifically in a hair-dressing salon. Its proprietor is Truvvy (Sarah Mahony) and she’s just taken on a new-to-town assistant Annelle (Lucy Wells) – a born-again Christian.

The clientle is a faithfull one, using the salon as a neutral meeting-ground, rather like a club. There’s a former mayor’s wealthy widow Clairee (Tina Gray), the slightly eccentric dog-loving Ouiser (Gillian Cally) and mother and daughter M’Lynn (Claire Storey) and Shelby (Gemma Salter).

Shelby is about to be married; she’s also a diabetic. In her mother’s view, the two do not go together, as we see during the course of the drama which coves two-and-a-half years in four scenes. Director Liz Marsh and designers Dinah England (set and costumes) and Chris Howcroft (lighting) take us to the time and place and through the seasons with considerable style and dialect coach Richard Ryder has done sterling work.

The trouble is that those soft Southern inflections are not easily projected into the auditorium. So, though all the performances are very good in themselves, Storey’s long speech in the fourth scene didn’t really come across with all its painful recollection until its peroration.

Which is a pity as by this point we are thoroughly engaged in the human tragedy as well as with the personal crises of various types with which the characters are involved and which they manage to resolve collectively and with considerable finesse through a policy of give and take.

Steel Magnolias runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 10 October.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015

Roll Over Beethoven

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 24 August)

Forget the Chuck Berry 1956 hit and even the Beatles’ 1963 version. Bob Eaton’s full-length musical called Roll Over Beethoven, now premièred at Hornchurch’s Queen’s Theatre, has snatches of Beethoven as well as a variation on Shakespeare’s Hamlet as the story line, iambic pentameters and all.

We are in a northern town in the mid-50s. Johnny Hamlet is in the middle of his National service; his school-friends Larry (Laertes) and Horace aka Waltzer (Horatio) have secured postponements – Larry through being at university and Waltzer by flourishing his homosexuality at the selection board.

One of the most interesting things about Eaton’s plot is that Eaton makes the Ghost into a malevolent downright vindictive figure. Fred Broom revels in the part as he seeks to manipulate his son towards murder. The not-quite grieving widow Gertie (Sarah Mahoney) and her new husband Claud (Antony Reed) are partners in a faltering music-shop business with Henry Polonius (Steven Markwick), whose attitude to changing tastes is mirrored in his repression of his lively 17-year old daughter Ophelia (Lucy Wells).

Wells has one of the best first-half numbers in “Seventeen” and the “Ghost train” sequence with Broom, Markwick and Wells is also effective. So is “Murder by silhouette”, when Rodney Ford’s lego-style design becomes a major actor in the sequence and Mark Dymock’s lighting complements this admirably. Matt Devitt’s direction keeps the pace going briskly while allowing breathing space between the numbers and the dialogue exchanges.

Ben Goddard is the musical director though, as usual with the cut to the chase… c company, all the cast play keyboards, strings, brass and percussion as appropriate. As in the original tragedy, it is Hamlet on whom we focus. Cameron Jones makes this mixed-up and angry young man very real as he struggles to find his own path through a tangle of lies and other people’s emotions.

Roll Over Beethoven runs at the Queen’s’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 12 September.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Musicals, Reviews 2015

Jump the queue season in Hornchurch

The Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch is not the only one feeling the financial pinch, but it has obviously affected the number of main-house shows which its resident company cut to the chase… can mount each season. The Jump the Queue initiative, by which audience members who book in advance can see all three shows just announced for autumn 2015 at a bargain price of £12.50 each, therefore presents a bargain offer.

All three offer contrasts in style. First is Roll Over Beethoven by Bob Eaton. This is a stage world première loosely (very loosely) based on Hamlet. It’s a rock’n’roll musical, a forte of this company of actor-musicians, and you can see it between 21 August and 12 September. The setting is Essex and the time is the 1950s, when National Service was still a young man’s duty.

That is followed by Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias (18 September to 10 October). As the blurb says: “Never underestimate the strength of a woman”. Again, we are taken back in time – this is set n the 1980s and the location is Louisiana. Neil Leyshon’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s spooky novella Don’t Look Now concludes the season from 23 October to 14 November. And then, of course, it’s panto time with Aladdin; his adventures are from 28 November through to 9 January.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Reviews 2015

Hot Stuff

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 26 May)

You could run a debate which would go on for even longer than the recent General Election campaign on precisely what the time lapse is – a decade? two? three? a half-century? – before the soft, warm glow of nostalgia settles on a period of history.

Take Hot Stuff, given a spankingly bright and brash new staging by director Matt Devitt and his team – music: julian Littmann, lighting: Chris Howcroft, costumes: Lydia Hardiman and choreography: Valentina Dolci and Karl Stevens. Maggie Norris and Paul Kerryson devised it over 25 years ago; it’s a variation on the Faust legend.

Our want-it-all, want-it-now hero is Joe (Matthew Quinn). His ambition is to be a pop star but his girl-friend Julie (Sarah Mahony) just wants to get married – and to win a ballroom dancing competition in spits of Joe’s less than enthusiastic partnering. Diabolus ex machina is Lucy Fur – the deliciously over-the-top drag artist Lady Felicia in a sequence of costumes to pit any pantomime dame to the blush.

In fact, there’s a strong pantomime element about the whole thing, including a cow who seems to have wandered in from Jack and the Beanstalk and, like that bovine, elicits our full sympathy. As with many pantomimes, one is conscious of an element of padding, often supplied through interaction with the audience.
That’s not to belittle Dolci’s dance routines, in which she leads her six ensemble members with verve and inventiveness, or Cameron Jones’ sinister narrator.

it is interesting to follow the mutation of popular music in the 70s (a political parallel is implied at several points). The melodic and harmonic ballads dissolve into something altogether more raucous as the decade progressed. Joe, of course, manages to top each trend as it assumes popularity with considerable help from his Lucy Fur-supplied girl friend Miss Hot Stuff (Hollie Cassar).

“Happiness was not in the contract” he’s told brusquely when he begins to yearn for Julie. In the meantime, Julie has made her own life emerging into flower-power and the flame of awakening feminism. Mahony, Cassar and Quinn all give good performances. I think the first-night audience would have been happy to sit through it all again. The performers must have been exhausted.

Hot Stuff runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 13 June.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Musicals, Reviews 2015

The Elephant Man
(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 20 April)

Even after 38 years, the experience of reviewing Bernard Pomerance’s play about Joseph (commonly called John) Merrick is one which I’ve never completely forgotten. That production was at the Hampstead Theatre; a new staging by Simon Jessop for the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch has just started.

It’s intriguingly set within a dark-draped circular show-booth by Mark Walters, the sort of fairground venue which would have been familiar to Merrick in the late 19th century as his diseased appearance, then diagnosed as elephantiasis, was exploited for gain. Eventually he came under the care of Dr Treves at Whitechapel’s London Hospital.

Although Treves and his hospital superior Dr Gomm gave Merrick good care and a stable environment, Pomerance’s thesis suggests that exploitation (and its corollary, abuse) can develop from well-meaning as well as outwardly greedy intentions. Gomm’s publicising of Merrick’s case led to a spate of donations to the hospital for Merrick’s care and some socially prominent sponsorship.

Tom Cornish’s Merrick, as did David Schofield in 1977, uses mime and facial contortion to suggest the horror of the physical appearance rather than prosthetic make-up. It’s an intensely moving performance as the inner man – sensitive and in many ways creative – slowly emerges from its carapace. He’s matched by Fred Broom as Treves, a doctor with ambitions both medical and social and Stuart Organ’s hard-headed Gomm.

Fairground man Ross is suitably slimy (and dangerous with it) in James Earl Adair’s characterisation. This being the cut to the chase… company, Steven Markwick’s deceptively jolly score soon mutates in the hands of these actor-musicians into something altogether more discordant and sinister. Joanna Hickman is the cellist and also plays actress Margaret Kendall who undeatands Merrick’s secret longings as only a woman of many parts can. it’s a fine performance.

Ellie Ros Boswell and Megan Leigh Mason are th two fairground “beauties”, there to lure the naive audience into paying their tuppences for what were often fakes as well as freaks. I still think that the build-up to the end sits uneasily within the narrative framework, but the Passiontide parallels as Merrick faces up to the fact that he cannot live much longer and that his deepest longings will never find proper fulfilment are very moving.

This is a play which perhaps is an unusual choice for the Queen’s Theatre. But the opening night audience was a good-sized one and completely caught up in the drama – the tragic as well as the comic elements – as it proceeded. A taste now and then of vinegar or mustard always fire the appetite. What’s true for the palate is also true of the mind.

The Elephant Man runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 9 May.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays

Plays

Boeing! Boeing!
(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 9 March)

Comedy is as old as drama itself and the variation we call farce is probably its original manifestation. Farce in the UK is a well-established, well-loved genre which has developed in a peculiarly British way from Charley’s Aunt in the 1890s through the Aldwych (1930s) and the Whitehall seasons in the 1950s and 60s to Ayckbourn and Frayn in our own time.

Then there’s French farce, its sister – but not an identical twin. Many of the elements are identical – a multitude of doors revealing or concealing people (usually girls in a distinct state of undress) while at least one hapless man tries ever more frantically to control events of which he never really was the master in the first place.

Both the British and French versions rely on the actors’ split-second timing and sense of ensemble. It helps if at least the protagonist has a clown’s miming ability. Which brings me to Matt Devitt’s production of Marc Camoletti’s Boeing! Boeing! at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch.

The plot concerns a Parisian man-about-town in the early 1960s who is basking in the fly-by attentions of three air hostesses (remember that this was a time when to be an air stewardess was as high a profile job as that of model or television presenter is today). Each thinks she’s his only “fiancée” (the Beverley Cross translation is of its era), thanks to Bernard’s canny manipulation of timetables.

Enter Robert, an old school friend up from the country on business who – not unnaturally – is riveted by this boulevardier lifestyle. Fred Broom plays increasingly harassed Bernard and Tom Cornish is Robert, puppy-dog eager to be involved and whose well-meaning attempts to help only – of course – make matters worse.

Then there’s Bertha (Megan Leigh Mason), Bernard’s maid, who becomes increasingly frustrated as timetables go awry. Bridging the gap between what would have been the first two acts, she earned her round of applause. The three contrasted air hostesses are go-getting Gloria (Ellie Rose Boswell) from TWA, Lufthansa’s valkyrie Gretchen (Joanna Hickman) and spirited Gabriella of Air Italia (Sarah Mahony).

Norman Coates’ set is another excellent one with clever projections and animations before the performance to remind us of time and place. His costumes are also spot-on. What rather lets it all flag, for all the cast’s hard work, is that the production lacks both the slick lightness of classic French farce and the knowingness of the home-grown British variety.

I’ve seen other productions of Boeing! Boeing! in the last couple of years where, for me, this hasn’t been an issue. This time it was one.

Boeing! Boeing! runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 28 March.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays