Tag Archives: Hornchurch Queen’s Theatre

Jack and the Beanstalk

reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 1 December

Writer Andrew Pollard and director Martin Berry, abetted by designer Richard Foxton, have worked one of the now-fashionable variations into this year’s pantomime. For most of the action, the setting is the somewhat run-down funfair operated by Frank Furter (Richard Emerson).

He’s a loud-mouthed, tartan-suited leftover from the glory days of rock’n’roll. His daughter Jill (Elizabeth Rowe) has just returned from “finishing school” – and is fly enough to know a financial sinking ship when it passes under her nose. Still clinging on (just) is ice-cream vendor Dotty Trott (John Barr).

Her amiable but not very bright or co-ordinated son Jack (James William-Pattison) has made a pet of their one remaining cow Pat (Claire Greenway). Their main trouble is that Pat refuses to be milked by either Trott. Then there’s the thoroughly nasty Hurricane (Taylor Rettke) who blows in demanding rent arrears.

A well-established Hornchurch tradition is to use actors who are also accomplished instrumentalists. Hollie Cassie is the on-stage musical director and also plays Fortuna, trapped in her booth until Jack’s innate kindness releases her. The second half takes everyone to Cloudland, reigned over by Celia Cruwys-Finnigan and Sheldon Greenland.

The latter is also the giant Big Dipper in an effective combination of monster puppet and actor. Barr is an experienced Dame, taking a wig malfunction in his-her stride. There are enough of the traditional gags, including a slop scene and the bench routine, to keep the story grounded in pantomime convention.

Three and a half-star rating.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 6 January. Performance dates and times vary, check the box office: 01708 443 333 or www.queens-theatre.co.uk for details.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Pamtomimes & other seasonal shows

Haunting Julia

reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 3 November

How do you define a haunting? A person, a place, an occurence, a combination of these – or something even less tangible? Ayckbourn’s 1994 drama Haunting Julia threads its way around the doubtful death of a young composer-pianist

It can never be easy to find that you’ve a fully fledged genius in your family. Difficult enough for Leopold Mozart with an established musical background, or for the Du Prés. Near impossible for a run-of-the-mill North Country working-class family.

There’s pride, of course, but no real understanding or appreciation.  Julia dies while still a student and her father makes a shrine of the student-room in which she died. it attracts visitors, not all of whom have genuine informed curiosity.

Andy, now a music teacher with a career-forging wife, had been close to Julia. Her father Joe has invited him to find out if he too can hear the strange sounds and inexplicable cold which have developed. A third visitor is former janitor Ken, who may – or may not – be able to unravel the mystery.

From which you will gather that this is not straightforward Ayckbourn. Yes, there are moments of humour, not all of which are dark. There are odd, sinister happenings guaranteed to give the audience a jolt or two. By the end of the play, we know much about Julia and her circles. But not everything.

Director Lucy Pitman-Wallace controls her stage with impeccable timing, aided by Jess Curtis’ apparently straightforward set, the sounds conjured up by Paul Dodgson and Mark Dymock’s lighting. Ultimately though the weight of the play is on the three actors.

That’s four, if you count Laura Elsworthy’s voiceover. The three men are played by Sam Cox as Joe, Matthew Spencer as Andy and Clive Llewellyn as Ken. Spencer shows us a man who may once have had potential but has now settled for what he can get without too much struggling.

Cox and Llewellyn offer studies in two types of obsession. If Andy discounts any possibility of the paranormal, Ken embraces it. As he reveals more of his own place in Julia’s life, so out sympathy for and understanding of the character grows.

What personal ghosts is Joe exorcising? Cox draws out the no-nonsense side of the man then gradually overlays it with uncertainties. Is he the real villain of the piece, or is that Andy? The strength of the performances is in leaving us undecided.

“There are more things in heaven and earth…” Also, perhaps, in the space between them. Limbo? purgatory? Or even somewhere even less charted?

Four and a half-star rating.

Haunting Julia runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 17 November with matinées on 8, 10, 15 and 17 November.

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Once

reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre. Ipswich on 11 September

There are advantages to not being a film fan; one comes to the current stream of stage adaptations without preconceptions. So Once, in Edna Walsh’s version with the music and lyrics of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, has to stand on its own merits.

Peter Rowe’s production at the New Wolsey Theatre is a shared one with Hornchurch’s Queen’s Theatre. Libby Watson, who often works at the Queen’s, has devised a setting which combines realism (Dublin pubs, work places and shared homes) with fantasy.

Another Queen’s regular, Mark Dymock, and projection designer Peter Hazelwood complement her setting. These characters are people partly trapped by the endless plodding of everyday existence – but who still have aspirations. And dreams.

The hero is simply called the Guy, as in Everyman. Daniel Healy makes him likeable, as he works in his father’s shop and struggles to make his way as a composer-performer with his guitar and help-hindrance from his mates.

When he encounters the Girl (Emma Lucia), a Czech national trying to balance life and responsibilities in both her own country and this new (to her) one, their attraction is mutual. She has a job in a music shop, and also composes.

So you think you know where this is all going? Wrong, very wrong. it’s a story in some way out of time, like a medieval morality play or a legend with even older, deep roots. That visual sense of fantasy in the designs is not there just to engage our eyes.

Francesca Jaynes is the choreographer, creating both Irish and Czech folk-dance inspired set pieces. Musical director Ben Goddard makes the most of the most effective numbers – the Girl’s own solos at the piano, the Dubliners’ a capella anthem, the women’s voices trio and what one might define a the Boy’s prize song.

The Girl is the quiet pivot for what happens – and might happen, later. Lucia gives her a luminous quality and a gentle stillness which is never mere inactivity. Rachel Dawson and Kate Robson-Stuart also make a lasting impression. Susannah van den Berg, Sean Kingsley and Samuel Martin also give good performances.

Four star rating.

Once continues at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 22 September with matinées on 12, 15, 19 and 22 September. It transfers to the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch between 3 and 20 October with matinées on 4, 6, 11, 13 and 20 October.

 

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Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Abigail’s Party

reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 1 September

This new co-production between the Queen’s Theatre (now with a major renovation project in hand), Derby Theatre, Wiltshire Creative and le Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg slides Mike Leigh’s iconic 1970s drama east of London.

Director Douglas Rintoul is well served by designer Lee Newby as we enter the new-build home of estate agent Laurence (Christopher Staines) and his former beautician wife Beverly (Melanie Gutteridge). Her main evening drinks party guest is newcomer nurse Angela (Amy Downham) the not-so-trophy wife of former footballer Tony (Liam Bergin).

Also invited are middle-age, middle-class divorcée Susan (Susie Emmett) whose teenage daughter is holding the eponymous party. It’s a recipe for disaster amid the cheesy-pineapple sticks, nuts, olives and far too many gins’n’tonics. Disasters duly occur.

The hallmark of a theatre classic play is that it speaks as strongly to audiences who may not have been born when it premiered as to those like myself who saw the original production at the Hampstead Theatre. It does require a cast which can live up to it.

Gutteridge’s Beverly radiates bleached and toned blonde selfishness, happy to play off Bergin’s laconic Tony against an increasingly frustrated Laurence. She dominates the action, as Leigh intends. Staines builds the husband who can never satisfy his wife’s material demands into a figure of near-tragic proportion.

Poor Susan is the fish-out-of-water in this particular bowl; Emmett makes her increasing physical and mental discomfort subtly apparent while Downham witters away, apparently willing to be a foil for Beverly’s cattily “helpful” comments on her appearance.

Rintoul keeps the action at a brisk pace, while allowing us to appreciate the basic absurdity of Leigh’s characters. None of them are merely two-dimensional stereotypes, for all that they are each rooted in a particular trench of class and finding shovelling a way out of it difficult.

Four and a half-star rating.

Abigail’s Party runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 22 September with matinées on 6, 8, 13, 15, 20 and 22 September. A companion piece, Abi by Atiha Sen Gupta, plays between 4 and 22 September at 9.30pm on 4, 5, 8, 14, 20 and 22 September, at 4.30pm on 6 and 15 September and 5.30pm on 19 September.

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Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 1 May

Film to stage show is a trickier combination than it sometimes appears. This is particularly true of musicals. One path to success is to stylise the settings and fully integrate the orchestral accompaniment with the action.

This is what director Douglas Rintoul and designer Joanna Scotcher have done. There’s a false proscenium suggesting corrugated tin, minimal furniture and costumes which rely heavily on black, white and red – not to mention shoals of glitter and gaudy fluff for the drag acts.

Central to the story is Bernadette (Mark Inscoe), the transsexual we meet at her partner’s funeral. Inscoe’s performance has a control that never masks the inner person; this is someone who has encountered nearly everything that life can hurl but keeps a central core of integrity.

Balancing this is Tom Giles’ Tick, the troupe leader who takes them ona cross-country trek to Alice Springs. That’s because his wife Marion (Clara Darcy) wants him to meet his young son Benji (Frankie Day) – oh yes! there is also the small matter of a gap in her casino’s entertainment programme.

The third troupe member is Adam (stage name Felicia), played by Daniel Bailey. he’s the ultimate in camp, one of nature’s stirrers who is bound to find himself in trouble – as he does soon enough in the outback. Bailey’s is one of those over-the-top bravura performances that leave you in two minds – applause wildly, or ring the character’s mischievous little neck.

Musical director Adam Gerber is not evenly served by sound designer Adam McCready; the balance on the opening night was very uneven. Michael Cuckson as Bob, the mechanic who manages to get the tour bus Priscilla back on the road (or as much of a road as there is) and stays along for the ride is an excellent portrait of a simple man with complex feelings.

Four star rating.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert continues as the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 26 May with matinées on 3, 5, 10, 12, 17, 19, 24 and 26 May.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Kindertransport

reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 10 March

History is a plant with deep roots; it is impossible to eradicate it. Diane Samuels’ play Kindertransport made a deep impression on me when I saw it 25 years ago and this new production by Anne Simon, though very different, is also effective.

It’s an apparently simple story. Helga (Catherine Janke), a Jewish mother in Hamburg sends her daughter away just before 1939 blankets Europe in war’s lethal fog. The journey itself with its restrictions and policing guards is shown as frightening and Eva (Leila Schaus)’s arrival in England to be taken in by Lil (Jenny Lee) is also shown from the child’s point of view.

Haunting the action is the legend of the rat-catcher of Hamelin who led away all the town’s children in the 13th century, a much less benevolent figure than the pied piper of the sanitised version. Simon and designer Marie-Luce Theis conjure this nightmare figure (Matthew Brown) as a predatory mass of humps and tatters prowling around the periphery of the action.

This takes place on a central stage, basically the lumber room of the house now shared by Evelyn (Suzan Sylvester) and her about-to-leave-home daughter Faith (Hannah Bristow).  Faith is in two minds as to whether to go – though the house is already on the market – or to stay, which her mother finds both tiresome and unsettling.

Faith then starts looking into trunks and boxes, and the past suddenly enters the foreground. The three generations of women – Lil, Evelyn and Faith – each have to confront and come to terms with the past, the present and likely futures.

The performances are excellent with the contrasting facets of each woman’s characters sparking into focus as the drama unfolds. We’ve all been a frightened child and an adult doing the best that is possible in particular circumstances. Many of us have also been required to make life-changing decisions, often at very short notice.

For this production, the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch has joined with les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg in association with Selladoor Productions. The international tour reminds us that world changes have their own repeat cycle. Those refugee children of 80 years ago have their counterparts today.

Four and a half-star rating.

Kindertransport runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 24 March with matinées on 15, 17, 22 and 24 March. It can also be seen at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich between 17 and 21 April.

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Rope

reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 17 February

Pride goes before a fall. Arrogance can lead to the long drop. This new production by Douglas Rintoul of Patrick Hamilton’s classic suspense drama Rope makes that very clear.

Mark Dymock’s lighting combines with the sense right from the opening sequence of the events onstage being played out in real-time combine to create an unnerving atmosphere. There are laughs generated by witty, almost akin to Wilde, dialogue as well as by some of the characterisations.

But we are never left in doubt that Bandon’s charm is precariously draped over a ruthless, immoral personality. George Kemp balances both aspects impeccably. His adversary is war-wounded Rupert Cadell, a man  left with a limp and a combat-induced sense of right and wrong.

Sam Jenkins-Shaw makes the man who is in many ways the author’s mouthpiece into something of an early 20th century equivalent of one of the 17th century’s Civil War Ironsides. He brings out that Cromwellian sense of justice as well as his impatience with the Bright Young Things living in and for the present.

They are personified in Fred Lancaster’s Raglan and Phoebe Sparrow’s Leila Arden. Lancaster brings out the innate decency of this apparently lightweight socialite while Sparrow’s portrait of a flapper also lets us see he good manners and helpfulness under the posturing.

Brandon’s weak link is his partner in crime. James Sutton’s Granillo is an excellent study in a weak man growing ever more desperate as the enormity of what he has been made to do increasingly weighs him down. There are also three well-contrasted cameo performances.

These come from Cara Chase as Lady Kentley, still ignorant mother of the victim, Nico Pimparé as the servant Sabot – his meticulous laying out of the supper is a joy to watch – and Janet Amsden as Mrs Debenham, Lady Kentley’s monosyllabic poor relation.

insidious throughout is Yvonne Gilbert’s soundscape with the muted telephone bell, the crackly wireless searched for dance music and the weather outside Brandon’s bachelor flat. Ruari Murchison has furnished this cleverly, from the up-to-date Art Deco sideboard and reproduction Renaissance chest to the Victorian chaise longue and chairs.

Four and a half-star rating.

Rope continues at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 3 March with matinées on 22, 24 February, 1 and 3 March. The co-production transfers to the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich from 7 to 17 March.

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The Ladykillers

reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 13 September

It by no means detracts from the excellent performances by the animated cast members to say that the runaway star of Graham Linehan’s stage version of the Ealing Studios 1955 hit The Ladykillers is Foxton’s set.

This is the beautifully detailed exterior (we are still mired in postwar scarred buildings with make-do interiors) of Mrs Wilberforce’s house in the noisy shadow of St Pancras railway station, complete with working signals and billowing clouds of steam.

Mrs Wilberforce (Ann Penfold) and Constable Macdonald (Marcus Houden) are solving what she thinks is a refugee Nazi problem and he knows is simply the local newsagent who has a strong North Country accent. It isn’t the first time he has had to correct her imagination. Her next visitor, hoping to rent the room she has advertised to let, is Professor Marcus (Steven Elliott).

Swathed in a serpentine college scarf (which provides a running joke throughout the play) he is, of course, the mastermind behind a planned bullion heist. His brain may have worked it out to the last detail and split second, but that’s to discount his motley crew of accomplices.

They include Graham Seed’s Major Courtney, a self-proclaimed war hero with a penchant for women’s clothes; this is a cleverly nuanced performance which shows the pain behind the necessary pretense of thorough-going masculinity. Then there’s Cockney spiv and wideboy Harry (Sam Lupton), who’s not as bright as he thinks he is.

Brain-damaged former boxer One-Round is played by Damien Williams as everybody’s stooge while Louis Harvey is that thoroughly nasty piece of flick-knife violence Louis Harvey. Director Peter Rowe keeps the action fast-moving while lighting designer Alexandra Stafford and composer-sound designer Rebecca Applin make notable contributions.

This is a co-production between the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch and the Salisbury Playhouse. I suspect it will be just as enthusiastically received in the other venues as by the Ipswich audience. We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Five star rating.

The Ladykillers runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 30 September with matinées on 16, 19, 20, 23, 27 and 30 September. It transfers to the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch between 3 and 17 October.

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A Fox on the Fairway

reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 29 August

Ken Ludwig’s programme note for the UK première of his A Fox on the Fairway contains a pointed reminder to critics in its audience that farce is a matter of joy, of catharsis through laughter. It is a specific theatrical genre and has to be accepted on its own terms.

The production by Philip Wilson should, when it has fully settled in, be seen in this context. The best farce stagings give a sense of effortless ensemble work, and this hasn’t yet quite jelled – though you can’t fault the timing of the proliferating sequences of entrance and exit through swing  and terrace doors.

We are in a golf clubhouse with a well-detailed set by Colin Falconer which transform smoothly into the course itself for the final scene, which culminates in a sort of Morris dance with golf-clubs choreographed by Sally Beck Wippman. The story concerns the rivalry between a visiting team and the resident one which comes to its head with a tournament.

There’s a pair of young lovers – Louise Hindbedder (Ottilie Mackintosh) and Justin Hicks (Romayne Andrews), both club employees but with hidden fairway talents. Henry Bingham (Damien Matthews) is the harassed Quail Valley club manager with Simon Lloyd as his more-than-brash opposite number Richard “Dickie” Bell.

Also involved in the romantic and sporting confusions are divorcée Pamela Peabody (Natalie Walter) and Henry’s battle-axe of a wife Muriel (Sarah Quist), a lady who packs a mean punch. With the possible exception of “Dickie” with his repertoire of gaudy sweaters and trousers, the audience finds itself firmly rooting for the well-acted characters to find happy solutions to their problems.

Which is just what happens. of course it does. It’s great fun while it lasts – even if you don’t begin to understand the finer nuances of the game.

Four and a half-star rating.

A Fox on the Fairway runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 16 September with matinées on 31 August and 9 September.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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