Tag Archives: New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich

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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Our Blue Heaven

reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 6 May

If you’re an older Ipswich resident with an interest in football, then 6 May 1978 is probably a date etched indelibly into your consciousness. That, for the rest of us, is the day on which Ipswich Town Football Club won the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium.

Obsessions, whether with sport, music or anything else, are very odd things. They have the ability to obscure, even blot out, everything else. Based on actual recollections of the Final and the matches leading up to it from individual fans, Peter Rowe has constructed the stories of three interlocking families.

The central one is the Coombes family. Father Paul (James Daffern) is out on strike, so money is tight and the main breadwinner is his nurse wife Sheila (Sarah Whittuck). Teenage daughter Sue (Anna Kitching) is supportive of her father – and even more so of Ipswich Town. Older daughter Mel (Josie Dunn) is about to get married to Scott (Joe Leat).

He’s the son of better-off Brain Tillotson (Jon House) and his wife Eileen (Nicola Bryan). Then there are the Traynors – football-obsessed Smudger (Dale Mathurin) and his heavily pregnant wife Ange (Katia Sartini), who is under the care of Sheila Coombes. Smudger – whose enthusiasm is enjoyably put before us by Mathurin – has ideas about both the timing of the birth and the names to bestow on the baby.

Peter Peverley plays the inspirational and charismatic team manager Bobby Robson, linking the club’s progress towards that ultimate goal. The other stand-out performance is that of teenage Kitching, a girl trying to balance all manner of conflicting emotions with a slowly maturing sense of responsibility. Actions do have consequences, as she discovers at an away-game against Millwall.

Designer Amy Jane Cook gives us a minimalised setting with Dan de Cruz’s four-piece band on a platform at the rear of the stage. Musically, it’s all very loud, though the a cappella rendition of “Abide with me” in the Wembley sequence has a magical effect.

Rather than attempting a realistic reconstruction of the series of home and away games, choreographer Tom Hobden has created a slow-motion stylised succession of movement pieces, ably performed by the community chorus wearing neutral black and white strips.

Four star rating.

Our Blue Heaven runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 26 May with matinées on 9, 10, 12, 16, 14, 19, 23 and 26 May.

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A Streetcar Named Desire

reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 25 April

English Touring Theatre (ETO) has chosen Tennessee Williams’ 1947 tragedy as one of its 25th anniversary productions. Director Chelsea Walker has updated the action to 2018 – I’m not sure that the 70-year time leap quite succeeds.

It allows for integrated casting and the casual violence, both physical and mental, dealt out by most of its male characters to the women who (theoretically) they care about is regrettably still with us, But the central character, Blanche Dubois (Kelly Gough) is surely more a person of her time than ours.

Gough gives us all Blanche’s posturing and mood swings as well as the diverse personalities which she inhabits, from the white-clad Louisiana plantation mistress who apparently finds to impossible to accept the way in which her sister Stella (Amber James) is living to the schoolmarm taking a sabbatical to the nymphomanic.

No-one in this New Orleans apartment block lives in  isolation. Stella’s husband Stanley Kowalski (Patrick Knowles) keeps open house for his men friends while their women grab every opportunity to take what fresh air the neighbourhood offers.

Nicole Agada, Maria Louis, Will Bliss and Joe Manjón in these rôles twine above and around the main action like a species of demented Greek chorus. that classic theatre sense of the inevitability of disaster is fostered by Giles Thomas’ subtly persistent soundscape and Georgia Lowe’s minimalist pillared set.

The acting throughout is extremely good; I wish I could say the same for the diction. The opening scenes are taken at a pace which surely leaves the audience desperately trying to catch up, so that at time we seem to be watching rather than listening.

Knowles’ violently masculine Stanley is well contrasted with Dexter Flanders’ Mitch, the mild-mannered well-spoken member of Stanley’s poker quartet. Mitch is the proverbial quiet man who sees no reason to throw his weight around.

There is real tragedy in his exchange with Blanche when he wants her to meet his terminally ill mother (a proposal of marriage coming ever closer) only to be stonewalled by Blanche’s congenital inability to tell the simple truth. She has told him about the trauma of her failed marriage, but is this the whole truth?

Four star rating.

A Streetcar Named Desire runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 28 April with a matinée on 28 April.  The tour includes the Cambridge Arts Theatre between 1 and 5 May.

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Our Country’s Good

reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 30 March

Ramps on the Moon is a collaboration between six national producing theatres and the Graeae Theatre Company, which is a pioneering company for disabled artists. Both Graeae and the New Wolsey Theatre have been forerunners in this movement for a number of years.

The latest touring production is of Our Country’s Good, the play by Timberlake Wertenbaker which she based on Thomas Keneally’s novel about the 18th century convict deportation settlement in Australia The Playmaker. It concerns a young officer’s staging of Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer with a cast made up from the pickpockets, thieves and drabs.

If the convicts at first seem without hope, the Marines and soldiers who guard them have also found themselves beached up in an inhospitable terrain. Animosities on both sides flare as we watch Lieutenant Clark (Tim Pritchett) try to weld his cast into cohesion, and fall in love while doing so.

Director Fiona Buffini has integrated sign language and surtitles with the action to mirror the dialogue. It makes for a busy production, rather too much so when one is aware of three screens with the dialogue as well as constant signing by nearly all the cast and, of course, the actual spoken words and naturalistic action.

This multi-tasking on the part of the audience as well as the cast makes concentration difficult at times. There are some excellent performances, notably as guilt-haunted Harry Brewer by Garry Robson and Fergus Rattigan as the hangman Freeman, nicknamed “Ketch”.

Kieron Jecchinis is Arthur Phillip, the Governor whose vision includes redemption as well as punishment, an attitude which Colin Connor’s Major Ross finds both alien and misguided. Fifi Garfield plays Dabby, the oldest of the convict women while Emily Rose Salter’s Duckling, the girl acquired by Brewer, is also effective.

Mary Brenham is the young woman Clark casts as the play-within-a-play’s heroine Silvia and to whom he becomes attracted and Sapphire Joy suggests all her fragility as well as willingness to learn. Gbemisola Ikumelo’s Liz Morden is loud-mouthed and pugnacious, always ready to make a point with actions rather than words.

The set by Neil Murray, largely decking planks backed by the bushes and shrubs which  those early settlers must have found so strange, works well and allows for quick scene changes. Jon Nicholls’ soundtrack suggests the eerie noises of the outback and the sea so barrenly licking at the sandy shoreline.

Three and a half-star rating.

Our Country’s Good runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 7 April with matinées on 4 and 7 April.

 

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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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Teddy

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 19 February

“The world is bigger than the Walworth Road”. In 2018 it’s all too easy to forget just how distant the horizon was for the young people of 1958. The sort of trips abroad which are a regular event for so many of school age weren’t even a pipe dream.

London was still pock-marked by the Blitz bombing, the old certainties had crumbled with it but work prospects for school-leavers were largely narrow ones. Single-parent families were another war by-product with fathers never returning from active service.

Tristan Bernays and Dougal Irvine’s musical Teddy takes us into that vanished world. One in which money (mainly in the form of a parental weekly dole-out of shillings and pence) was in short supply but the Teddy Boys and their girl-friends still made the most of it.

This Watermill Theatre musical directed by Eleanor Rhode is the latest in a succession of small-scale shows to go on tour. Central to the action is the eponymous Teddy (George Parker) who preens and postures in his second-hand frock-coat and the girl he takes up with.

She’s called Josie. Molly Chesworth shows us how much the screen glitter of a Hollywood lifestyle – luxurious Cadillacs, endless sunshine, beautiful and pristine beaches – becomes an obsession, leading both her and Teddy into dangerous territory.

The two play all the parts, including the louche bully boy who can’t work out how on earth Josie could possibly not fancy his attentions. Those early rock’n’roll sounds are provided by a four-person band at stage right and become characters in their own right.

Dylan Wood is the lead singer with musical director Harrison White, Freya Parks and Andrew Gallow. Tom Jackson-Greaves’s choreography is energetic and in period, and the designers Max Dorey (set), Christopher Nairne (lighting) and Holly Rose Henshaw (costumes) add to the atmosphere.

Four star rating.

Teddy runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 24 February with matinées on 21 and 24 February. It can also be seen at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich between 19 and 24 March.

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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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Red Riding Hood

reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 28 November

This yea’s pantomime season kicks off for East Anglia in Ipswich with a new Peter Rowe rock’n’roll show. So far, so familiar. However, over the past few years Rowe has begun using stories which – though familiar one – are not usually thought of as part of the traditional; pantomime canon.

So the Arthurian The Sword in the Stone and last year’s Sinbad the Sailor are now succeeded by Red Riding Hood, no longer a little girl but a feisty teenager called Maisy Merry (Lucy Wells). Familiar elements are there – a contrasted pair of immortals to set the plot spinning, a hissable double villain(Rob Falconer), his thoroughly incompetent henchmen Adam Longstaff and Daniel Carter Hope), a dashing prince in search of true love (Max Runham) and the Dame (Simon Nock).

This being the New Wolsey Theatre, the score by musical director Ben Goddard is packed full of rock’n’roll numbers. The mischievous puppet animals by Entify which are audience favourites make more appearance this year; Prince Florizel has a whole farmyard as well as a fox and a squirrel as his Privy Council. Barney George’s set is deceptively simple with clever use of gauzes and sliding flats as well as grave-traps and a central mobile platform.

All the cast take turns as instrumentalists behind one of these gauzes which shrouds the back half of the stage. Most of the action takes place on the forestage – when it doesn’t spill out into the auditorium. Elizabeth Rowe’s spring fairy Cherry Blossom contrasts well with James Haggie’s icicle-fingered Jack Frost and Red Riding Hood has Little Miss Moffet and Goldilocks (Lana Walker) and Bo Peep (Isobel Bates) to support her.

Singing honours go to Falconer when the dastardly Sir Jasper metamorphoses into his werewolf alter-ego. Nock is of the school of slightly raucous Dames with a distinctly masculine edge. Haggie doubles as the Prince’s aide, rewarded by his choice of village maidens by the end. Wells and Runham make a thoroughly engaging central couple; Rowe allows them much more personality than is sometimes the case with more traditional pantomime scripts.

Four star rating.

Red Riding Hood runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 27 January. Performance dates and times vary. Check with the theatre’s website www.wolseytheatre.co.uk for availability.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Music Music theatre & Opera, Pantomimes & Christmas season shows, Reviews 2017

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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Our Man in Havana
reviewed in Ipswich on 23 May

Clive Francis’ adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel Our Man in Havana is a delight, especially when performed by four actors of the West Country-based touring ensemble Creative Cow. This is ensemble playing at its slickest, with taut direction by Amanda Knott and a deceptively simple set by Nina Raines imaginatively lit by Derek Anderson.

As vacuum-cleaner salesman James Wormold (Charles Davies) sees his life in pre-Castro Cuba dissoving around him when his wife walks out leaving him with their affectionate but oh-so-demanding daughter Milly (Isla Carter) and business in stone-floored Havana far from flourishing, his friendship with emigré German doctor Hasselbacher (James Dinsmore) seems his only worthwhile adult relationship.

Enter Hawthorne, a man from Mi5 (Dinsmore), with a financial inducement in connexion with the Cold War then raging. How can Wormold resist? Of course he doesn’t, and the bonuses flow in as he invents first a whole raft of subsidiary agents and suggests some secret weapons-launch construction (these look remarkably similar to vacuum-cleaner parts…).

With Michael Onslow as Wormold’s sevant Lopez and the local police chief Segura, who fancies Milly) – all four actors except Davies play at least seven other roles as well as narrating – the confusion and misunderstandings build to a comedic climax which partly dissolves into genuine tragedy. Carter manages her doubling of Milly and Beatrice, sent from London to try to regulate the Havana situation superbly, but the whole cast is near faultless.

Four and a half-star rating.

Our Man in Havana plays at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 27 May with matinées on 24 and 27 May. It can also be seen at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmuns between 29 June and 1 July.

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The Who’s Tommy
reviewed in Ipswich on 6 April

Ramps on the Moon is a six-year regional theatre project dedicated to integrating disabled performers and audiences with mainstream-calibre productions. Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre and its strategic partner Graeae have spearheaded the initiative. The Who’s Tommy is an object lesson in how this can be achieved.

A cast of 22 performers take all the roles, sing, whirl through Mark Smith’s choreography and play the almost through-composed instrumental score under the direction of Robert Hyman. Director Kerry Michael makes good use of Neil Irish’s flexible metallic set and lighting designer Arnim Friess makes the projections, floor light patterns and spotlightng of key incidents as much an important part of the staging as the action itself.

Central to the story is Tommy himself (William Grint) who is voiced by Matthew Jacobs-Morgan and Julian Capolei. Born after the reported death in action (the story begins in 1941) of Captin Walke (Max Runham), he encounters his father first in a traumatic confrontation between his mother Nora and new stepfather Frank (Alim Jayda). Apparently deaf, dumb and blind he is easy prey for playground bully Cousin Henry (Lukas Aleamder) and thoroughly nasty wheeler-dealer Uncle Ernie (Garry Robson). The unpleasant nuances of the latter’s “Fiddling” are cleverly conveyed.

Within Tommy’s mind, his lost father becomes guide and leader – almost as though they were 20th century eqivilents of Hamlet and his father’s mentoring ghost. Nora’s dilemmas are well mimed by Donna Mullings and sung by Shekinah McFarlane. Sign language, mime and movemen throughout are clarified by projected surtitles, which make following the nuances of the story much easier for all audience members.

Almost on Tommy’s wavelength is wheelchair-bound vicar’s daughter Sally (Amy Trigg), though her over-proective parents (Stacey Ghent and Anthony Snowden) precipitate her ultimate disillusion. Peter Straker is a true scene-stealer as the Acid Queen, a gypsy with much more than fortune-telling up her sleeve, bringing the house down with both her numbers, the second one added for this production.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Who’s Tommy continues at the New Wolsey Theate, Ipswich until 15 April with matinées on 12 and 15 April. It then tours nationally until 1 July, including the Nottingham Playhouse between 19 and 29 April.

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Silver Lining
reviewed in Cambridge on 7 March

There’s an extra frisson to being definitely on the wrong side of 70 when it comes to conteplating how one’s last days, moths or even years might be spent. Silver Lining, Sandi Toksvig’s play in English Touring Theatre’s spring repertoire in association with Kngston’s Rose Theatre, addresses this head-on.

We’re in an old-people’s home on the Kent coast. Outside a gale rages (code-named Vera) and the sea threatens to flood the area. Houses have been evacuated, but somehow this care-home (to use the current euphemism) has been omitted by over-worked officials.

Marooned on the first floor are first four then five long-term residents. Not to mention a temporary care assistant who’s just there for the money. You expect to discove details of these elderly characters’ past lives and the effect these have had on their present static situation. This Toksvig gives us, but somehow neither the comedy or the pathos inherent in the predicament in which the old ladies find themselves rings true.

Rebecca Gatword’s production is remarkably busy, considering that wheel-chairs and walking-sticks abound, and the designers – Michael Taylor (set), Mark Doubleday (lighting) and Mic Pool (sound) – also keep our eyes engaged. as, to a certain extent, does the excellent cast.

It is led by Sheila Reid as the trendiest of the inmates, Joanna Monro as June (with more moral hang-ups than she has year), Maggie McCarthy as down-to-earth May, Amanda Walker as a resident defined only by the “St Michael” label inside her dressing-gown and Rachel Davies as fluttery Maureen.

Making an impact in her professional stage début is Heziah Joseph as Hope, the carer from Croydon who isn’t quite sure what she wants from life but knows that this isn’t how she wants it to go. Theo Toksvig-Stewart is another newcomer, playing Jed who might best be described as an opportunist.

Yes, it’s clever and beautifully acted. Yes, the staging is equally inventive. But no, I watched the production with admiration for the various skills so beautifully utilised but never felt engaged with it. “There, but for the grace of God…” should have been edging towards the front of my understanding. Somehow it never happened.

Three-and-a-half star rating.

Silver Lining is on a national tour until 8 April, including the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich between 14 and 18 March. Performances at the Cambridge Arts Theatre continue until 11 March with matinées on 9 and 11 March

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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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Northanger Abbey
reviewed at Bury St Edmunds on 3 Feb

in 2017 a teenage girl might well be fixated on manufactured “celebrity” figures as defined by social media or the latest boy-band’s lead heartthrob. Just over two hundred years ago, her thrills came through Gothic romance novels, such as Mrs Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho – full of crumbling ruins, chained skeletons in dungeons, walled-up wailing nuns and savage robber barons.

Jane Austen, herself only 23 when she began Northanger Abbey, pokes delicate fun at the genre – which she herself enjoyed reading, though rather more cynically than her heroine Catherine Morland. This eldest daughter of a loving but financially straitened gentry family is taken to Bath by her rich neighbours Mr and Mrs Allen. There she encounters her brother James, his university friend John Thorpe (and his sister Isabella) and the two childen of irascible General Tilney, Eleanor and Henry.

The Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds, itself a Georgian playhouse, has built quite a reputation for stage adaptations of Austen’s novels. Directed by Karen Simpson, this Tim Luscombe adaptation again uses a small cast within Dawn Allsopp’s minimal set, so that the action flows from Bath to Northanger, from curricle travel to hilltop picnics. The first half is even so perhaps just a little too drawn-out. Eva Feiler makes a delightful heroine, deliciously gullible as she weaves her fantasies and grasps at the next excitement on offer until brought back to reality with the proverbial bump.

Neither Thorpe is a particularly pleasant person. Annabelle Terry gives us all Isabella’s selfishness, wiggling out of her engagement to James (Joseph Tweedale) when she finds that he is not due to inherit much money as though she was shrugging off an outdated chemise. Joe Parker is the self-inflated, ego-stroking oafish John. True affection and calm reason by contrast are personified by Harry Livingstone’s Henry Tilney; his is the quiet voice and unobtrusive presence which will finally resolve all to a proper conclusion.

Jonathan Hansler’s martinet of an authoritarian father (one winces for the junior officers he once commanded) lingers almost gloatingly on Catherine’s surname when he thinks she is a potential heiress; “more land!” lies behind the emphasis. There’s a touch of his steel in Emma Ballentine’s Eleanor when she herself manages to marry the man she loves (opposition fades when her bridegroom inherits a title) and pulls rank to allow Catherine a share in the nuptuals. Hilary Tones contrasts Mrs Allen and Mrs Morland quietly but effectively.

Rather than a choreographer as such, the dancing and general Regency-era deportment are by Julia Cave. Rather than a near-balletic sequence of steps, hers are dancing as performed by ordinary people, some better at it than others – just as in real life. Matt Bugg’s score occasionally suggests an ill-tuned fortepiano, again a realistic touch, but softens into something which is completely tuneful but never obtrusive.

Four star rating.

Northanger Abbey runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 11 February with matinées on 8 and 11 February. The national tour continues until 13 May and includes the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich between 2 and 6 May.

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ShowStopper!
reviewed on 21 Jan at Bury St Edmunds

Showstoppers have hit on a winning formula with its series of carefully crafted improvised plays and musicals. This one, with a full house at the Theatre Royal wholeheartedly entering into the spirit, proved to have the catchy title of God Help Us!.

This plot is a weird concoction marrying elements of The Young Pope, Jerry Springer: the Musical and Tom Lehrer’s Vatican Rag with the audience’s suggestions for musical styles including galley-years Verdi, Carousel, High School Musical, Oliver!, Wicked! and a couple of Lloyd Webber hits thrown in for good measure.

Basically,a man and a woman about to take religious vows find themselves in love. Could be serious stuff, but not handled this way and treading a brilliant path between could-be-one-day fantasy and actual human emotions. Not to mention sexuality.

You’d have to be devoid of humour to take offence at the situations in which Lucy Trodd as Maria, Justin Brett as her on-off suitor Marius, Andrew Pugsley as the Pope and Philip Pellew as the all-purpose Steve find themselves. Not to mention Lauren Shearing’s over-burdened Sister Clara…

Dylan Emery attempts to keep proceedings under control as a harrassed would-be producer desperately trying to sell the idea of a new blockbuster musical to Cameron Macintosh (well, who else?). Simon Scullion has devised an outline, flexible set consisting mainly of screens and benches in scarlet and black.

There’s an equally ecletic range of costumes and props by Gabriella Slade. Instrumental accompaniment is provided by Duncan Wesh Atkins at the keyboard and Alex Atty with a whole range of percussion, while the nifty choeographic consultancy comes from Donna Berlin, though I suspect that the cast know precisely what’s required for the storyline and situations.

Four star rating.

ShowStopper!: The Improvised Musical is at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester between 9 and 11 February and at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 18 and 19 February as part of a national tour running until 23 April.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

Sinbad

(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 29 November)

Trust Peter Rowe and the New Wolsey Theatre to come up with a variation on the traditional pantomime. Sinbad is a story which has somehow slipped from the 21st century repertoire, though it was popular in the 19th. Here Rowe has given it his theatre’s regular rock’n’roll treatment – with some unusual twists.

As one expects nowadays, the heroine is no languishing miss; Pricess Pearl (Daniella Piper) knows exactly what (and who) she wants – and that certainly doesn’t include her father the Caliph (Daniel Carter Hope)’s selection of wealthy magician Sinistro (Dan de Cruz) as her husband. Her put-upon handmaiden Jade (Lucy Wells) is also a lass with a mind of her own.

The trouble for both girls is that sailors are slippery creatures, none more so than Sinbad himself (Steve Rushton) and his bosun (Adam Langstaff). Running away to sea might have seemed an easy option on dry land, but once sails are set… Also on board are Sinbad’s mother Donna Souvlakia (Graham Hent) – no prizes for guessing just which foodstuffs this raucous Dame purveys!

Particularly interesting is the second comic role – Tinbad the Tailor, an erudite nod by Rowe and the excellent Rob Falconer in the direction of James Joyce. He comes close to stealing the whole show with his sly wooing of think-I-can-do-better Donna. Our story-teller is, of course, Scheherezade (Elizabeth Rowe), an engaging dea ex machina.

All three girls sing well, as does Rushton and (when he is finally allowed to let rip) de Cruz. Darragh O’leary’s choreography is of the step, shuffle, turn school, though the eyelash-fluttering dromendary (well, it makes a change from a cow) manages some nifty footwork. Puppets, as New Wolsey audiences now expect, pop up from grave-traps and gaps in the flats; the designer is Barney George.

Sinbad runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 28 January. Check the website wolseytheatre.co.uk for performance date and time details.

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Filed under Pantomimes & other seasonal shows, 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.

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Filed under Music & music theatre, Reviews 2016

The Preston Bill

(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 26 May)

Andy Smith is the writer and performer for this story about a very ordinary man called Bill who lived almost his entire life from 1935 to 2015 in Preston, Lancashire. It’s a verse narrative, which sounds absolutely right for this particular history of Everyman. Smith’s only props are a chair and a ukulele.

We follow Bill’s life from school to factory-floor through National Service and marriage to Edith. They fail to have a family but compensate by their mutual affection, through what would have been called “self-improvement” and for Bill a developing role as a union representative. Made redundant, he finds part-time work before finally retiring.

Edith dies, but he knows that life has to go on. So he studies, takes an Open University degree and lives on until the health problems inherited from his initial working conditions finally crumble him away. A very ordinary life indeed, but one to which Smith gives richness which we – the audience – are allowed to taste and to savour.

The Preston Bill played at the Pulse 2016 Festival towards the end of a national tour. Pulse 2016 continues at various Ipswich venues until 4 June.

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Mmm Hmmm

(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 26 May)

This year’s Pulse Festival had an excellent start with the Bristol-based trio of Verity Standen, Ellie Showering and Jannah Warlow. Mmm Hmmm makes full use of flexible and trained voices a cappella as it begins with a harmony of hums with the three performers spotlit in the first of James Mackenzie’s rectamgular pools of light. Hunched forward so that we see only the russet, linden green and indigo draped costumes, it’s as though scavenging birds were indulging in a dawn chorus.

When the performers stand upright, they intersperse the hummed music with stamps, hand claps and body slaps, moving from one light pool to another for each interlude. Words are added, with a quick-fire and crisp delivery that must be the envy of any operatic singer faced with a patter song. There’s an edge to the words, but it is the music which dominates. Those fluid sack-like costumes (Harriet de Winton)also have a role to play.

Standen is the composer as well as director and performer. Her co-performers are more than just on-stage colleagues; hers is not just a piece of song theatre. but an invitation to experience the trivialities as well as the more serious side of life. It has been said of opera that people sing what cannot be adequately expressed by word alone. Mmm Hmmm does that.

Mmm Hmmm opened the 2016 Pulse Festival which runs in Ipswich at various venues until 4 June.

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Filed under Music & music theatre, Reviews 2016

Lotty’s War

(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 3 May)

It’s a very strange sensation to sit in the audience and have some of the indelible moments of one’s own childhood flash up during the play to mark the passage of six years. The six years in question are those of Nazi Germany’s occupation of the Channel Islands. Giuliano Crispini’s Lotty’s War takes place in Guernsey; I was in Jersey, but the Occupation of both islands ran on parallel lines.

Crispini has based his drama on a true story, told in a diary found among papers in St Peter Port’s Priaulx Library archives. On stage we first encounter teenage Charlotte Hervé, known as Lotty (Victoria Emslie) and her friend Ben de Carteret (Matt Ruttle). France has fallen to the German army and Luftwaffe bombers are circling the harbour. Lotty’s father is down on the quayside, overseeing the dispatch of tomatoes to England.

Somehow the British High Command had neglected to announce that the Channel Islands were a demilitarised zone. So the open tomato lorries (which must have looked like munitions trucks from the air) were bombed, with loss of life – including Lotty’s father. She had had her chance to evacuate earlier; now it is too late. Then General Rolf Bernberg (Ian Reddington) arrives to requisition the farmhouse.

Lotty can either leave her home or stay on as the officer’s housekeeper. She stays, and we see the relationship develop from mutual mistrust to something deeper than friendship. Ben on the other hand has no time for passive patriotism; he advocates full-blown resistance. As the Occupation bites deeper – curfews, wirelesses and cars banned, the V-sign campaign, rationing and ID cards, medical shortages, the 1944 Red Cross food parcels – all three are affected. Attitudes harden. There is not going to be a happy ending.

Directors Bruce Guthrie, Carla Kingham and James McAndrew cannot disguise the episodic nature of the script (the short scenes suggest that this might work better as a television or film treatment) and designer Victoria Spearing shows this by the rapid costumes changes for Emslie. Emslie allows us to see the stressed journey to a kind of adulthood which Lotty undertakes.

Reddington conveys the tight-buttoned formality of the career soldier with his Dresden-domiciled family in danger from Allied bombing raids steering a difficult course between duty and despair. Ruttle works hard to make Ben three-dimensional, but the impression remains that this is a type of angry young man, rather than a teenager maturing into a freedom fighter for whom the end will always justify the means.

Lotty’s War runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 7 May with a matinée on 7 May. It can also be seen at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff between 20 and 25 June and at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds between 27 June and 2 July.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016