Tag Archives: Simon Scullion

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

And Then There Were None

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 4 August)

Justice’s sword has always had two sharp edges, as Agatha Christie’s novels and plays wll demonstrate. None more so perhaps than And Then There Were None – both novel and self-dramatisation – which first appeared during the Second World War, and has had a variety of titles (depending on the shifting sands of political correctness) ever since.

We are in a palatial villa on a very small island just off the English coast in that febrile period between the two wars. Simon Scullion presents us with a stunning art déco set which wouldn’t disgrace Eltham Palace for this summer tour by Bill Kenwright and the Agatha Christie Theatre Company. The production is correctly given with two intervals, by the way.

As the apparently unconnected group of eight invited guests arrive on the island, to be greeted by resident houseman Rogers, his cook wife and the host’s secretary Vera Claythorne, it soon becomes apparent that the host and hostess are detained elsewhere and that the only thing to do is to wait in apparent isolation. Director Joe Harmston takes the opening sequences sufficiently leisurely to allow appreciation of the different characters to evolve.

By Act Two, the audience has been presented with a variety of clues as the tension builds after the revelation that all the characters have caused deaths and evaded the consequences. The question is, who wields justice’s sword? – Disguised ex-policeman Blore (Gary Mavers)? Retired general MacKenzie (Eric Carte) or former officer Lombard (Ben Nealon)? Or could it be Dr Armstrong (Mark Curry) or Mr or Mrs Rogers (Frazer Hines and Judith Rae)? Surely it cannot be either devout dowager Miss Brent (Deborah Grant) or stylish secretary Claythorne (Kezia Burrows)?

As lad-about-town Marston (Tom McCarron) is the fist victim of the “Ten little soldier-boys” riddle, it’s certainly not him. Why would it be former High Court judge Sir Lawrence Wargrave (Neil Stacey)? The only person not in the frame is local fishman and ferry owner Fred Narracott (Jan Knightley). Douglas Kuhrt’s lighting comes into its own at the start of the third act as the remaining guests wait for the next death by candlelight, which is brighter than the fading trust among them.

The cast is an excellent one, radiating that brittle mixture of confidence and uncertainties which one associates with the between-wars period. I’ve seen this thriller several times before but never with the ending offered here. Much discussion went on with the packed Bury St Edmunds audience in the intervals as to who the master-mind might be. Not one of my neighbours guessed correctly – and I refused to give the game away, then as now.

And Then There Were None runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 8 August, at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge between 24 and 29 August and at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff from 21 to 26 September.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015

Peter Pan Goes Wrong
(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 7 April 2015)

Anyone who has ever been involved, even indirectly through a friend or family member, Knows that amateur productions – especially those of the more ambitious kind – have a terrible propensity to come adrift. This successor to The Play That Goes Wrong. one of last year’s most resounding successes, gives us more of the same.

Adam Meggido’s production of the script by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields begins a good quarter of an hour before the official start time with three overworked stage crew members from the Cornley Polytechnic Dramatic Society frantically trying to sort out last-minute hitches both back-stage and front-of-house.

These include securing wobbly seats and attempting to finalise the lighting and sound-system cues. When the curtain rises it is to reveal a set on a self-willed revolve (another recipe for disaster, brilliantly conceived by Simon Scullion) and a distinct lack of co-ordination between the show’s narrator (an increasingly tetchy Harry Kershaw), stage management and the over-ambitious special effects.

All the amateur actors have taken the art of preen to its limits.This applies especially to Leonie Hall’s Wendy (she’s had ballet classes and it determined never to let us forget it) the multi-cast Naomi Sheldon (try doubling Mrs Darling, the maid Lisa and obstreperous Tinker Bell) and our hero (Alex Bartram). he’s someone who may have mastered the art of seduction but definitely is a novice at flight.

Laurence Pears has the usual double of uptight Mr Darling (all that rage about a lost cuff-link!) and the would-be debonair Captain Hook. It won’t surprise you to hear that Hook loses his prosthesis, as well as his wig and his hat several times over. Oh yes, as well his footing when his ship fails to moor itself at the correct angle and the revolve, not to mention the flats, take on a perverse life of their own.

The cast thoroughly enjoy themselves while never failing to let us all in on the joke. Pears and Bartram are the funniest of the men, run a close second by Cornelius Booth as a bearded Michael (don’t ask!) and hapless Matt Cavendish as the lad whose family is financing the show but still finds himself relegated to the non-speaking roles of the dog and the crocodile. But all comes right (well, sort of) in the end. Great fun.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong plays at the Arts Theatre Cambridge until 12 April and at the Theatre Royal, Norwich 11 to 16 May.

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Filed under Plays