Dick Whittington Feb 2022
The sets of chorus costumes were all appropriate for the songs and everyone looked very smart in their sailor’s outfits. In the scene in the Sultan’s Palace, they were suitably colorful and exotic. The set of costumes after the shipwreck was beautifully tattered. The principal's costumes suited the characters, as did all makeup and hairstyles. There was an interesting choice of songs, which had been well taught by Musical Director Dave Whittle and were well sung. They were suitably short for a Pantomime with nice solos, duets, and ensemble numbers. The choreography was suited to the music and ability of the cast. I particularly liked the opening of Act 2, the combination of song and dance got the second half off to a rousing start.
There was an interesting choice of songs, which had been well taught by Musical Director Dave Whittle and were well sung. They were suitably short for a Pantomime with nice solos, duets, and ensemble numbers. The choreography was suited to the music and ability of the cast. I particularly liked the opening of Act 2, the combination of song and dance got the second half off to a rousing start.
King Rat was suitably dark and evil, especially with Rat out of Hell
Fairy Bowbells exuded sweetness and light, they worked well together
Alice Fitzwarren was a dutiful daughter, with a mind of her own and had some nice duets with Dick.
Mike Fitch did an excellent job as Dame Dolly Dumpling, this was his first time on stage and he brought out the fun and innuendo of the role.
Idle Jack, her son, was a larger-than-life clown of a character, who engaged well with the audience trying to get them to shout out ‘Pull your socks up Jack' every time he came on stage and led the communal song. He was fun.
Captain Cuttlefish, who captained Alderman Fitzwarren’s ship, seemed to have to spend most of his time trying to keep his second mate in order, and was a good ‘straight man’ to Scupper’s nonsense.
Scupper the ship’s mate was a comic character always full of fun, making jokes and never being serious.
The role of Dick Whittington was played by a principal boy and was an ambitious character, who does not give up easily, and who falls in love with Alice. They worked well together and had lovely duets.
Director Ceri Winrow had encouraged her cast to approach the show with energy and enthusiasm, which they did, and although there were several prompts given the evening I was there it did not interrupt the flow. She had also made sure that a large number of very silly jokes were all well emphasized and that the audience was given time to respond.
This was a real team effort with everyone working together, especially on the technical side as the ‘lighting man’ had tested positive for covid and been replaced at the last minute. Well done everyone for a fun-filled evening.
Frankie Telford NODA
Regional Representative District 15 South West Region
This was the first time this company had performed a Pantomime in this intimate venue, and the first time the Theatre had hosted a Pantomime in many a long year. It had all the elements of a family pantomime, good sets; lovely well-chosen songs; colorful costumes; some comedy scenes; a love story; a dame, a community song, lots of audience participation, good versus evil; a happy ending.
It started with a prologue, which set the scene between Fairy Bowbells and King Rat. We were then transported to the streets of London with a lively chorus number. This scene had a well-painted street scene backcloth and a sign for Alderman Fitzwarren’s shop.
All the backcloths and scenery were well painted, and there were insets against black cloths for smaller scenes allowing set changing behind. The seascape with barrels in front gave the impression of a harbour side and then later boards and a ships wheel were added to take us on board the ship, it all worked well. The lighting had been well designed and helped create the right atmosphere for each scene, brightness for the outside scenes, which contrasted with indoor lighting. King Rat’s sewer scene was suitably dark, and the scenes with Fairy Bowbells and King Rat were well lit giving a feeling of menace trying to subdue virtue. The sound effects were all well sourced and cued and added to the lighting to help create the sewers and the storm scenes. Mostly the microphones were well cued and the sound levels were good.
All the costumes fitted well and mostly looked good on stage, with Fairy Bowbells and King Rat having a more modern take.
Robinson Crusoe Jan 2020
The music from the duo of Paul Hardy and Keith Brain was well played, and as there were a number of young voices, a small band worked very well. The songs had been well taught and were well sung on the whole. I felt the opening number in Brazil was a little quiet but the volume increased as the show progressed. The choice of songs was interesting and there was some lovely solo singing and duets.
The show had a troupe of young dancers who belonged to the Phoenix Dance Studios, who supplied the major dance routines, including a well co-ordinated, tap routine. The choreography for the general cast was tailored to their ability and looked confident.
There were some strong performances from the principals with brilliant support from the chorus, with everyone working well together. The Immortals were Coral, The Spirit of the Seas, played by Tessa Champion, who delivered her lines very clearly and exuded peace and tranquillity.
The other Immortal was Davina Jones, a female version of Davy Jones, played by Angie Aston, with a lovely accent, who was Coral's arch enemy and a force of evil. We then had the regular sea farers, Andrew Bullock who looked the part, but I think he could have shown a little more
authority as Captain Salt; Hannah Galleries was his confident daughter, Juanita, she sang well and worked well with a convincing Dominique Yates as Robinson Crusoe.
Then there was Margarita Juicilita, the outrageously over-the-top ship’s cook, once again played by John Pannett, with Samuel Taunton as her son Nutty Nick. The name says it all, not the brightest button, but he did well encouraging the audience to protect his bag of nuts and they did.
We then had the Pirates, who were in direct contrast to the others. Ben Goodman made a dominant, ruthless buccaneer Cut-Throat with his somewhat foolish but amusing companions Skull-Duggery and Cross-Bones played by Frank Dalton and James Meekums, I would have
liked to have seen a bit more of them.
Then on the desert island, we had Maggie Ansell as the scary Witch Doctor, Vickie Talbot as a feisty cannibal Queen, and Claire Enstone as a helpful, considerate Girl Friday. But I have to say the one who stole the show for me was Maggie Preston as Robinson’s pet parrot Pretty Poll, this was only a small part with very little dialogue but so beautifully portrayed.
There were lots of expected bad jokes and puns, which come with Pantomime but I did not think it was one of Alan Frayn’s best scripts. The actors had encouraged the audience to respond and they were well rewarded. There were a few places where things could have progressed a
little faster but I wonder if first night nerves had set in and the cast needed to gain a bit more confidence, which I'm sure happend as the week went on.
Heather Newman had worked hard with her cast and dancers, and the result was a pleasing evening of entertainment, which the audience enjoyed, and responded well, especially the young Brownies sitting at the front. Everyone on and off stage seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Frankie Telford NODA
Regional Representative South West District 15
Once again the Bacon Theatre buzzed with excitement as the audience waited for the
Pantomime to start. This was a traditional family Pantomime with a Principal boy, a beautiful girl, a villain, a Dame, not too bright son, forces of good and evil, a comic duo, colourful costumes, lovely sets and lots of singing and dancing.
The first character to appear was Coral, the Spirit of the seas, who set the scene and was there
to make sure everything went well for the seafarers. She was then joined by Davina Jones, an
evil schemer up to no good who wanted to cause trouble for sea travellers, so we have the
conflict between good and evil. Then the curtains opened and we were taken to a bright and
colourful Brazil for the opening number.
This is a large stage and the Company usually hires backcloths as they did on this occasion
from Scenery Hire, Newport. They were all well painted and took us to most of the locations
required by the story, with the addition of items of scenery and set dressing. The ship and Davina Jones locker scenes were very effective.
The lighting had been well designed and operated and enhanced the sets and the costumes. There were well-timed sound effects such as the sound of the sea on the ship.
The microphones were well cued and the sound balance was good. The costumes were colourful, well-fitting and suited to Pantomime and combined with good make-up helped create the characters. Particularly impressive was that of Pretty Poll, Robinson’s pet parrot.
A Funny Thing Happend On The Way To The Forum July 2019
No matter, Melanie Warren radiated sweetness and light as girl-next-door Philia, a vision of loveliness who lit up every one of her scenes, as she negotiated the rocky road to marital bliss in the welcoming arms of eventual husband Hero, endearingly played by Jordan Phillpotts.
Elsewhere on the Appian Way, Neal Carter-Lewis provided considerable backbone as the senatorial Senex, ably supported by Maggie Preston as his dutiful wife Domina.
Meanwhile, Sam Taunton upped the ante as their histrionic chief slave Hysterium, Ben Goodman commanded all attention as the bombastic army captain Miles Gloriosus, and John Pickup oozed charisma as Marcus Lycus, as he marshalled his glamorous courtesans. Anchoring it all was the capable Frank Dalton as the Lurcio-esque narrator Pseudolus.
All jolly good fun, and late on it even strayed into the Roman equivalent of Whitehall Farce, as the characters chased each other frantically in all directions and through the overworked doors standing in for the French windows, still several centuries off. That is, when they finally managed
to outrun the relentless Proteans, the pilum-wielding neighbourhood watch, who didn’t miss a trick keeping the local population in order, whilst also ensuring that no one was accidentally impaled. Tom, Jasmin and Liz: take a well-deserved bow.
A funny thing happened at the Playhouse tonight, something very appealing, colourful (and I don’t mean the lunar eclipse) and well worth checking out at the old Bath Road forum. Salute!
Friends, Romans, countrymen, cricketers and astronauts lend me your ears.
It’s been a while, but, following their songfests of recent years, Promenade Productions are back in business with a full-blown summer musical production.
Not only that, but in keeping with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landings, they, too, are treading new ground, specifically on the Playhouse stage, where they have planted their society flag with renewed pride. they’ve even broken in company stalwart Ceri Winrow as débutante director.
Now that’s three giant leaps for mankind. Make that four, if you consider their choice of show, Stephen Sondheim’s quirky Roman romp A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Like him or loathe him, you can’t deny that Sondheim is at least original.
Up Pompeii meets the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in this imperial tale of pimps, petals and potions, a delightful piece of ancient revelry that is a real one-off in the field of musical theatre.
With sterling support from the band under musical director Dave Whittle, the 19-strong cast soon proved themselves equal to the demanding score, and they were in fine voice during the rousing chorus sequences, although one or two of the principals seemed a tad nervous early on, and some intermittent over-amplification threatened to undo parts of the dialogue.
Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs Jan 2019
This version of Snow White had obviously been re-written and brought up to date with the introduction of modern technology with tablets and laptops, which gave rise to many jokes and misunderstandings with the associated terminology.
Also, the Dwarf's names were slightly different and there were a few unexpected twists in the story, such as the stepmother sending for Prince Ferdinand with the intention of marrying him herself, but he falls in love with Snow White. There was the inclusion of local references, plus this year the inevitable mentions of Brexit.
The show opened with Fairy Fortune telling us, in verse, the history of Snow White prior to her 18th birthday, and with characters acting it out on the other side of the stage. We were then taken to the Palace Courtyard and a lovely dance number.
When the villagers came on and started singing they were a little tentative but they moved well. All of the hired-in backcloths were beautifully painted and transported us to the various locations, this theatre has restricted ‘flying’ facilities and so the clothes were on a tab track and pulled across each time.
The sound effects were appropriate and well-cued, and there was a good well-cued sound balance between voices and the band. The lighting had been well designed, differentiating well between indoor and outdoor scenes, was atmospheric, enhanced the set and costumes, and created a lovely effect for the mirror. The wardrobe department had worked hard to provide a set of costumes of a high standard, and combined with interesting makeup presented a colorful, overall picture.
There was a good selection of well-chosen songs and dance music. The well-performed songs under the musical direction of Paul Hardy were of a suitable length holding the attention of the children in the audience and mostly performed with good diction, although I felt the chorus sometimes lacked confidence.
The show had been well choreographed by Heather Newman and Kate Williams, with a group of dancers performing intricate routines, with some lovely smiles. The whole cast had worked hard on the routines they were in and looked confident. The dance when Snow White was laid to rest after eating the poisoned apple was beautifully performed and very poignant.
The show benefitted from a confident set of principals who were well supported by minor principals and chorus, although it was a little slow in places due to the lines not being picked up quickly, I am sure this would have improved as the week progressed. Maggie Preston made a lovely fairy godmother, Fairy Fortune. Ceri Holder, was every inch the callous, evil Queen Avarice, stepmother to Snow White, she certainly had the audience booing and hissing.
Samuel Taunton was an upper-class Merlin, Wizard of the Magic Mirror, spending most of his time behind ’glass’ but eventually ‘breaking free’ from evil Avarice.
Francesca Fiorentini was a charming Snow White who captivated the Dwarfs and the audience.
John Panett, was back on form as, Edina Bouquet, the Palace Housekeeper, as always interacting well with the audience and other characters.
Jordan Phillpotts gave a good performance as the quaint and sometimes bemused Magistrate and legal advisor to Queen Avarice.
Ben Goodman was hilarious as his rather confused Secretary, Scribbles.
Dominique Yates confidently played Prince Ferdinand, the love interest of both Queen Avarice and Snow white.
Frank Dalton did a sterling job as Chuckles, the Queen’s new Jester, working the audience well and telling so many silly jokes, he was energetic and engaging.
Tessa Champion brought humor to the role of Slurp, the palace drain cleaner, and the Queen’s henchman.
Then there were the Dwarfs, renamed Brainy, Smiley, Grumbly, Dozy, Snoozy, Sniffle, and Blushful, all played superbly by seven young ladies. They worked together as a team, were confident, clear, with excellent timing, they pointed the jokes beautifully, and waited for the audience's laughter to die down before giving their next line, they showed maturity beyond their years.
Director Heather Newman and assistant Daphne Herbert and made sure that all areas involved in the show had worked well together to bring about this Pantomime; that everyone was confident in their roles; that the stage was well used; and that the audience was well entertained and had a good evening. Well done everyone.
Frankie Telford, NODA
Regional Representative South West District 15
For The Love Of Musicals July 2018
There was a buzz about the Bacon Theatre where we were welcomed by John and Helen.
The programme said it was a mix of the musical genre showing the changing face of Musical Theatre over the past 70 years.
The staging was a two-tiered rostra plus a screen for projected scenes. This worked well but I felt the edges of the rostra could have been covered to soften the lines.
The company wore black, with flashes of colour added to depict various scenes which ensured the busy cast was not worried by numerous costume changes.
A great deal of planning had gone into the programme with changing moods and tempo with numbers chosen to reflect the versatility of the Society.
There's No Business Like Show Business was followed by the perennial favourite Oklahoma which gave us a taste of what to expect.
Young Promenaders were excellent in Bugsy Malone's Fat Sam's Grand Slam and Ella Blackwell's 'Tallulah' was cheeky.
West Side Story and Chicago gave a chance for soloists to shine with Tonight, beautifully sung by the ensemble.
The Cell Block Tango sextet certainly delivered, nicely contrasting with Dave Herbert's gentle Mr Cellophane.
Beth Gilbert shone in The Life I Never Led from Sister Act followed by the ensemble in the haunting Whistle Down The Wind.
Scarlet Pimpernel is not well known but has some wonderful music. Madame Guillotine, a robust number with strong solo parts was contrasted by the reflective When I Look At You before taking the audience into The Riddle, again a demanding number for all.
Act II opened with
Skid Row from Little Shop Of Horrors, performed by a very enthusiastic cast and followed by the lovely Somewhere That's Green.
Gregory Aston, a guest soloist brought in to replace an unwell cast member gave a terrific performance of Fiddler's If I Were A Rich Man portraying the irony and pathos of the number, Matchmaker was fun and Anatevka sang.
Seussical lifted the audience with the Young Promenaders getting into top gear, how they enjoyed this section, especially Green Eggs and Ham.
From Kiss Me Kate we saw Where Is The Life Of Late I Led well performed by Samuel Taunton followed by Brush Up Your Shakespeare.
Miss Saigon's Movie In My Mind and Last Night Of The World and Billy Elliot's, Electricity performed by Ella Critchley were all excellent.
'Les Miserables'. The arrangement was a beautiful piece encompassing every emotion through strong soloists and ensemble until it's dramatic conclusion.
The cast richly deserved the standing ovation.
Finally, Hairspray's You Can't Stop The Beat sent everyone home on a high.
Congratulations to all the Production Team for guiding this very talented group especially David and his musicians, always supportive, never intrusive.
To Daphne, Kate, Heather, and Ceri for bringing your talents from page to stage.
Thank you for a super evening and your hospitality.
Aladin Jan 2018
I liked this revised version of the Alan P. Frayn Pantomime; it was up to date and slightly shorter. There were all the expected Pantomime elements Dame; good and evil characters; the not very bright one; the young man interested in a young lady above his station; lots of colorful costumes; and plenty of audience participation.
As always with this company they had hired in beautifully painted backcloths, I thought the one for the entrance to the cave, with the mountainscape with and separate gauze for a waterfall, with the entrance to the cave behind it worked extremely well.
The set dressing had been well thought out and was well used. The stage crew worked efficiently to give swift scene changes. The lighting was well cued and showed the sets to good advantage and created a good atmosphere.
It also enhanced all the lovely costumes and makeup.
There were many well-executed routines from the dancers. They had all been well choreographed by Heather Newman and Kate Williams and had been tailored to suit the dancers. The opening number got the show off to a good start and although I enjoyed the later tap number, I confess at first could not think why they were dancing to ‘42nd Street’ until I realised the scene was taking place on The Street of 42 Chopsticks.
I enjoyed the choice of music for this production and MD Paul Hardy had taught the songs well and accompanied the singing sympathetically. The performers were enjoying the music.
The sound effects were all well-cued and appropriate, and the waterfall was very effective. Although there were one or two problems with microphones, they were mostly well operated and the balance was good.
Everyone worked well together, with the chorus giving good support to the action. On this opening night I felt there was a degree of hesitancy and holding back but confidence grew as the show progressed. Abanazar was not quite evil enough for me, but he got the audience booing him. The Spirit of the Ring had good clear diction and told the story well, and was warm and helpful.
Aladdin is described as a fun-loving lad’ and I felt he needed to relax a little. Wishee Washee his ‘not very bright layabout brother’, worked hard to get the audience to respond. Widow Twankey gave an understated performance as the Dame, ‘she’ was not the usual flamboyantly over-the-top character, but it worked well. Hu-Dun-Pong and Yu-Dun-Wong, of the Peking Police Force, certainly brought a great deal of fun to the proceedings, but occasionally their accents became too thick and were difficult to understand.
The Emperor played as a less imposing character with humor. Princess Mandarin, daughter to The Emperor, gave a mature confident performance, as did her Handmaiden and friend So-Shy, they made a good team. Genie of the Lamp was a good contrast to Spirit of the Ring, he was much more aloof and commanding.
There were some lovely moments in this Pantomime, a few of my favorites were the opening dance certainly set the scene and feel for China; there were good freezes when Abanazar and the Spirit of the Ring were in conversation; the whole of the Cave scene from when he arrives outside the cave, to finding the treasure and the spirits of the cave who were guarding it, their choral speaking was excellent.
Heather Newman had worked well with her cast encouraging good characterization and use of the stage. It was a traditional family pantomime, full of interesting music, silly jokes and plenty of colourful costumes. The audience, particularly the Brownies certainly seemed to be enjoying it. It was a good evening's entertainment.
Frankie Telford, NODA
Regional Representative South West District 15.
A Musical Journey
The programme had obviously been carefully planned with an enjoyable mix of items from the youngsters, adults, and dancers, with choices from modern shows and old favorites, with the first half brought to a close with an ensemble number ‘You’ll ever Walk Alone’; and the second half opening and closing with two lively numbers ‘Putting On The Ritz’ from Putting on the Ritz, and ‘Razzle Dazzle’ from Chicago.
It is often difficult to deliver songs in a meaningful way when out of the context of a show, but the directors had managed this. Diction was excellent throughout. The singing was of a high standard and chorus mistress Jodie Dwight had worked hard in rehearsals.
The Young Promenaders demonstrated what a wealth of young talent the group has with their selections from ‘Matlida’ and ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’. The evening had many highlights and it was a delight to hear again the selection from ‘Chess’, which the Society had performed in its entirety two years ago, and ‘The King and I’ from last year.
I understand there had been difficulties on the musical front with people stepping in at the last minute but the team worked well together, with Jacqueline Adams on piano, Keith Brain on percussion and Alan and Karen Gillespie conducting.
The whole evening was most enjoyable with the dancers supporting several numbers and their lovely interpretation of the music from ‘The Lion King’. The whole company must be congratulated on their contributions but my personal favourites were Olivia Sheldon and Jodie Dwight with ‘I Know Him So Well’, Gary Lines singing ‘Bring Him Home’ and Olivia Sheldon with ‘Unexpected Song’.
Everyone had worked together as a team contributing to the success of ‘A Musical Journey’. Well done everyone.
Frankie Telford, NODA
Regional Representative. District 15.
Promenade Productions decided on a Compilation Show this year instead of their usual summer show.
This type of show often creates more organising than a full show but it does give opportunities to people who would not consider taking on a lead role and also being able to perform songs from shows not available to non-professional groups. On this occasion, it was an extremely varied evening with the adult members combining with The Young Promenaders and the Phoenix Dancers in support of Sue Ryder, a local Hospice.
The evening began with the Young Promenaders and a selection from Oliver! starting with ‘Food Glorious Food’, which was followed by a moving rendition of ‘Where is Love’, finishing with a lively ‘Consider Yourself’ with the adults joining the youngsters.
It was simply set with a raised area towards the back of the stage with steps leading to it and a screen onto which relevant, well chosen images were projected, the Victorian street scene for ‘Consider Yourself’ in the Oliver! selection was evocative.
Mostly the costumes were simple black and white outfits with additional adornment; I liked the Nuns with their white collars for the extracts from ‘The Sound of Music’. The variety of coloured tee shirts for ‘Joseph’ added to the ‘Technicolor’ image; and the masks for ‘Masquerade’ were stunning. The lighting created an effective atmosphere for each number and the sound balance between piano and drums and voices was good.
Older Show Reviews
Sleeping Beauty - Jan 2017
This was the first Sleeping Beauty I had in a while and it was a delight. It was full of well-painted backcloths, colourful costumes, well-loved characters and lots of fun. Fairy Lilac, who was soon interrupted by Bad Fairy Heather, introduced us to the story and so the battle of good versus evil commenced.
This Theatre does not have sufficient height for flying in backcloths, they have to be drawn across the stage and those from Scenery Hire, Newport were excellent, helping to depict each setting well, particularly that of the sumptuous Palace. They were all well lit, with well-designed and cued lighting and good use of follow spot. I thought the lighting for the wicked fairy and the forest growing were very evocative. The scene changes were executed smoothly and efficiently, with everyone working well together.
The choice of music was appropriate for the story, with some good singing. The duo of Helen Harris and Keith Brain accompanied the cast well, keeping up a good tempo. The dances had been well choreographed and were not overlong, they either added to the energy of the show, or as with the ballet routines, helped to tell the story.
There were some well-defined characters, Fairy Lilac and Bad Fairy Heather contrasted well. Fairy Lilac was good-natured, enjoying life and the company of the delightful little Rainbow Fairies; whereas Bad Fairy Heather exuded malice with every syllable she uttered. King Cactus and Queen Marigold were an amusing pair of kindly but clueless parents and made you think it was a good job they had Nurse Dottie Dettol to look after their baby. Although you did wonder if the Princess would survive long enough to reach her 16th birthday in the hands of Nurse Dottie, who truly lived up to her name. Dottie was a lovely, outrageously dressed Dame, who engaged well with the audience, particularly with one young gentleman, who she repeatedly returned to and whose name she kept getting wrong. Princess Rose was a lovely young lady well suited to the role giving a confident performance, both with singing and acting. Palace Servant Muddles certainly worked hard to encourage the audience to participate. This character was full of fun and energy, portraying a ‘muddled’ character well, and keeping the show moving at a good pace, the audience loved him/her, especially when sweets were being distributed. The comic duo of Palace Messengers Fetch and Carrie, showed their incompetence well, but once or twice I felt they needed to pick up their cues a little quicker. Our Hero Prince Alexis, who saved the day, played the role with confidence and worked well with Princess Rose.
The Chorus of Villagers and Courtiers worked well supporting the action throughout, they sang and moved confidently, reacting appropriately in each situation. The young people in the chorus were self-assured and well disciplined. The dancers were well rehearsed with poise and elegance in their movements in the ballet. I especially liked the growing of the Forest of Thorns.
Director and choreographer, Heather Newman, had worked well with her cast encouraging them to confidently bring this well-loved story to the stage. The script had been adapted to include many local references and the scene place names, was well timed and very funny. Musicians, backstage crew and wardrobe, had admirably supported the enthusiastic cast to give audiences a colourful, well-coordinated evenings entertainment, which lifted everyone’s spirits. Congratulations to you all.
Frankie Telford, NODA
Regional Representative. District 15.
The King & I September 2016
This musical is derived from a novel by Margaret Landon and based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowen ‘The English Governess and the Siamese Court’, and tells of the time she spent as Governess to King Mongkut’s many children. After we had settled into our seats the overture reminded us of the songs we were about to hear, and we prepared to be transported to Siam in 1862. When the curtains opened we saw a well-painted seascape from the deck of The Chow Phya as it arrived in Bangkok, this was to be the first of several excellent backcloths from Scenic and Property Hire, which helped create the splendours of the East. The costumes were equally exotic, with amazing headdresses. Anna’s hooped dresses were splendid but must have caused a problem trying to manoeuvre around the stage.
This large stage gave the space to create the feel of palatial spaces and absorb the large cast without being overcrowded. The stage crew worked well to change the set quickly and efficiently and not slow down the pace of the show. The costumes, apart from those of the Westerners, were all exotic and well-worn, and the difference in dress between the two cultures left no doubt as to who was who. Make-up and hairstyles all contributed to the overall picture.
The production had been well lit with appropriate changes for indoors and outside and the more intimate scenes; although the ‘follow spot’ was not always focused properly or operated well.
The sound was well balanced and operated with good sound effects.
The Orchestra under the Direction of David Manifold was well controlled and did not overpower the voices, it produced a well-balanced sound and numbers were taken at a good pace. There were one or two slow entrances into songs, and there were a couple of places when a little
music to cover a scene change would have been nice. The standard of singing from both Principals and chorus was high.
This is an older style show which requires a large cast with all the wives and children, but when I realised how many children were in the show I was a little concerned how long The March of the Siamese Children would take as sometimes it can be a little tedious, but it was lovely, well
timed and each child presenting themselves in their own way to ‘Mrs Anna’. The perception of this show is that apart from the King there are no parts for men, but there are several very important male roles, albeit small in comparison to the King. The Kralahome, The Interpreter and Captain Orton all help to put the story into the context of the time helping us to understand the protocol and manners of the time, and the vast differences between the two cultures and they all did it very well.
Sir Edward Ramsey a British Statesman and old friend of Anna’s, was every inch an English gentleman and again showed the differences between the cultures. Lun Tha, the Burmese scholar and envoy, who brings the slave girl Tuptim to the Siamese Court, and falls in love with her, was played a little hesitantly and I felt there was a touch of ‘first night nerves’ but he sang his duet with Tuptim well. I am sure he would relax into the role as the week went on.
The two youngsters who played Prince Chualalngkorn, the King’s son and Louis Leonowens, Anna’s son were both very confident in their roles. Prince Chalalngkorn emulated his father in every way, and Louis was a good contrast with his western ways and concern for his mother.
They worked together very well and their duet ‘A Puzzlement’ was a delight. It was a tribute to the grounding from Young Promenaders. The Priests and Guards are very minor roles but very necessary to the story and action.
The large number wives and children were well dressed and all moved, sang and acted well.
The scene with Anna ‘Getting to Know You’ was a delight; also ‘Western People Funny’ with Lady Thiang was well sung and most amusing; and I really enjoyed ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ it is a deceptively difficult play within a play but was well executed. Lady Thiang, the
head wife of the King, was portrayed sensitively with a good mixture of subservience to her husband, dominance of the other wives and Tuptim, and curiosity of Anna and her Western ways. It was well sung and acted.
Burmese slave girl Tuptim, who had been sent as a present to King Mongkut was played exceptionally well by this talented young lady, she displayed her sadness at being in a strange land and her affection for Lun Tha very well, with a lovely voice and wonderful diction which
enchanted the audience.
The well-matched pairing of Anna and the King was a joy to watch. The King was very dictatorial and in total control of all those around him, but beneath this hard exterior, there was a softer side which came across with his very small children and Anna. Anna was a very strong and uncompromising character who knew what she wanted and was quite a match for the King who was used to total compliance from everyone but particularly his women folk. They complimented each other beautifully and displayed the many facets of their developing relationship. They both spoke and sang with very clear diction their ‘Shall We Dance’ was lovely.
The choreography from Heather Newman was full of ‘eastern promise’ and all performed confidently. Director John Pannett had brought out a great deal of humour in the production.
He had encouraged his cast to use the stage well had worked with the strengths of his cast, choreographer, musical director and backstage team to provide a well-rounded production which this first-night audience really enjoyed.
Frankie Telford, NODA
Regional Representative. District 15
Chess The Musical July 2015
Promenade Productions present “Chess” by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice, directed by Daphne Herbert
Chess would be a challenging production for any amateur company but what one can say but those that missed tonight’s first night of the Promenade Productions missed a show worthy of being on a West End stage. Buy, beg or steal a ticket before the run ends.
Under the first-rate skilful direction of Daphne Herbert, this production was nothing short of stupendous, brilliant, terrific, astounding and fabulous. Her imaginative use of forwarding and back projections onto a screen behind the action gave another dimension to what was going on on the checkerboard stage with simple risers.
Do not be put off if you know nothing about the game of Chess, this is more about human pawns in the West v East / Americans v the Soviet Union cold war even though the storyline involves two world chess championship matches. If you link the game of chess with quiet deliberation you’re in for big a surprise.
The conflict between two Chess Grand Masters, Russian Anatoly Sergievsky (Neil Burge) and American Freddie Trumper (Gary Lines) continues all the way through the musical with the love triangle between Anatoly, Freddie and Florence Vassey (Olivia Sheldon) forming the core of the plot.
The show opens with David Purchase as the stealthy referee-narrator Arbiter setting the high standard of what we are about to hear and see and followed by an opening Chorus with not a note out of place nor a twitch or shuffle. The orchestra under Dave Whittle’s baton was one of the best amateur and semi-professional orchestras I have heard accompany an Am-Dram performance in recent times even though at odd times was slightly a shade too loud.
Peter Hughes was completely believable as the Russian Molokov speaking and singing with a secure Russian accent as was his American counterpart Ben Perkins playing Walter de Courcy. Wonderful voices and acting the pair of them. The male Chorus, both in the Russian drinking/dancing scene and British Embassy "Embassy Lament", brought chuckles from the audience. Dancers were excellently used to portray chess pieces moving about the board, with superb choreography by Liz Warner throughout.
Jodie Dwight (Anatoly’s wife Svetlana) appeared in Act 2 but made her presence felt with superb singing and her duet “I Know Him So Well” with Olivia Sheldon (Florence Vassey) was sung with tenderness and passion.
Gary Lines (Freddie Trumper) had tough and demanding songs in Act 1 which he handled well especially “Pity the Child”. By Act 2 he had many of the audience swaying along with his rendition of “One Night in Bangkok” and was much more comfortable with the vocal range of Act 2’s songs.
Neil Burge (Anatoly Sergievsky) has a wonderful voice with clear diction and sang with great skill and control whether solo “Anthem" or in duets "Mountain Duet" or ensembles “A Model of Decorum and Tranquillity”.
As for Olivia Sheldon, she should leave her day job. Any West End stage would be honoured to have her tread their boards. A truly outstanding talented singer and actress with a stunning voice she gave an emotionally convincing performance. Her final duet was heart rendering as was her solo "Heaven Help My Heart".
The Wizzard Of Oz July 2014
Somewhere, over the rainbow, way out west...OK, The Bacon Theatre on Hatherley Road, there’s a show that I heard of once, when I was very young (and more than a few times since).
It’s taken me nearly 50 years to see a stage performance of this classic, but all things come to those who wait, the wisdom of which was amply demonstrated by John Pannett’s thoroughly entertaining presentation that again demonstrates the remarkable depths of talent within Promenade Productions’ multi-generational ranks.
Bristling with those immortal songs, the greenest show in Cheltenham is a right old ding-dong, a blaze of colour, glitz and glamour, reflected especially in the sparkling Emerald City set and the exquisitely costumed Munchkinland sequence, populated by a legion of well-drilled and clear-spoken children, especially Callum Prosser as the authoritative mayor.
There is plenty more to savour. As soon as she started singing, the supremely capable Lauren Poulson looked and sounded perfect as the exuberant heroine Dorothy, effectively a blond Judy Garland, and from then on all the leading characters were on top form
James Russell excelled as the Tin Woodman, Michael Fay ran the full gamut of emotions as the engagingly timid lion, and if ever someone was custom-built for a role, it is stalwart Jack Overington who was magnificently manic as the unstable scarecrow.
Standing motionless for nigh on 20 minutes takes some doing, too.
It’s all very pantomimish; there’s a fairy godmother-cum-sorceress permanently on call, and the sinister witches ensure a decent side-order of villainy, even if the choreography for Saint-Saëns’ thrilling Danse Macabre was a shade flat, likewise the ending which arrived rather suddenly and lost some of its impact.
The curtain call could also do with some tidying up. But these are minor considerations. The whole is still greater than the sum of its parts, and a final, deserved mention for Ella Hiscock as the witches’ drole, downtrodden servant Tibia, maundering about her mistresses’ grim castle like Toyah Willcox with a hangover.
The first encounter with the wizard is visually impressive, likewise, the cyclone that kills off the Wicked Witch of the East, and when even a real hailstorm breaks, you begin to believe all things are indeed possible.
Supporting it all is the disciplined orchestra, once again under the expert control of David Manifold. A night of midsummer magic, so dare to dream, for they will come true for anyone following the yellow brick road to theatrical splendour.
By Simon Lewis
Oaklahoma July 2013
The temperature outside the Theatre certainly put the audience into the right frame of mind to be taken to the hot, dusty American Prairie. The opening set of this much-loved musical showed Laurey’s farmhouse and the bunkhouse, with a picket fence upstage leading to open spaces beyond, with Aunt Eller churning butter. Curly’s opening number ‘Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’ was well sung, but the volume should have built gradually as he approached the farmhouse and ‘surprised’ Aunt Eller, not at full volume from the outset.
Aunt Eller, Curly, and Laurey quickly established their characters and held the interest of the audience in the long opening scene. Tegwin Minett, as Aunt Eller, watched and reacted in a ‘knowing way’, to the banter between the other two. In fact, everyone had developed good characters, both principals and chorus. Jenna Surman, as Ado Annie, was suitably flighty ending up in romantic dilemmas through her inability to say no, a lovely performance.
Jack Overington, as slow-witted Will Parker, in love with Annie, portrayed beautifully the confusion of having obtained the 50 dollars needed to enable him to marry Annie but then having spent it on gifts, so once again unable to marry her. He also coped so well with the problems he had with his microphone coming adrift, not letting it impede his energetic dance routine or distracting him noticeably.
Jodie Hemming as Gertie Cummings of course had ‘that laugh’; you felt quite sorry for Ali Hakim eventually having to live with it. Two characters I was doubtful about when they first appeared were Judd Fry and Ali Hakim. Jud looked far too young to cope with the brooding dark character and Ali Hakim did not, in any way look Persian. They both surprised me; Sam Forbes as Jud Fry gave a mature performance as the brooding loner, whom it is hinted at, takes bitter revenge if he is slighted. He followed the story created by Curly in ‘Pore Jud is said and showed, by his reactions and facial expression that he was totally absorbed. He was menacing enough to make you believe that Laurey was uneasy to be alone with him, but not too much to make you wonder if she felt that way, why she had hired him at all. Good characterization.
Rightly or wrongly, the expectation created by references to Ali Hakim, the Persian peddler, is of someone with a swarthy complexion; so the arrival of Keith Swinford with a pale complexion seemed wrong. Once he started it was clear he was relishing the role of the womanising peddler, brought the character to life, and maintained his accent well.
The part of Andrew Carnes, Ado Annie’s father is often overshadowed by other characters, but Colin Bennett played ‘the backwoods man’ with gusto. Kate Aston-Williams as Laurey was feisty and confident and sang well. Curly the swaggering cowboy with a soft spot for Laurey, was well portrayed by Ben Perkins and these two created a good rapport. I wish the line about him having curly hair had been cut as his was straight!
All the named characters worked well together and were given strong support by the chorus, and maintained their accents. The choreography had been well devised and was appropriate to the abilities of the cast. The ‘Dream Ballet’ was effective and the opening of the second act was energetic, creating the atmosphere for the ‘Box Social’. There was good attention to detail in costumes and hairstyles. The sets worked well and the scene changes were carried out efficiently.
The lighting for the Opening and the Dream Ballet was effective, but there were problems in other scenes and with the Follow Spot. I am sure this was first-night gremlins and would have improved later in the week. Everyone sang the well-loved songs with feeling and good diction.
I felt the orchestra was possibly under-rehearsed, as there were several times when singers and musicians were not together, particularly in ‘All or Nothing. Again, probably first-night gremlins.
Director John Pannett had worked hard to develop a well-paced show, which was enjoyed by both cast and audience.
Frankie Telford, NODA
Regional Representative. District 15.