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July 22, 2015 / basabbott

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October 7, 2018 / basabbott

The Return of the Soldier

Review

The Return of the Soldier
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

A musical adaptation of Rebecca West’s novel is a welcome addition to the end of WW1 commemorations.
To the upper-middle class the Front was a distant, gallant place where Officers fought for England.
Lower ranks could be shot for having ‘shell shock’; but Captain Chris Baldry returns with his mind affixed on a former love.
She being also an ex-barmaid, this is not well received by his wife and female cousin. So the set shows white garden furniture and parasols on one side; and a humbler dwelling on the other.
The time span between his youthful romance and the present has been reduced from 15 (in the novel) to 10 years.
So Margaret, his old flame, is not so much the dowdy middle-aged woman, who turns up with a letter informing her, rather than the wife, of his condition.
She is younger and more attractive; and her character and that of her non-combatant husband, are built up more than in the book, which is narrated by the cousin.
There are many good songs, with book and lyrics by Tim Sanders and music by Charles Miller. They are sung supremely well by the cast, accompanied by Daniel Jarvis (piano) and Ines Mota (cello).
The Freudian resolution still comes over as rather glib, although the author was one of the first even to consider its possibilities, when soldiers were being executed for ‘cowardice’.
Chris Jenkins, as the stressed Officer, Tessa Kadler as his hoity-toity wife, Esme Sears as the cousin, and Naomi Slights, as the former love, all give quality performances.
Marc Pickering creates a rounded character as the husband with concerns about his non-participation in the war. Then he tops it with a slick, droll turn as a psychiatric doctor.
You miss some of Rebecca West’s prose – the description of a garden in March, the beloved’s figure in the dusk – but this is a memorable show, directed by Charlotte Westenra.

Basil Abbott

October 5, 2018 / basabbott

Votes For Women

Review

Rebellious Sisterhood
Broad Horizons (touring)

Today women run almost everything, fill prisons and even assassinate people (in Killing Eve).
But they only obtained the vote within the life of Ann Ward, the Diss woman who has just died.
Karen Forbes’ play shows what leading figures like the Pankhursts went through to win that right.
They were fighting the most entrenched attitudes. The force feeding of hunger-striking Suffragettes was like the worst tortures in a totalitarian state.
When a woman threw herself in front of the royal horse, the King inquired about the health of the jockey.
On the outbreak of the Great War, PM Asquith ordered the release of all female prisoners. War work helped to empower women; but they had to wait until 1928 for all adult females to get the vote.
Their anguish and struggle are harrowingly well depicted in Cordelia Spence’s production. The passionate acting of Judi Daykin, Shirley Day and Kiara Hawker shows both the achievement and the cost.

Basil Abbott

October 5, 2018 / basabbott

All Aboard the R34

Review

Peter Creswell’s Music
East Harling Church

This concert was a taster for next year’s R34 airship centenary.
The first double airborne Atlantic crossing (1919) is the subject of All Aboard the R34.
Peter Creswell has composed a sheaf of singable songs to tell the intrepid story.
Take-off from Scotland, the stowaway, Wopsie the cat, the voyage dramas, parachute descent, New York welcome – all feature in the story so far.
Mark Saberton’s commanding tones lent themselves perfectly to Captain Scott, complemented by Selina Hawker’s natural, endearing voice.
The concert had begun with When I was Four, a loving memoir of the composer’s daughter’s young days.
There was also a glowing gem of a Violin Sonata, with Alex Girdlestone; and a suite called Cathedral, with benevolent surges of piano sound from Matthew McCombie.
Rondo for Flute & Piano featured eloquent flute by Philippa Gordon, followed by violin and oboe pieces.
The airship work certainly whetted the appetite for the centenary concert at Diss Corn Hall next July.

Basil Abbott

July 14, 2018 / basabbott

Revised Murder in the Red Barn

Review

Polstead
Eastern Angles

The Murder of Maria Marten in the Red Barn spawned a century of melodramas.
The spotless maiden, done to death by the dastardly squire, thrilled the Victorian stage.
It wasn’t really like that, of course, and was never seen from the point of view of the girl.
Beth Flintoff’s play tries to put that right by depicting the human being behind the image.
She and her circle are depicted by six actresses, so the villainous William Corder never appears.
Although accents are all-purpose rural and some scenes rather ‘all loving girlies together’, there is a real attempt to show 1820s Suffolk, in Hal Chambers’ production.
Elizabeth Crarer, visually like Winona Ryder in The Crucible, creates a Maria with all the troubles and emotions of a girl of her time. It is a harrowing personal journey, drainingly well acted.
Sarah Goddard brings life and soul to the part of her stepmother. Lydia Bakelmun, Lucy Grattan, Bethan Nash and Roxanne Palmer double expertly as local girls and gentry.
After all the ouch-making plays and films, this is a welcome revisionist version of the story.

Basil Abbott

July 12, 2018 / basabbott

A return to Tower Hill and a single for the wife.

Review

Six
Norwich Playhouse

Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.
That sexist giant Henry VIII and his wives still fascinate, so it was probably time for a feminist view.
Six is a musical, by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, with a girl band. It is basically a pop concert, a kind of Tudors Got Talent.
The costumes are rock sci-fi, the language is colloquial (“And I’m like – Okay”), the rhymes sometimes excruciating (“Vatican/that again”) but witty and knowledgeable.
The six wives are onstage throughout and sing as though their lives depended on it, so to speak.
Jarneia Richard-Noel (Catherine of Aragon) is as formidable as Serena Williams. Millie O’Connell gives a quirky, face-pulling Anne Boleyn; and Natalie Paris a homelier Jane Seymour.
Alexia McIntosh (Anna of Cleves) is not the ‘Flanders mare’ described by Henry, but more like Lena Horne. Aimie Atkinson’s slender, pony-tailed Katherine Howard is equally watchable.
Maiya Quansah-Breed (Catherine Parr), making her professional debut, is the quietest onstage personality. But she draws the eye; and, when she begins to sing and move, things happen.
Edinburgh, Cambridge and Norwich have lauded the show; and London will no doubt do the same.

Basil Abbott

May 21, 2018 / basabbott

Out of Africa

Review

Zimbe!
Eye Bach Choir

Africa, in all its colour, moods and troubles, was the theme of this 
bubbly concert.
Eye Bach Choir, directed by Leslie Olive, had got together with the 
Call Me Al Jazz Quintet and local schools. 
That mighty continent has seen more than its share of strife, 
reflected in spirituals like Nobody Knows the Trouble I See.
Hopes for the after-life, and stealing away to Jesus, made slave 
existence bearable.
These numbers, from Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, were performed by 
the choir with a feeling for that tender melancholy of African music.
Alexander L’Estrange had composed Zimbe! and played those songs of 
Africa with his jazz band. 
They pick up on his enthusiasm and play with a seductive sound that 
can be both languorous and effervescent.
If some of the early items recalled troubled times, the second half 
was notable for joie de vivre. This was Africa as a colourful, vibrant, 
happy land.
The contribution of the children was a credit to Hartismere School and 
Eye and Mellis Primary Schools.

Basil Abbott

May 13, 2018 / basabbott

Plenty of Fireworks

Review

Verdi & Handel
Burgate Singers

In 1749 the weather rendered Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks something of a damp squib.
Safe in their village church, the Burgate Sinfonia restored all the flash and crackle, under Alain Judd’s exhorting direction.
Choir and orchestra then gave a spirited performance of Handel’s early work Dixit Dominus.
Natasha Page and Hannah Bennet sang as though they were soloists with twice as much experience.
With a prickling vigour, and distinguished work by the strings, a psalm setting became an emotional journey.
The Ave Maria in Verdi’s Four Sacred Pieces brought out a more mature, restrained, nobler expression.
The singing became thrillingly operatic in the Stabat Mater and back to sweetly austere in the Lauda Alla Virgine Maria.
A deceptively monk-like opening to the Te Deum was a prelude to high and stormy passions.
This was a concert with as many fireworks as New Year’s Eve over the Thames.

Basil Abbott