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July 22, 2015 / basabbott

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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

May 7, 2018 / basabbott

Our Blue Heaven

Review

Our Blue Heaven
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

The feel-good factor could hardly be higher for a Suffolk audience than
this memoir of the FA Cup.
40 years ago Ipswich Town won it by beating Arsenal; and the glow of
local pride has never gone away.
In the presence of some of the 1978 heroes – Mick Mills, Alan Hunter,
John Wark, Roger Osborne – those heady days were re-lived.
Manager Bobby Robson was re-created with eerie brilliance by Peter
Peverley – voice, look, posture, manner.
A band thumped out the music of the day, while a young, mixed-gender
troupe did balletic versions of the games.
Writer-director Peter Rowe’s interpretation saw events from the point
of view of families. So weddings and births vied with the more
important fact of the Town being at Wembley.
14 year old Anna Kitching, played their most devoted fan with an ardour
that they need today.
When captain Mick Mills and goal scorer Roger Osborne came on at the
end, the audience rose with a roar of acclaim. This really was people’s
theatre.

Basil Abbott

April 25, 2018 / basabbott

A Streetcar Named Desire

Review

A Streetcar Named Desire
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

With districts named Desire and Elysian Fields, New Orleans had a gothic feel that appealed to Tennessee Williams.
Even updated, with shorts, sneakers, skateboards and a wheelie case for Blanche, Chelsea Walker’s production retains something of that.
Georgina Lowe’s design has also the languorous, brooding atmosphere of the Deep South. The graphic sexual couplings seem to spring from the environment.
Like The Deep Blue Sea, you get the impression that this is really a closet gay play. Maybe Blanche should be played by a drag artiste.
Brando and Leigh still loom large in any assessment, with even their photos having an iconic presence.
Kelly Gough as Blanche and Patrick Knowles as Stanley conduct verbal warfare at a lickety-split pace.
Dexter Flanders’ Mitch has a calm, benign, less-is-more presence that brings relief.
Dismantling the scenery around Blanche, maybe to show her disintegrating personality, doesn’t really work.
But the high emotions and harrowing mental torments of the play finally begin to grip.

Basil Abbott

March 30, 2018 / basabbott

Fatal Shore

Review

Our Country’s Good
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Transportation, for things like stealing a hankie, was the nearest thing to hell on earth.
Ocean sounds greet the audience, a reminder that this is The Fatal Shore of Robert Hughes’ grim book.
With survival itself at stake, in 18th century Australia, putting on a play was bizarre. But Farquhar’s comedy The Recruiting Officer proved to be a batty kind of therapy.
Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play is a crowd-pleaser, showing the redeeming power of art.
At times it seems a bit contrived. You can imagine the writer sitting with a period glossary, putting in lowlife expressions.
But Fiona Buffini’s production, for Ramps on the Moon, is all the more effective for its cast of deaf and disabled actors. Like the convicts, they triumph against the odds. 
By signs and screen text, with enthusiasm and in rags, the show goes on. Their efforts provide an eloquent argument against cutting arts funding.

Basil Abbott