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Review of Ruddigore

Ruddigore
The Phoenix Theatre
Director: Brian Jackson
Musical Director: Mary Brigg
Choreographer: Lizzie Nicholson
Venue: The Phoenix Theatre

For such a small theatre (64 seats in total) this was a gigantic success. The comical antics of Director, Brian Jackson, during the overture was a really nice touch. As much as I love G&S overtures, for those not so accustomed can find them a little on the long side and so to have Brian coming and going throughout was very clever. As too was situating the accompanist and prompt on stage throughout, sitting in their own little booth which was very much in keeping with the set. It was amazing how quickly you forgot that they were there as the cast kept the audience captivated throughout. The brilliant use of the space available was amazing and never looked cramped. I particularly liked the costumes that looked so authentic, but were quite simple in design.

Ruddigore has some of the nicest music and is one of the funniest G&S operettas; and the cast certainly did it justice. The strength and purity of sound from the ladies chorus in their opening number set the tone for the evening. Their timing was great too, especially every time they burst into ‘Hail the Bridesmaid, Hail the Bride’ which was very funny.

Every one of the principle characters had lovely singing voices, which sadly is not always the case. Michelle Cooper playing Rose really understood her character and brought just the right amount of humour to the role especially when referring to her book of etiquette, not to mention her fickleness when choosing a suitable husband. Michelle has a good strong voice with a comfortable range. Andrew Doyle reminded me very much of the modern adaptations of G&S that were recorded in the 1970’s, when the principles took a more relaxed approach; but I really liked his style. Andrew and Michelle’s duet was truly touching. Richard Dauntless played by Gareth Wigg, is the likable ladies’ man in the show and Gareth did this really well. He is a definitive tenor with a nice tone and can reach the high notes with ease. He also can do a mean horn pipe. Roger Williams was the roguish Baronet who gave a good impression of this character and also has a lovely voice. Jane Bovell had a semi comedy role in the shape of Dame Hannah and would be a great poker player as she kept a perfect straight face. Her duet with Nigel Hughes as Sir Roderick, ‘The Great Oak Tree’ was beautiful. As for Sandy MacNiell, wow! I think she may be the best Mad Margaret that I have seen in amateur productions. Her portrayal was so good that you could almost feel her fragility of mind. It almost felt wrong to laugh at the Basingstoke reference as it was her safety valve but she was so good and gave a wonderful portrayal of this unusual character and her solo was sung with such pathos.

The ghost scene was nicely done and I thought the use of projection screens ingenious. The supporting cast of Di Hughes, Jackie Bedford, Nigel Hughes, Gordon Brigg and the remaining ensemble made this a terrific evening’s entertainment, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Thank you.

Louise Hickey (NODA)

Review of Christmas with the Phoenix Theatre Singers

The Phoenix Theatre Singers concerts never disappoint, a truism is borne out by the fact that all three nights were completely sold out in advance. And this year some new voices were on display. The concert opened with the traditional promise that ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, moving smoothly through seasonal songs, skits, a panto and some notable performances. Throughout it all the audience laughed, cheered and applauded in a party atmosphere made all the more pertinent by the presence of Musical Director Mary Brigg, nine days after a hip replacement sitting alongside the choir to sing with them. We need not have worried for the Singers were in the safe hands of conductor Angela Williams. And so the music was delivered with nuances of pace, light and shade and from the first item onward, smiles and excellent diction.

The first of the night’s solos was Graham Nicholson’s beautifully sensitive ‘Scarlet Ribbons’. That was followed shortly afterwards by the first ‘new voice’, young soprano Ellie Rigs in a delightful duet of ‘Walking in the Air’ with Jacky Bedford. The second half showed off the versatility of accompanist Richard Watson who deserted the keyboard to deliver a hilarious take-off of Peter Cook, teaming up with Gareth Wigg in a ‘Pete and Dud’ sketch largely of their own devising. And then another ‘new voice’, contralto Amber Prosser-Jones who enchanted us all with a song simply entitled ‘Believe.’

Two major Christmas classics were included in the programme; John Tavener’s ‘Carol of the Lamb’ in the first half and Adolphe Adam’s ‘O Holy Night’, both awaited with anticipation but it was ‘The Carol of the Lamb’ which took the evening’s honours as the carefully constructed disharmonies, supported by a strong bass line made us tingle.

The evening was compered by Gordon Brigg (who had plundered various boxes of Christmas crackers and other comic sources to keep the humour flowing; I shall now view Black Forest Gateau in a different light!). And so to the end where our involvement was triggered by participation in Noddy Holder’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ followed by Christmas carols. Once again, a good time was had by all.

Nicholas Malbre

Review of A Doll’s House

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“A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen is acknowledged as a masterpiece. In challenging the 19th C status quo it must have shaken patriarchal playgoers to the core. The “doll” in question is Nora, wife of Torvald Helmer, a banker who keeps his wife in a state of perpetual submission, denying her any responsibilities beyond domestic duty, constantly criticising and addressing her in childish baby-talk (“my little ‘spendswift’ etc”). As if this weren’t enough there is also a strong undercurrent, not of love, but of her sexual submission. Nora longs to rebel but she harbours a deadly secret, she has forged a signature in an illegal financial transaction, a scandal that would destroy her husband. The complex character of the overwrought, conflicted Nora is superbly played by Di Hughes (a Phoenix newcomer) playing against the icy, overbearing dominance of David Pollard’s Scandinavian banker. Into this comes Nils Krogstad (Tim Betts), demanding repayment of overdue loans under threat of exposing Nora. But who should appear on the scene but Nora’s neglected friend Kristine, (Amanda Smith, vulnerable and compassionate) seeking friendship and offering support. She has known Krogstad and intervenes but too late, an incriminating letter comes to light. Helmer is appalled but in the final scene the tables are turned; Nora asserts her independence and walks out, deserting her children and leaving him alone in his “doll’s house”. This was an accomplished production of a complex play with some beautiful characterisation. Ray Smith’s sensitive portrayal of Helmer’s friend Dr. Rank, in love with Nora and dying of syphilis inherited from his father. Tim Betts initially sinister as “Krogstad”, reveals a deeply complex character who finds redemption with Kristine. And one must not forget the servants; the children’s nursemaid Anne-Marie (Diana Tubb) winning the audience’s approval with her insidious disapproval of Nora, and Housemaid Helene, (Jacky Bedford), polite and obedient, but giving lip service to her mistress. Good all-round performances in a challenging play under the direction of Gordon Brigg (with assistant director Michelle Cooper); a challenge that the Phoenix Theatre Company succeeded in.

Brian Jackson

A Doll’s House

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“A Doll’s House” was written in 1879 and is set in Norway. It is a play partly about women’s rights written in an age when little progress had been made towards gender equality. I like to give people something that makes them think and perhaps discuss what they have seen. There are some wonderfully drawn characters: Helmer, a pompous banker; Nora his wife who suffers him. Her part is one of the most challenging female roles ever written, alongside Lady Macbeth and Hedda Gabbler for example. Krogstad a corrupt bank clerk, Dr Rank the family friend who is dying. Mrs Linde who has fallen on hard times and seeks Nora’s friendship and Anne Marie, the nursemaid, who has a troubled past. “A Doll’s House” was voted one of the hundred greatest plays ever written and it is a credit to The Phoenix Theatre that we can put on plays of this calibre alongside others such as “Amadeus”, “She Stoops to Conquer” and “A View from The Bridge”. I have great respect for Ibsen as a fascinating play writer and I encourage you to come along and experience our production of “A Doll’s House”.

Gordon Brigg (director)

Reviews of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Phoenix Youth Theatre)

Over the past few years we have become used to seeing the theatrical bar raised with each Phoenix Youth Theatre production. From their WW2 production “Raid” (scripted by the company themselves), through the epic “Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe”, to Willy Russell’s contemporary comedy “Stags and Hens” this award-winning company of young people have excelled. With this week’s production of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, PYT continue to push at the boundaries of professional theatre. “Alice” is not easy. The storyline does not pursue a natural narrative, but instead, with Alice’s descent down the rabbit hole to Wonderland we follow her through a series of bizarre episodes until she wakes to normality. The curtain opens on a colourful storybook set with a silk-draped garden bench on which sleeps Alice, (played to perfection by the delightfully bewildered Rosamund Williams). Woken by the White Rabbit her descent down the rabbit hole is the first “coup de theatre”. In a shaft of light on the darkened stage, amid vapour pouring from above, Alice climbs and trapezes high into the rabbit hole drapes before safely landing in Wonderland.

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Here the young cast, aided by superb costuming, imaginative face-paint and make-up, introduced us to a wonderful array of characters. Another “coup de theatre” – puppetry under ultraviolet lights with the puppeteers concealed behind black gauze enables the Cheshire cat’s disembodied grin to appear and disappear (together with the crocodile, lobster and assorted whimsies) alongside the onstage characters.

Click here to see a video of the opening scenes

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There were some memorable performances; Katie Pothecary (a PYT award-winning actress) brought a terrifyingly smiling Queen of Hearts to life. Morgan Harris’s deranged Duchess faultlessly delivering accelerating lines of nonsense; Eben Harris (Frog Footman) and Oscar Morgan (Fish Footman) two eleven year olds performing an hilarious double act, also stepping in front of the curtain to cover set changes going on behind (can’t wait to see more of them!). Then Mock Turtles Ollie O’Neill and Hannah Callen entertained us; and Knave Owen Needham-Church assisted by young Knave Noah O’Neill. With thirty young actors in the cast it is impossible to name them all, but their focus and concentration was total and all played their roles with distinction. Director Sarah O’Neill and her fabulous team of artists, costumiers, light and sound technicians, set builders, properties and backstage crew, all must be congratulated. Once again the Phoenix Youth Theatre bar has been raised in pursuit of excellence.

Brian Jackson

As the show started and Daisy Canham, as Alice’s older sister, set the scene beautifully I was thinking to myself, the lightings a bit low for the set… Then all became clear! There was so much going on that I didn’t know where to look first, but taking centre stage Rosamund Williams, playing Alice, did an amazing aerobatic display using two ribbons that were very cleverly utilised throughout the production. The UV lighting was another clever feature, especially in the very open stage area. The puppeteers did a brilliant job; I loved the Cheshire cat which was so simple yet effective. The set itself was fantastic, I loved the window over the door, and it truly amazes me how well the cast manage with such a limited space. I would love to mention everyone individually but if I did that, I would spend too much time making notes rather than enjoying the performance. Alice was well cast and I thought the facial expressions of the Frog Footman played by Eben Harris were better than a thousand words. On the whole I thought most of the cast did extremely well but occasionally I couldn’t hear some of the dialogue. Unfortunately the Jam Tart scene was very quiet and I must admit I found the musical underscoring very irritating on these occasions as I felt it masked the quieter actors. Morgan Harris was very funny as the Duchess, and Katie Pothecary was a very dominant Queen of Hearts. Ollie O’Neill and Hannah Callen were hysterically funny as the mock turtles; their interaction with the audience was great and the adlibbing natural and effective. Harriet Storey has excellent diction and was very good in both the Mouse and Queen’s Gnome characters. This really was a lovely production and the whole experience from entering the theatre to leaving was quite magical. Congratulations one and all for a lovely evening.

Louise Hickey (NODA)

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