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Sidmouth Manor Pavilion Theatre - An Inspector Calls (with James Pellow)

Folks who know me very well often say, kindly I think, that I should get out more. I’m a grumpy old sod at the best of times and in the ...

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Beauty And The Beast - Empire Theatre Arts

A guest review from Frances Hall with a four star rating. Given this fine company's history I am not surprised. Clearly I missed a treat. Much better than the horseracing results from York. Roy Hall

Beauty and the Beast

Disney musicals are not everyone’s cup of tea, and I think Mr Hall probably made the right decision to opt out of this one, purely from the point of view that he is much more inclined towards the gritty realism of a ‘Les Miserables’ or ‘West Side Story’ than this sweet and tender adaptation of the popular children’s love story. However, he did miss another stunningly produced offering from this talented group of youngsters. Being a director of musicals myself, I appreciate just how much planning and expertise Lucy O’Hare and her production team must put in before she embarks on her two week Summer School productions. Nothing is left to chance. The set is carefully conceived  and the means to construct it in place; the technical crew, some of the best available in the area, are booked and primed;  the Musical Director, Graham Thomson, with hand-picked orchestra, is ready to teach complex harmonies; Lucy’s mother Gaye is designing and making costumes (loads and wonderful for this production!). The list goes on.  I believe the principals are auditioned and cast in advance, but beyond that everything happens in two weeks of concentrated rehearsal. And that requires an enormous amount of enthusiasm and solid hard graft. And, wow, what enthusiasm leaps off that stage. No matter whether the part is big or small, chorus or principal, everyone is having a ball.

I went to the matinee and was predictably surrounded by wriggling, giggling, girly girls, many in replica ‘Belle’ party frocks who absolutely loved every minute. They all knew the story, the songs and the classic ‘Be Our Guest’ routine of dancing crockery. Wisely the production mirrored the film as closely as possible and the characterisations kept firmly in the two dimensional, no gritty realism required. None the less Ellie Reay was a charming and beautiful ‘Belle’, with real maturity in her singing, and Alistair Robinson a fine balance of angry ‘Beast’ and lost soul, played with depth. All the enchanted servants were good, although I lost some of the diction from ‘Lumiere’ (Harvey J. Eldridge) and Babette (Abbie Mead) in otherwise fine performances. Jessica Pegram as ‘Mrs Potts’ was particularly strong and sang the title number beautifully, sparkly supported by her tea-cup son ‘Chip’ (Connie Jenkins-Grieg). Cameron Hay was having a whale of a time with his excellent he-man ‘Gaston’ and was ably supported by an ebullient Harry Rodgers as ‘Le Fou’. The company numbers were all outstandingly well sung with some nice characterisations in the background. In the unenviable role of lone adult in the cast, Chris Young gave a touching performance as Belle’s father and would-be Heath-Robinson inventor ‘Maurice’.

Production-wise Fred Rayment’s lighting was absolutely superb, how lovely to be able to indulge in sumptuous ‘Disney’ effects. If I have a criticism it has to be that at times the pace dropped in some acting scenes, and for me I would have preferred that the Beast and the Prince were in fact the same actor, tricky but possible.  But, all in all, another in a long line of brilliant productions from Empire Theatre Arts. Can’t wait to see what next year will bring. Frances Hall

Friday, 16 August 2013

Star Gazing (Crackers and Turkeys)

I write two blogs to help me pass the time in my old age. The other one, no I ain't saying what it is, regularly gets between 100 and 200 hits a day and it won’t be long before it passes the 50,000 figure. In about two years. It amazes how folks find it because I don’t advertise. But it clearly has universal, if minority, appeal. The power of Google, I says. My theatre blog is much more localised and specific. Hence the hits are cumulatively lower and much more volatile. But still respectable with the 15,000 mark coming up and occasionally hits 200 in a day when a new show or play gets a comment. Folks may say they don’t read them but, clearly, some do. Long may they continue. Much as I enjoy my scribing I would give up if nothing got read. Whistling in the dark is a fruitless occupation. Not likely to happen because even a piece on a Radio Three play is still regularly viewed and a touring professional company recently put my four star rating of its show on its advertising blurb.

And that brings me on to those illusive stars. I need to put in a health warning here. They are just part of the fun I get from reviewing. Completely meaningless and unscientific and best ignored. Unless you get four or five. They are merely a snapshot of one man’s gut feeling and reflect absolutely nothing else. It was after I had reviewed about ten pieces that I decided to put them in. I had seen a couple of crackers (ACT’s Still Life and Empire Arts Les Miserables) and wanted to draw extra attention to them. It grew from there and now, when me and her indoors come home, the stars and half stars are debated almost as much as the production detail. It is a game we play which amuses. And that amusement is the sole purpose of my theatre blog. For me who writes and, hopefully, for those who read. Explains why I will never blog anything I completely loathed. Nil stars don’t exist for me. I used to savage the occasional piece for The Luton News but I was paid a miniscule sum to do that. Here I can just ignore them. Nothing is gained by me blogging that something is absolute crap. There is enough nastiness on the internet without me adding to it. So I only blog what I want and the truth, when it will hurt, is carefully wrapped. Or I hope it is.

I have posted about 80 pieces since I started just over two years ago. Ignoring previews and musings I reckon that means I have given my opinion on around 50 productions of one sort or another. (Oh, go on, count them. I can’t be bothered). A few do not get a star rating for numerous reasons. Not appropriate, as per St Andrews Christmas is a Coming or, in memory of the late Peter Clarke, A Night at the Theatre. Magnificent and uplifting celebratory evenings, they invoke emotions not conducive to analytical ratings. But most of the rest do. They have crafted for umpteen weeks, dotting every theatrical point and crossing every staging hurdle with meticulous care. Or they should have. So they deserve a star rating even if they, wisely, completely ignore it. I have never given five stars to anything, presumably because if I do I shall have to give up searching, but four* have scored four and a half which is almost the same. As I show  them as ***** then, as I tell folks, print the review out in black and white and it looks as if it is a coveted five. For those reading this and still awake the following explains how the rating is arrived at. We are a sad pair in our house.


See below or above


Virtually faultless in acting, direction, staging, imagination.


High quality acting throughout, especially principals. Usually imaginatively  staged and directed and rich in production values.


Strong acting, especially principals. Good production values, especially staging. Rated up to or down from four depending on overall coherence.



Good quality production with some excellent acting. Directing and staging generally good but lacking a special quality to make it exceptional.


Acting and direction generally good but not exceptional. Some weaknesses in smaller parts. Staging would have to be exceptional for higher rating.


Acting and direction acceptable but nothing in the production to grab the senses.


I like the company and I like the actors but nothing inspires.



So there you have it. Singularly pointless blog, singularly pointless read. But I bet some of you do.


Roy Hall


*Those four are:-

Still Life (ACT Company – July 2011)

Les Miserables (Empire Arts – August 2011)
And Then There Were None (Dunstable Rep – October 2012)

Hay Fever (Hitchin Queen Mother – June 2013)