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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 ...

Friday, 20 September 2013

3 J's and a Joanna - Dunstable Rep Theatre Club


The more perceptive amongst you will have noticed that I haven’t blogged anything for a little while. Given that most folks understandably fall asleep with my musings that’s about three of you. Her indoors has manfully plugged gaps in an early autumn bereft of theatre that appeals. To me that is. But deprived of anything that one usually craves, the urge inexorably returns. My doctor understands, nice man that he is. Explains why I decided to stick my oar into an experimental cabaret evening at the Rep. 3 J’s and a Joanna. The three jays are the singers and the Joanna is a piano. Rhyming slang. Geddit. Not Lumley or Trollope.  God, I am so intelligent. Pretty good. Them not me. And they will get better. Described themselves as stylish, camp, and bitchy. Or something like that. Certainly stylish, occasionally bitchy. And Camp? Well one of them was at the end, beautifully, in spades. But I won’t go there. Their sexuality is something secret between them and their instruments. And a friendly and biased audience so warm to them you could crisp toast on it.

The sniffy critic in me is rarely, if ever, seduced by a crowd overselling a product. Seen too many overpraised turkeys to be taken in by that ploy. But an act just starting out can be forgiven a bit of self indulgent camaraderie as they apply the professional spit and polish. Especially when they are, individually, as good and as talented as the three on stage. High notes and harmony did not always totally please and a couple of numbers, especially Defying Gravity, should either be reworked or quietly dropped. I favour the latter. But enough of their turns had me thinking that this interesting trio might have something. Joe Louis Robinson, the piano man, spun out a sensitive and gentle A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. Jenna Ryder-Oliver twisted and turned the tortuously difficult Words, Words, Words with linguistic aplomb. And Jaymes Sygrove wonderfully conveyed the camp receptionist in a very funny Welcome to Holiday Inn. Acting through song is definitely this threesome’s strength. Just my humble opinion for anyone still awake.

As if to emphasise that point the three combined in a finale that was clever and funny and expertly delivered. Design from the musical The Tailor Made Man. Stylish, bitchy, Esther Williams and Pola Negri. What more do you want. All in one glorious song. No, I’ve never heard of it either. But until tonight I had never heard of 3 J's and a Joanna. Given a bit of presentational polish to add to some obvious class I reckon a lot more folks will soon get to know them. Remember you heard it here first. If you aren’t asleep. Roy Hall

Jenna Ryder-Oliver is appearing at The Pheasantry (Chelsea) on 17th February 2014

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Griffin Players - The Vicar of Dibley

What is it that makes a popular TV sitcom? And can it be translated into a successful stage play? Well I suppose it can but it is a tricky feat to pull off. In the case of The Vicar Of Dibley, I’m sure most people would say that its success was almost entirely due to the fantastic cast of characters created by and around Dawn French’s charming lady vicar Geraldine. And therein lays the rub. Comparison to the original is never far from your mind, particularly when the stage adaptation is comprised of snapshots from the series. Admittedly some of the best moments, but all so well known it’s practically impossible to take the audience by surprise.

Director John O’Leary served up some innovative moments, particularly with the use of Luton Youth Chorale providing live music to welcome the audience and cover scene changes. A clever way to set the atmosphere. Likewise, pianist and choir mistress Julia Mcleish, leading the audience in a hymn preceding Geraldine’s first sermon, set the scene beautifully and established us as the congregation. But overall some of the pacing was a little slow and punch lines so predictable that comedy was often lost. 

On the whole the cast was a strong one, led by Dee Lovelock making a likeable and straightforward ‘Geraldine’, her timing was good and she made the part her own. And Matt Flitton was superb as the dopey ‘Hugo Horton’, absorbing all the mannerisms expected of the character but maintaining an inner truth. I found Alistair Brown’s ‘David Horton’ rather deliberate but his constant exasperation was never in any doubt, and Gary Nash produced an almost exact replica of the TV ‘Jim Trott’ to the delight of many. So precise in fact that it rather highlighted that others were not. Sadly the character that really didn’t work was ‘Alice’, the dippy, off-the wall verger. Jennifer McDonald tried valiantly to create her own version of this iconic sidekick, but in a team of lookalikes she was the one that was physically least like the original and suffered most in comparison.

I’m sure the company were pleased with their production and it was certainly successful at attracting a decent sized audience, no mean feat these days when theatre is considered a luxury and plays so rarely performed in Luton. It’s just a shame that such a weak script, by an un-credited author, is served up as a vehicle for supporting ‘Comic Relief’. But then TV sitcom adaptations are surprisingly popular if generally disappointing.  Frances Hall