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Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Review of the Year

.............an alternative view
Been doing this theatre blog since the summer of 2011. 15,700 hits to date, so some pernickety folks read it. Since giving out my much prized inaugural gongs (3/6d on eBay) in July 2012 I have seen about twenty five more theatrical offerings. Doesn’t sound an awful lot but, for this creaking gate, it is living life in the bacchanalian fast lane. Whilst many folks whizz around the world seeking adventure, I curl up and read my Racing Post. Welwyn and Hatfield is the nearest I get to dangerous outer reaches. Doesn’t do to be too brave. Except when giving your theatrical opinion. Now that is really foolhardy.
ACT’s Still Life snaffled my first dubious plaudit last year, don’t think they sent it back, so I thought it was about time I had a second go. More fruitful than peeling turkeys or stuffing sprouts, so I am told. Besides, practically everyone, with the possible exception of knitting pattern compilers, does a review of their particular year. So why not me? Except, quirky sod that I am, mine is a year and a bit. Brings me up to date. August 2012 – December 2013. Buy three for the price of two or, almost, buy one opinion and get one free. Bogof as some would justifiably say. I think I will but, before I do, read the following. You won’t learn anything but you might have a bit of fun disagreeing with me. Or failing that, go and stuff some brussels.

Didn’t see everything on offer, can’t stand visiting Luton’s Library Theatre these days, so my list is pretty selective. But I did take in 11 of the 12 offerings by Dunstable Rep and Wheathampstead Dramatic Society, only missed Little Voice, so few excuses there. A dozen or so others, from Welwyn to Hitchin, from Eaton Bray to Sidmouth, were also scooped into my arbitrary net. Any miffed locals, steaming at omission of their faultless offering, have a ready excuse. I didn’t see it. My New Year Resolution should be to widen my net to take in Hitchin (Bancroft Players), St Albans (Company of Ten) and Welwyn (Barn). But I don’t do New Year Resolutions. Resolved not to, long ago. I broke everyone I ever made, including lighting up three minutes after I vowed to quit smoking. I have no backbone. Never have. But I do have an amazingly bloody cheek. Here it is, in chronological disorder. My best of my elongated reviewing year:-

And Then There Were None (Dunstable Rep – October 2012)

Calendar Girls (Wheathampstead – February 2013)

Children’s Hour (Dunstable Rep – May 2013)

Into The Woods (St Andrews – May 2013)

Spring Awakening (Icarus Theatre Company – May 2013)

Hay Fever (Hitchin Queen Mother – June 2013)

Twelfth Night (ACT Theatre – July 2013)

Some others scored notable individual performances (see below) but the above productions, for me, had that extra collective grip which creates a completely satisfying evening of theatre. If I have to single out any, why not, I will give my joint 3/6d eBay gong to And Then There Were None (Director-Alistair Brown) and Hay Fever (Director-Nicki Pope) for productions which were virtually faultless. I am sure they will live it down.

As a large chunk of the actors on the above list impressed, I am going to get picky in the interest of brevity. No gongs here, aint fair, just a few from the above plus special mention for other thespians who stood out in the memory, and still do, from productions lower down my pleasurable scale. A lot of women figure which says a lot about my age. Or my tablets. Here goes, whether you want it or not.

Irene Morris (Helen – Wheathampstead)

Peter Carter Brown (Hamlet – Dunstable Rep)

Barbara Suggitt (Calendar Girls – Wheathampstead)

Mandy Lindsay (Steel Magnolias – Eaton Bray)

Angela Goss (Female of the Species – Dunstable Rep)

Anna Carter-Brown (Children’s Hour – Dunstable Rep)

Jenny Ryder-Oliver (Into the Woods – St Andrews)

Becky Leonard (Hay Fever – Hitchin)

Malcolm Farrar(Twelfth Night – ACT)

Sarah Brindley (Educating Rita – Wheathampstead)

Honourable mentions should also go to Stephanie Overington (Hamlet), Kim Allbone, Rona Cracknell, Victoria Moyle (Children’s Hour), Emma Orr (Into the Woods), Natalie Gordon, Laura Eason, Paul Wade, Charles Plester (Hay Fever), Adam Lloyd Jones, James Trapp, Miranda Larson (Twelfth Night).

So that is it for 2013 folks. Been a busy year. Apart from blogging I have trod the boards (Wilde’s An Ideal Husband) and waved the director’s baton (Ayckbourn’s Table Manners). I was of course brilliant in both roles. Not that you will read that here. Far too modest.

Happy New Year.

Roy Hall














Sunday, 15 December 2013

Christmas is a Coming (St Andrews) - Update 2013

I am renowned for repeating myself but, to date, have never done it on this blog. At least not intentionally. Gonna do it now I am afraid, so all those with better things to do please move on. John O'Leary and Emma Mills took an old favourite, it still is, and gave it a stimulating theatrical twist. This year's offering retained the essential heart of the special evening I wrote about two years ago (see below) but did so with refreshing and entertaining style. So I was doubly pleased. Shan't review it. Not that sort of evening. But I loved it so much it is worth reminding folks of why St Andrews Christmas is a Coming helps to make this goodwill season what it is. Sent my lovely brother and his wife back to the Midlands with a glow you could see for miles. Roy Hall - 15th December 2013
Here is my piece from 2011. I still feel the same, soppy sod that I am.
The St Andrews Players Christmas warm up in Luton has been doing its stuff, on and off, for twenty seven years and I reckon I have seen most of them. It isn’t great theatre, it isn’t meant to be, but that is hardly surprising. The players generally put it all together in a few days after their autumn production. But it is great entertainment and, more importantly, it’s our first real taste of the forthcoming festivities. It gives off a wholesome glow you could warm your feet on. I value such glows and in the one year I was deprived of their carols, festive songs, and readings, I stuck in my interfering oar. I face the household preparations of stuffing turkeys and hanging baubles much better if I have had my annual fix of ‘Follow the Star’ and ‘Sleigh Ride’. And it ain’t just me. Over the years I have dragged a variety of people along to it, old friends, new friends, neighbours and relatives. And they all come away with that warm glow of which I am so fond.

It has gone through a few changes. In the early days we used to sit around tables and sup wine and dive into nibbles in a church hall. Nowadays it all takes place in the church and we sit in pews. I worried at first that it might lose its easy charm and become too similar to the many church events that take place in December. I love a carol service as much as the next man but I like the St Andrews Players difference. There is something a bit special about singing ‘Hark the Herald’ and then sitting back as the performers stuff Santa and his ilk up a chimney. And what we like most, and there were a lot of us last Saturday night, is the things that rarely change. Nothing pleases like an old pair of comfy slippers and the familiar and oft repeated will generally score over the new. Oh all right, I admit that the wassailing song does nothing for me but then some folks, weird as they are, don’t like Sleigh Ride. There is no accounting for taste. But we love the Silent Nights and the Bleak Midwinters, the Dreaming of a White Christmas and the one that tells you all to Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas. Whoever gets the nod to sing that one, and they are usually good, I get very emotional. And critics being emotional are about as rare as a nine pound note. And we pew sitters all love doing our bit for the Twelve Days of Christmas. Personally I prefer being a lord a leaping to a turtle dove as you don’t have to get up so much. But we all, young and old, jump up and down with innocent abandon. You don’t generally get much of that in Luton.

Like all such events it has its serious side. It gives players who rarely get a chance to lead in major productions the opportunity to have their own five minutes, and it often showcases a new young talent yet to tread the boards in earnest. The critic in me, the unemotional one undisturbed by warm glows, has honed in on more than one teenage stunner over the years. I suppose I should rephrase that but I think you get my drift. And that drift is that this annual event, twenty seven years strong, with its silly five minute pantomimes and a chairman who always misses the entrance of Father Christmas is an occasion I unashamedly pin my colours to. The Mills Family, and there are a lot of them, do themselves and us proud. I reckon there were over two hundred warm glows around Denbigh last weekend, many hugging old friends. Early frosts and economic glooms got short shrift. Long may Christmas is a Coming survive. There are probably, in small villages and humble towns, hundreds of such events all over the country. They are the unrecorded tiny blessings of a celebrity obsessed and media driven culture. And if they are half as entertaining as our St Andrews offering then Christmas will be good. Even if you don’t like Sleigh Ride.

Roy Hall - December 2011

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1)

Hello, I can hear you say. Not a bloody word from him for weeks and he flags up a piece on a TV programme. Isn’t this supposed to be a theatre blog? Well, yes it is, and in defence there ain’t anything more theatrical than the Strictly lot on Saturday nights. So I am told. Personally I rarely watch it, reasons later, but do confess to a slightly mischievous frisson on the Sunday ditching of some hapless soul who has been loved, but not enough. Must be my upbringing.

But to explain. Been busy the last month or so directing my Harpenden lot in Alan Ayckbourn’s Table Manners. Pretty pleased because doing it in the round, no stage flats for this one, seemed to work and we had sell out houses every night. Not being into self promotion on this blog (that’s a laugh, they says, the whole blog is a form of self promotion) I say nothing else about it. But it did mean I missed Dunstable Rep’s latest offering. Little Voice. Pity, because they had a seriously good director and, on paper, an excellent cast. Pretty rare omission for me. The last time I missed a Rep production I reckon I was in short pants. As you don’t want to know about my private life I shall swiftly get back to Strictly.

Get back to it maybe, but clearly I don’t get it. Almost a minority of one in theatrical circles. And here come the tenuous blogging link. Judged by various comments from my cast and one or two at the Rep, I don’t tweet but I can facebook with the best of them, half of the actors couldn’t wait to ditch their scripts and settle down to their weekly fix of undiluted hysteria. And that’s its problem for me. I can just about stomach the frontmen, except the one I am convinced is a witch, and the judges have some individual charm. Bruno may be a demented Italian waiter and Craig, bless him, a nitpicking piranha but they can knock any Simon Cowell formation into a cocked hat. It’s the bloody audience I can’t stand. Drives me away from the screen quicker than you can say old seventies sitcom. They scream and boo at judges comments regardless of whether they are justified. The rule seems to be the bad gets booed and the good gets cheered. Nothing wrong with that if allied to performances but, sadly, performances seem almost to be incidental to audience frenzy.

If you don’t believe me think about the worst aspect of a programme that could, without its audience, be almost watchable. Every now and then you get moments of pure dancing theatre. It may be the professionals doing a turn with a guest singer in the background, occasionally it is a celebrity reaching the heights with a consummate partner. Music, staging, bodies, all combine in moments of physical poetry and tenderness. And then the audience scream their appreciation. Not at the end but during the twirls. The mood is destructively broken, not just for you but them as well. Only they do not realise it. Fired on by mindless TV executives who should know better those collective morons clap and scream to order. If they did it at the theatre you would walk out in disgust. As it is, I just go and make the tea and pray that one day, one day, they will defy their puppet masters and, presented with fleeting artistic beauty, remain silent.

Until the end.

Some hope.

Strictly Come Dancing?

No thanks folks.

Don’t have an opinion on the show, but I can’t stand the audience.

Roy Hall