Twelfth Night – February 2011


By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Peter Hall

Venue: Cottesloe Theatre

Date: Thursday, 24th February 2011

A slightly weaker production than I would have expected. Some performances were excellent, especially Charles Edwards as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, but Viola and Olivia were remarkably bland. Both actresses were reduced to grinning and simpering a lot, with no sign of the grief that both characters are supposedly suffering. Most peculiar. Malvolio was a nasty piece of work, and his mistreatment particularly unpleasant, as he was penned in a large bird cage and had to crouch on the perch with his knees up around his chin. His later appearance indicates how this has affected his knees. Sir Toby was full of life, and Feste was an older version, with good delivery of the lines, but overall the piece felt lacking in pace and focus.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

The Rivals – February 2011


By: Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Director: Peter Hall

Venue: Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Date: Saturday 19th February 2011

Bit disappointing, this. The set was fantastic, all in cream, with a marvellous trompe l’oie curve of Georgian rooftops in a crescent above the flat back wall, which had a magnificent central door, and two smaller doors to either side. Exits and entrances could also be made directly from the wings, and the curve of the rooftops came forward to yet another Simon Higlett picture frame, about halfway up the stage. In front of this were two elaborate doors, one on each side, and I did finally notice a beautiful parquet oval in the floor. So the location was abundantly clear, and with the extra furniture brought on and off (by liveried servants to boot), and wonderful costumes, there was plenty to enjoy visually.

This version of the play was an amalgam of the three ‘original’ versions, and while it was coherent, it did feel a bit minimalist at times. However, we got a fuller Mrs Malaprop than usual, which in this case was a real treat. Perhaps just shaded by my memories of Stephanie Cole’s portrayal, Penelope Keith did a fine job of getting across her character’s misuse of the English language, and I’m sure there were several instances which I’d never heard before. Peter Bowles was entertaining as Sir Anthony Absolute – not as physical as some we’ve seen, but he conveyed the changes of mood very nicely. The servants, Fag and Lucy were splendid, and I’ve often thought the servants’ parts are some of the best in the Restoration Comedies.

The main problems I found today were the weakness of the romantic leads, and the lack of a brisk pace to keep the energy up. It’s a problem with Peter Hall’s directorial style now that his productions are a lot less physical, and this can make things a bit dull, although there’s no doubt the language comes across brilliantly. Jack Absolute was played by Tam Williams, and seemed a bit weak. Lydia Languish was played by Robyn Addison, making her professional stage debut, and was sadly wooden and inexpressive. Annabel Scholey was fine as Julia, although Tony Gardner, excellent in other stage comedies we’ve seen, was rather dull as Faulkland. Gerard Murphy was good as Sir Lucius O’Trigger, but had relatively little to do, and I did like Keiron Self as Bob Acres, the unsuccessful suitor to Lydia, who manages to avoid a duel, but not the makeover from a tailor.

I still enjoyed seeing the play again – it’s a total classic – but I wouldn’t recommend the production as the best I’ve seen. Perhaps they’re just getting a bit jaded towards the end of their run.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

The Reluctant Debutante – February 2011


By: William Douglas Home

Directed by: Belinda Lang

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Tuesday 15th February 2011

Despite a quiet start, this became a rollicking good comedy, with a marvellous final act leaving us well pleased with our evening. The performances were all fine, although I find Jane Asher doesn’t manage scatty or neurotic very well – she always seems so organised and self-contained. Even so, the part came across well enough, and with good performances from the younger actors, and a great comic turn from Clive Francis as the reluctant father-of-the-debutante, we had a great time.

The set was a large sitting room in a London apartment, hired for the season by the Broadbent family, father, mother and seventeen year old daughter, Jane. Colours were basic cream, there was a table on the right and a sofa and chair on the left. The front door was off back right, bedrooms off back left, and the door to the kitchen was on the left behind the sofa. The telephone was prominent, sitting by the back wall beside the wide entrance to the sitting room. The costumes were naturally splendid, as befits a summer season with young ladies being presented at court.

The story worked itself out nicely. Jane isn’t keen on the young men she’s had to spend time with at the numerous balls and events so far. In fact, to her mother’s great concern, she doesn’t seem interested in young men at all, preferring her horse, Thomas, instead. Since William Douglas Home is a safe pair of hands, we can be fairly sure there’s no likelihood of lesbianism making an appearance, and sure enough it simply needs a misunderstood rakish sort with a preference for water and biscuits to change Jane’s mind. She’s fortunate enough to have two men after her though, both of them called David, the aforementioned rakish type and a Guards officer whose conversation is limited to car routes, and who has a nasty habit of grabbing young woman to try and kiss them. He’d tried it on before, at a weekend party, and when the young lady in question fled his embrace, she sought help from Jane’s other suitor, leading to the misunderstanding which brands him as a ne’er-do-well. Fortunately, he’s also the heir to an Italian Duke, and when his great-uncle dutifully pops off, leaving him with a title, Mr Broadbent soon takes advantage of the situation to change his wife’s mind about the Italian gentleman’s suitably as a husband for their daughter. We’re left with Mrs Broadbent, blissfully ignorant of the young man’s change of fortune, telephoning the new Duke to invite him to dinner, positively gushing in her excitement at Jane landing such a great prospect. I wonder what her expression will be when the Duke turns up for dinner.

I enjoyed a lot of the comments about the debutante production process, with references to the white slave trade and cattle markets. And the obvious mistaken identities were good fun too, along with Jane’s precocious understanding of sexual relationships, although she doesn’t quite grasp the idea of a ‘working girl’, probably to her father’s relief. Steve felt the audience were slow to get going, finding himself laughing at a lot of lines pretty much on his own; I just felt it was a bit of a slow-burner in the first act, but I still found several funny lines which weren’t getting the recognition they deserved. Anyway, it all turned out well in the end, so we went home happy.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

Capercaillie – February 2011


Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Sunday 13th February 2011

Another good concert from this group, preceded by an entertaining set from Richard Wood and Gordon Belsher, Canadians both from Prince Edward Island. Richard Wood is one of those pipe cleaner people, tall and thin with a mass of hair, a bit like Ian Anderson, and just as much of a showman. Apparently he started off as a youngster doing Irish dancing, and he treated us to a bit of that tonight along with some fireworks for their finale. His fiddle playing was pretty good too. Gordon Belsher had some interesting songs, and the two clearly got on very well. We bought the CDs.

Capercaillie were also on a mini tour (they just can’t take the long days on the road anymore), and gave us a good selection from their repertoire, several of which we recognised from the one CD we bought last time. Sadly, there were no more to buy this time, as they hadn’t brought any with them (shame!). Still, we had a good haul from the other acts, and although we were getting a bit tired by this time, we’d thoroughly enjoyed this mini-festival, and hope Chichester Festival Theatre can build on this for future years.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

The Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir – February 2011


Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Saturday 12th February 2011

The choir came out to do a few numbers at the start, followed by Allan Y Yn Fan, a Welsh folk group (yes, there are such things!), and then the choir did a longer stint after the interval. There were lots of chairs ranged in three rows at the back of the stage, with the microphones and usual kit about mid-stage in front of them, and a keyboard off to the left. The keyboard was for the choir’s accompanist, while the band had a range of instruments, as well as singing beautifully (their CD has a lovely version of All Through The Night).

I wasn’t so impressed with the choir tonight. I found the singing a bit on the thin side – I was expecting a richer sound – and the keyboard, set up to mimic a regular piano, seemed to be a fraction of a tone off-key with the singers, or vice versa, which grated with me a lot. The choir did a few songs unaccompanied, which worked ever so much better, as the balance was fine within the choir itself. I also wanted more Welsh songs from them, but they included a lot of modern numbers, including some I’d done as part of a choir in my schooldays, so I could make some direct comparisons and even  allowing for the mellowing effect of nostalgia, they didn’t come off best in my book.

However, the Welsh group, Allan Y Yn Fan, were much better. Their main singer has a lovely voice, and their blend of instruments was good, though I did get the impression they hadn’t been together long as they seemed a little rough to begin with. But they soon settled down, and had us well warmed up by the time we left the stage. And we bought several CDs of theirs.

For the second half, the choir actually used the chairs. Their leader did some patter between songs, to give the others a chance to rest their voices – his apparently could hold out for the whole evening without a break. His jokes concerned a couple, Dai and his wife (don’t remember her name), and kept us entertained in the gaps. Actually, they were the best bit of their section for me. They finished with a traditional Welsh song whose name I cannot spell, but which would be instantly recognisable to many, and rounded things off with the national anthems, British and Welsh. I can’t help feeling I’d like to learn the Welsh one sometime, though whether I will…….. We didn’t buy their CD, but I’m still happy to see another Welsh male voice choir in the future. I noticed the members of this one were mostly getting on a bit, so I hope they can get some new recruits to keep them going.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

Celtic Footprint – February 2011


Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Friday 11th February 2011

Another great evening of music, and a great way to start the year. The opening act was Cara Dillon, whom we hadn’t heard live before, although we had heard of her. She has a lovely voice, and we enjoyed her set very much, along with the details of her personal life – new baby, wrecked house thanks to flooding, new kitchen on the horizon, hubby in the doghouse for criticising her cooking, etc. Her technique for getting one of her twins to accept the new baby was interesting – she kept telling him they would give the baby back, and then when they were leaving for this gig he got all concerned, thinking she might actually do it. Good work. And we bought the CD.

Second act was Anxo Lorenzo, the Galician piper whom we’d enjoyed very much last year. He had a couple of extra players in his band, including a double bass player with one of those very thin electric basses, and another guitar player, as well as the fiddler and guitarist we reckon were with him last year. Another great set from him, with lots more whistles as well as the pipes, and we clapped and clapped. And bought another CD.

Finally, there was Lunasa, an Irish band who were on a mini tour, this being the last night (I think, although I might be getting confused with Cara Dillon, who was definitely on her way home after the gig). They were another great band whom we hadn’t heard before, and again, the CD is now in the car. They were basically instrumentalists, and fairly taciturn on the whole, although their ‘front’ man – he was actually on the far left – had a great line in patter, with comments about a particular tune being about a battle in his home town, a battle between him and his wife, in fact. He didn’t tell us who’d won, sadly. So, a great night, three CDs, and another two nights to go.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

Fairport Convention – February 2011


Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Tuesday 8th February 2011

This was an absolute stonker of a performance. Fairport were supported by Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts this time round, flushed with success from winning an award for best new song. They sang it for us as well, and fortunately, it was a good one – nothing like a big intro for inducing disappointment. CD already in the bag.

Fairport came on as their backing band for their last number, and then held the stage for their one opening number – a ‘brief’ version of the whole of Babbacombe Lee album. A mere forty-five minutes, and very enjoyable, if a tad long. I recognised the later songs, as Fairport have been doing mini-selections from the album for the last couple of years, and the familiarity helped with my enjoyment.

After the interval there was another good selection of songs, again dipping into the back catalogue for a number of them. Both Chris Leslie and Simon Nicol were in fine voice tonight, a considerable improvement over last year when Simon in particular sounded a bit rough. We may have caught them late in the tour last year, which can make a difference, or perhaps it was the much colder weather. Anyway, we enjoyed this even more this time, and didn’t stint ourselves when it came to the CD stall. Excellent.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

Goodnight Mister Tom – February 2011


By: David Wood

Directed by: Angus Jackson

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Friday 4th February 2011

This was a sweet little story, with a surprising amount of darkness, and unusual in that it clearly worked for audience members of all ages. I hadn’t read the original book, nor seen the TV version (Steve had), so I came to this completely fresh. I enjoyed it more than I expected, and although this was early in the run (it starts at Chichester and then goes on tour), I felt that they’d got up to a good standard already, no mean feat given that there are three teams of children to cover the tour dates.

The play tells the story of young William, who is evacuated prior to the outbreak of WWII, along with many other London children. He’s billeted on an old curmudgeon called Tom Oakley (as William’s surname is Beech, I thought they were well matched). [Actually, it’s Beach, so not such a good match except sound-wise] Naturally, the child overcomes his difficulties which were due to the abuse he’s suffered from his mother, while the old man learns to open his heart again after many years mourning his lost wife and baby. In other hands, this could be sentimental schmaltz, but here it’s a moving tale, with many ups and downs, and a real feeling of the community that William ends up being part of. About the only thing missing was the grown-up William as narrator, and possibly all the better for that. There was a good balance between the two stories, with neither of the main characters dominating, and good support from everyone else, especially Sammy the dog.

Now, they say never work with children or animals. We’ve also seen that puppets can be a problem as well. So when we get animal puppets within a few minutes, we know we’re in for a good time, while the actors…… Well, the actors will just have to accept they’re being permanently upstaged. At the post show, Angus Jackson told us that he’d made a similar comment to Oliver Ford Davies during rehearsal, to the effect that he needn’t worry about how he said a particular line as there would be a dog on stage at that point, so no one would be listening to him.

Sammy was lovely. Laura Cubitt, who ‘played’ Sammy, was remarkable, even getting the dog to breathe while he was sitting or lying down, waiting for the next bit of action. In the post-show, she was asked if she’d done any ballet training, and she had, but even so, she found herself getting stiff sometimes with the awkward positions, so Sammy occasionally moved around a bit, sniffing things, to give her a break.

The set worked pretty well, although I felt it was one area which may improve with practice. There are a lot of changes, and occasionally the pace slowed a little too much for me in the first half, although the second half worked much better. The platform in the middle of the stage which served as just about everything from a train platform to a stage to Mr Tom’s house to a shop to everywhere else in the country, rose up reveal the dingy, grimy flat where William’s mother lives, and to which William returns, reluctantly, to find he has a baby sister. His mother is clearly a nutter – she’s obsessive about denying William any fun, and has rules forbidding any sort of normal life, although as she’s produced another baby she’s clearly a hypocrite where sex is concerned. She ties William up under the eaves and leaves him with the baby cradled in his arms, and when Mr Tom finds them (he’s come to London because he’s worried about not hearing anything from William for weeks), the baby is dead.

William ends up in hospital, and because his mother can’t be found, the authorities are about to send him to a special nursing home where he can be tortured by psychiatrists instead. Mr Tom helps him escape, and takes him back to Dorset, where eventually he adopts William as his own son. All looks good for the lad, until his best friend, ????, also returns to London when his father dies, and gets killed by a bomb. It’s a tough time for William, and for us, but overall, we manage to get through it with the help of Mr Tom and Sammy (especially Sammy).

This was a very good production, and I hope they have a great time on tour. I wouldn’t mind seeing it again if it comes back this way.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at