Review of Viva’s production of Sue Townsend’s ‘Bazaar and Rummage’ in The Brook Soham on the 8th February 2018

February 13, 2018

You are always assured of good quality when you go to a Viva production and ‘Bazaar and Rummage’ was no exception. The clever script regularly played on words –the first sign of this in the title. We were not only entertained in the setting of a bazaar and rummage sale, we were also immersed in the bizarre behaviours of an array of anxiety-ridden agoraphobics and their so-called carers who had enough problems of their own.

The acting was excellent and had us thoroughly immersed throughout the play. Characters included Gwenda (played by Mary Barnes) the neurotic control freak, Fliss (Hannah Schunmann) the seemingly sole character on track only to reveal her own deep-seated anxieties in the end, Katrina (Sarah Shorney)  a dumb blond obsessed with Barry Manilow, make-up and pretty dresses, Bell-Bell (Anthea Kenna) with her obsessive compulsive disorder cleaning everything in sight, many times, wonderful Margaret (Kirsten Martin) outlandishly swearing, smoking against the rules and telling the harsh truth no matter what the circumstances and the WPC (Vicki Jelleyman) arriving near the end of the play provided another anomaly: a police woman who is afraid and hates people and the world.

The success of the play was not only the wonderful characterization by the cast, but the truthfulness of the anxieties, interaction and back-stabbing of the characters that is easily recognizable in any age.

Yet with all this serious exploration of the human condition the play was also hilarious. We could almost predict the rebellious quips and colourful comments by Margaret who, for example, was told not to swear and immediately and naturally replied with a string of expletives complaining about being restricted.

Director Gail Baker and her team are to be congratulated for such a wonderful, hilarious yet thought-provoking evening’s entertainment.

I look forward to their next event: ‘Hairspray’ from the 7th to the 10th March 2018 at the Brook, Soham contact details:



Review of Warren Mailley-Smith’s performance in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 10th February 2018

February 13, 2018

Local concert pianist, Warren Mailley-Smith, gave a wonderful St Valentine’s concert on Saturday. He has a phenomenal technique that never ceases to amaze. The strength, agility and fluidity of his playing in the most demanding passages enhanced the pieces wonderfully. His fingers flew over the keys giving each phrase the right amount of pressure so that we were mesmerised with clear powerful melodies and flowing accurate rapid accompaniments. He often used that special musical technique of holding back just a moment, making the listener wait until the last second before a poignant note is struck inextricably drawing us into the inner workings of the music.

The programme was especially well devised and the inclusion of the highly competent Veles ensemble and Susan Parkes (soprano) coloured the performance positively.

The variety of composers included in the programme added to the sparkle of this wonderful evening too. The compositions chosen were those unforgettable, romantic favourites that reflected the romantic nature of this Valentine’s Concert perfectly.

In Debussy’s ‘Claire de Lune’, I could at easily imagine moonlight shimmering on the water, his fluency  reinforcing the nature of this impressionistic work.  Other notable items included Mendelssohn’s ‘Song without Words’, Liszt’s ‘Lieberstraume 3’, Chopin’s ‘Fantasy Impromptu’, Pachelbel’s Canon in D and a delightful selection of Puccini’s best arias. The thrill and excitement of the final rhythmical foray in works by Piazolla, brought this wonderful concert to a most entertaining close.

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Review of ‘The Wiz’ by Witchford Amateur Dramatic Society at Witchford Village College on Friday 2nd February 2018

February 5, 2018

Who needs TV when you see a show like ‘The Wiz’ produced and directed by Witchford’s own Lucy Short? I stopped watching one of those live talent shows on TV recently because the singer was NOT using his voice well. It was excruciating.

Yet, here, in the village of Witchford, this so-called ‘amateur’ production reached the heights of real professionalism without a doubt. Every participant sang proficiently, their voices clear, well produced and evoking emotions that had the packed audience spellbound.

The characters were clearly defined. They were natural, and believable, not like the forced American caricatures that so many productions of The Wizard of Oz exhibit. Dorothy (played by Kerry Maltby) was wonderful, not so much the naïve little girl but a real flesh and blood young human being enduring trials that brought her insight.

The scarecrow (Joe Robbins) had the most amazing vacant expressions. We were in no doubt that he needed ‘a brain’.

Lion (Steve Barker) trembled delightfully, using his costume to great effect, the Tin Man (Craig ‘Banjo’ West) opened with very realistic mechanical movements that soon melted as we witnessed his apparent developing ‘heart’.

Aunt Em (Lucy Short) and Uncle Henry (Dylan Cardwell) were just as you would imagine a kindly aunt and uncle.

The witches were personalities that stood out clearly. Evillene (Sarah Bloor) revelled in her malevolent antics, Glinda (Carole Robbins) was goodness itself, while the lovable Addaperle (Chloe Grimes) looking good in blue hair and red-rimmed glasses reminded many of us of a kind Aunty we know.

The Wiz (Claire Mead) huffed and puffed with glorious intimidation made all the better by her amazing costume.

Other vital contributors to this fine drama were Kalidah (Kerry Wallis), Lord High Underling (Dan Waller), The Gatekeeper (Chris Jones), Messenger (Emma Mcclagish), the Crows (Alfie Peckham, Toby D’Cunha), Head Munchkin (Chris Jones), Assistant Munchkin (Dan Waller), the Wiz Singers and the myriads of young people filling the stage.

The stage was packed, yet movements were interwoven very effectively, the participants living the part, especially some of the highly talented youngsters.

Costumes, scenery, and make up were splendid.

The band excelled with a wide variety of sounds and sound effects that created an up-beat, infectious, all-embracing atmosphere that was a vital part of events, not a mere accompaniment.

The sound was also expertly controlled so that we could clearly hear the soloists as well as the amazing backing groups.

This was indeed a fantastic production. Director/Producer Lucy Short and her co-producer Craig ‘Banjo’ West, Jonathan Carter and Naomi D’Cunha (Musical Directors) and their teams are to be congratulated for such a wonderful evening’s entertainment of the highest quality. We are very fortunate to have such talented, hard-working villagers in our midst.


A review of G4 in Ely Cathedral on Thursday 23rd November 2017

November 26, 2017

With the queue of people spilling right out onto the pavement from the entrance of Ely Cathedral, it was obvious that this evening was going to be something particularly special and G4 is a group that has certainly stood the test of time and is as popular as ever.

The evening contained a full and varied programme of music that not only gave us a good taste of Christmas to come, it also touched the heart strings as only experienced singers can do. There were times of joyful acknowledgement of the coming season with traditional carols such as ‘Away in a Manger’, ’O Little Town of Bethlehem’ and ‘Good King Wenceslas’ and the audience was delighted to have the chance to join in with some of them.

The highlights for me were the more pensive moments, especially when this group: Jonathan Ansell, Ben Thapa, Mike Christie and Nick Ashby, moulded together in that memorable harmonic texture that they are renowned for. ‘I can’t help falling in love’ was especially moving.

There were also more jolly moments and the encore medley was particularly effective.

A young choir from Milton Keynes provided variety and it was not doubt that the children were delighted to be on stage with such famous people. They certainly livened up the evening with their lively song in the second half of the programme

The accompanists, A.J. Moore (guitar) and Jonathan Eyre (piano and organ) were fine musicians and supported the event superbly.

This was a highly successful even and there was no doubt that the fans weren’t disappointed. You need to book up now if you want to get into their return performance in the cathedral next year!



A review of ‘Prime Brass’ in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 11th November 2017

November 14, 2017

Prime Brass is renowned as an excellent group of brass players and tonight the standard of music was as high as expected. Conducted by Paul Trepte they gave magnificent performances opening proceedings with the majestic but sombre ‘Marche Triomphale du Centenaire de Napoléon’ by Louis Vierne,

This was followed by an original composition commissioned for Paul Trepte: ‘Fanfares and Chorale’. Paul’s composition was one of the highlights. He explored the contrasts of the more precisely articulated and triumphant fanfare and the more sonorous chorales intriguingly well while creating a cohesive and interesting piece as a whole.

Other delightful pieces performed by this group were ‘Salvum fac populum tuum’ by Widor and ‘A night on a Bare Mountain’ by Mussorgsky arranged by K. Singleton.

Later in the programme, Guy Llewellyn’s arrangement of ‘Mars the Bringer of War’ by Holst was especially effective and the sense of foreboding and the impending horror of war were never lost.

The younger Prime Brass group excelled themselves. Under the baton of Christopher Lawrence they flourished and the pieces they played rang out beautifully and triumphantly through the magnificent vaults of Ely Cathedral. Their ‘Fanfare for a Royal Occasion’ by Ken Naylor, Rigaudon by Campra and ‘Remember’ by Jasper Eaglesfied were delightful. ‘Remember’ was especially interesting for it was commissioned from the young composer who could be found in the midst of Junior Prime Brass. He should go far.

When the groups came together at the end of the concert, the impact of such a powerful sound and the amazing precision of their playing, especially in ‘A Poetic March’ by Alford was particularly noticeable. With fireworks resounding in the park next door before the concert began, the final piece, Handel’s ‘Fireworks Suite’ culminated the concert perfectly.

This was a splendid memorable concert in keeping with this special day.



Review of ‘Show of Hands’ in Ely Cathedral on Wednesday 8th November 2017

November 10, 2017

Ely Cathedral was the right place for Kirsty Merryn, Steve Knightley, Phil Beer and Miranda Sykes to enthrall the packed cathedral with their strong emotive sounds catching that intangible emotional pull of folk-like songs that tell tales of the human condition from time immemorial.

With very effective lighting that changed as the mood or message of the songs altered, these performers showed tremendous skill with their voices and with their instruments ranging from keyboard, violin, lute, accordion or guitar to double bass.

Steve Knightley, on guitar, demonstrated his emotive strengths when he first sang with Kirsty in a duet during her opening songs. Kirsty’s original songs were youthfully spirited and charming and her keyboard accompaniments tasteful and tuneful. Many of her songs are featured in her new album ‘She and I’ about women of history.

The members of this excellent acoustic band, ‘Show of Hands’, Steve Knightley, Phil Beer and Miranda Sykes were well attuned to each other and created many moving moments of beautifully blended harmony.  One of the most effective instants was when they moved down the aisle in the cathedral their voices echoing atmospherically into the vaults of this superb building. Their stage performances evoked many a melancholic story of folk from different parts of England and from different times. More often than not, they accompanied themselves with toe-tapping rhythms reminiscent of Irish exuberance and it was very hard not to tap one’s feet as their music seemingly got carried away. It was easy to see why they are so popular. There must be very few people who do not relate to the messages of their songs.

This was indeed a wonderful evening.

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a review of ‘Brassed Off’ presented by Viva in Soham on Thursday 9th November 2017.

November 10, 2017

What an excellent production it was! ‘Brassed Off’ directed by Keith Gallois and Judith Collingswood and produced by Keith and Alison O’Connor, was a magnificent show. All the characters rang true and through their fine acting we were transported into the lives of the mining families in times of trouble, sharing with them the agony of poverty and the humour needed for survival. With the superb performances by Soham Comrades Brass Band, we were treated not only to an admirable presentation of what many of us remember from the film, but the music was a splendid treat too.

David Tickner played Danny to the tee. He was indeed a band conducting fanatic. His grandson Shane (played by Alfie Peckham) was an ideal young boy acting the part with natural flair.

The main miners and band members, Jim (Steve Perry), Harry (Geoff Fisher), Phil (Darren Smith) and Andy (Will Cahill) were wonderfully ‘laddish’ and some of the best scenes that were probably some of the most difficult to present successfully, were those when the band slowly disintegrated into a cacophonous mess after the members had had a few too many drinks at each village on their tour.

The wives, Vera (Sue Perry), Rita (Mandy Morrish) and Sandra (Sophie Plachcinski) were all credible partners whose passion was evident right from the start. Gloria (Amy Noonan) was a superb representative of the powerful managers who had obviously decided to close the mine, in spite of her glowing report of how successful it could have been. Her naivety came through very well and added spice to her relationship with her old flame Andy. He was indeed a young lad with an eye for the girls and incapable of arriving to band practice on time.

A mention must go to the actor Andy Gillett who gave an unnervingly realistic portrayal of the bailiff. Other vital contributors were Bridget Hickish, Gemma Politt, Dave McCalpin, Clare Gillet, Justine Whitworth, Helen Meads, Benjamin Surridge, Ruby Fordham, Sarah Boor, and Ellie Gillett.

Congratulations to everyone who took part and provided the support that is always much needed and which was very much in evidence in this excellent production. .

This was indeed a most satisfying night’s entertainment. As one member of the audience was heard to say, ‘Who needs the West End when we have productions like this here?’



Review of The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Corn Exchange, Cambridge on Thursday 2nd November 2017

November 2, 2017

What an exhilarating evening! This concert, more than ever, demonstrated to me just how much more there is offered in a live concert than the plethora of recorded music we hear these days.

Cambridge was the ideal place for performing the one of the items in the programme: ‘The Wasps Overture’ for the composer Vaughan Williams wrote this music for a production of a satirical play of the same name at Trinity College Cambridge.

The music indeed brought to mind the sinister buzzing of wasps as well as the venomous antics of the legal profession.

In this wonderful concert, the opening ‘Coriolan Overture’ by Beethoven demonstrated immediately that we were in the presence of experienced, skilful and sensitive musicians.

In this piece, and throughout the evening, the conductor Barry Wordsworth, brought out the subtleties of the music splendidly with compelling restraint in the most gentle episodes to the dramatic outbursts of the more bombastic moments. This splendid orchestra is a real asset as the Orchestra in Residence at the Corn Exchange.

Piano soloist, Janina Fialkowska was magnificent. Her phenomenal technique identified the key musical content of Chopin’s virtuosic and rather complicated score in his second piano concerto. Within the busy fabric she teased out Chopin’s moving melancholic melodic strains from the abundant virtuosic flourishes to the basic harmonic accompaniment. Her musical understanding and skill was always apparent.

The final ‘Enigma Variations’ by Elgar was the most inspiring and exhilarating performance of this popular work that I have ever heard. While appearing to be a complex score with clever intertwining of the theme in the extremely diverse variations, we could enjoy this work perfectly at face value, revelling in the different characteristics of the friends Elgar featured. We revelled in it all: rapid chattering, bombastic outbursts, tentative stammering, gentle laughter, the helter skelter of a bulldog, grandeur and strength, charming delicacy, emotional tenderness, and triumphant confidence. The pieces came alive while throughout the variations there remained that intriguing enigma that has never been explained – just perfect.

This was indeed a wonderful evening.

The next concert in this Cambridge Classical Concert Series is on Thursday 18th January 2018 featuring the City Of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. for more information:



Review of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in The Performing Arts Theatre Soham Village College on Thursday 26th October 2017

October 29, 2017

What a wonderful evening! We were transported into a joyous fantasy world of sparkling music and fairytale magic that caught our imaginations superbly. We adored Belle (played by Holly Pryke) who was the beautiful young maiden with the lovely voice who deftly spurned the advances of the conceited Gaston (Zack Wymer).  We loved her as she worried and cared for her eccentric father Maurice (Javier Londono) and eventually cast away the evil spell on the Beast (Torin Fahy) so he could turn into the handsome prince he once was and they could live happily ever after. There was hardly a dry eye in the house.

The whole cast was magnificent, from the ensembles to the major roles. Movements on the stage were swift and uplifting to witness and the tableaux that grew to fill the stage only to melt away imperceptibly were delightful. The singing was of a very high standard and it was very moving to see such a host of young people obviously enjoying themselves as they ‘sang their hearts out’.

Besides the excellent main characters, including Le Fou (Zak Potts), and Madame D’Arque (Megan Godfrey), the entrapped objects in the castle who longed to return to their human form when the spell was broken, added a great deal.  The clock (Cogsworth played by Callum Moffat) , candlestick (Lumière – Mark O’Reilly) wardrobe (Madame de la Grande Bouche – Dresden Goodwin), teapot (Mrs Potts – Phyllida Hickish) teacup (Chip – Ruby MacDonald) and feather duster (Babette – Kiera O’Reilly) carried out their roles particularly well, their different characters sharply defined and entertaining.

The groups whirled and twirled smoothly and the wolves were particularly menacing with their fluid advancing, retreating and intertwining. The choreographer Louise Plummer and Music Director Jenny Taylor-Surridge have much to be thanked for.

Abby Cornwell, Lola Macdonald and Sienna Warder played the Silly Girls perfectly while Edward Rees, Jack Gash, Katie Kirkpatrick and Summer Dowling were admirable narrators.

The directors Ben Clarke and Lee ‘Glee’ Sherwood and the remainder of their team must be congratulated for such a fantastic production.

The next Viva production at the Performing Arts Centre in Soham is ‘Brassed Off ‘ 9-11th November 2017 contact:


Review of ‘Cambridge Voices’ in the Lady Chapel in Ely Cathedral on Monday 28th August 2017

September 2, 2017

review Ian de Massini 2017Ian de Massini and Cambridge Voices have done it again. There was obviously good reason for this annual concert arranged by Babylon Arts/ ADeC being so popular. The packed audience in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral thoroughly enjoyed yet another Ian de Massini magical experience, one that oozed musical quality, exquisite sonorous voices, and delicious full-blooded harmonies.

The sound of a tolling bell was enough to tell us that we were about to become part of an amazing event as the choir members solemnly moved slowly in file to take their places surrounding us while they were singing. It was mesmerising.

The works these amazing musicians presented included much early church music which relied on the flow of separate parts imitating each other in a multi-faceted fabric that was further enhanced by the acoustic of the building. The clarity, accuracy and tonal purity of the voices were ideal. Also, the choice of composers was just the ticket – especially Duruflé, for not only was his music designed for high vaults of a church building, he, more than many others, managed to capture the essence of the expressive intention of the words.

Highlights for me included the opening plainsong Procession, ‘Jesus autem transiens’, the unexpected ‘jazzy’ ‘Do what the Spirit says!’, Ian’s arrangement of ‘Panis Angelicus’, ‘Messe de Requiem’ by Duruflé and  Widor’s ‘Toccata’ from Organ Symphony no. 5 arranged to include voices by our own David Willcocks who was not unknown to Ely Cathedral in the past. The ‘Pie Jesu’ in Duruflé’s Requiem was also delightful, featuring the rich, resonant voice of mezzo soprano Lucy Taylor, a splendid ‘cellist Philippa Jones and the highly skilful organist Christopher Saward.

The whole splendid event was a result of the talented and phenomenal Ian de Massini who obviously lives and breathes music and who arranged much of the music making this whole event a splendid 30 years’ celebration.

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