Review of ‘Cats’ by the King’s School Junior School on Friday 24th March 2017

March 26, 2017

What an amazing production! The King’s School Ely Junior School gave a splendid performance of ‘Cats’ by Andrew Lloyd Webber in the Hayward Theatre on Friday. I’d been to see the show in London many years ago, and, frankly, I preferred this performance. The forty or so cats that stretched and moved about the stage in a particularly believable feline fashion, the genuineness of the chief characters and the fantastic music in the Junior School production were just the ticket.

With amazingly effective make up and costumes, these performers presented the array of feline characters splendidly, exhibiting not only their varied personalities, but with superb singing they brought out their inner feelings magnificently.  From the jazzy and sexy numbers to the emotional pull of ‘Memory’ these cats kept us transfixed.

The choreography was astonishing and the lithe suppleness of the cast kept us in awe. Cartwheels, doing the splits, tap- dancing, you name it, it was there in one highly entertaining, cohesive production.

Imaginative stage scenery also helped to set the mood well.

Director Kathryn Sudbury, Choreographer Natasha Hobbs and Musical Director Neil Porter-Thaw and their teams are to be congratulated for a fantastic show. It is quite easy to understand why it ended with a spontaneous standing ovation!


Review of ‘Any Major Dude’ in the Cambridge Picturehouse 20th March 2017

March 21, 2017

Up and coming writer/producer John Holdsworth, in conjunction with Peter Tomalin,  has created a real gem. This low budget film captures the idiosyncrasies of village people in delightful, hilarious scenarios and as gardening journalist Colin Coombs deals with an array of negative life events that seem to be trying to bring him down, we experience his struggle and the irritation of friends who pull no punches.  We share with Colin the angst he has when he thinks his wife Freya wants to go back to her ex:  Gordon ‘Midge’ Midgely.  This film captures the essence of village characters, some of the most memorable, the jovial unnerving doctor, the new neighbours who get the wrong end of the stick, and precocious children who excel where the adults fail.  The plot builds us up to great expectations, our hearts in our mouth as we fear Colin and his friends will make  fools of themselves when the new band they have formed perform badly at Freya’s 40th birthday party , but the twist in the tale makes a  perfect ending.   A brilliant cast gave us an authentic taste of village life with sincere and credible acting. Director Sean Baker with John Holdsworth are to be congratulated for a fantastic film, a film that gives us a jolly good laugh for a change. Let there be more, I say.

Review of ‘Legally Blonde’ by Viva at the Brook, Soham on Thursday 2nd March 2017

March 3, 2017

Viva dazzled us yet again with another vibrantly energized musical production in the Brook last night. It was fantastic! ‘Legally Blonde’ was no simple story about a blonde girl proving her worth, it was packed with humour, pathos and easily identifiable characterizations as blonde girl becomes a lawyer learning many home truths on the way.

The music was first class, all singers and instrumentalists producing clear, resonant and wholesome sounds enhancing the plot beautifully while excellent acting, slick staging, glitzy choreography, credible costumes and subtle and effective lighting had us spellbound.

Ellie (played by Riley Williams) portrayed this leading part perfectly making a wonderful debut with Viva. She was indeed the stunning face of feminine feminism. The men in her life, Warner (Dan Lane) and Emmett (Ben Clark) were equally well rounded characters:  Warner the wimp from the past: Emmett the stalwart friend waiting in the wings for her to realize he was where her heart should lie. The cold-hearted egotist Callahan (Joseph Beach) contrasted excellently with Paulette (Eleanor Gillet), the emotionally-driven, moral supporter to Ellie. With Ellie’s excellent doe-eyed hankering and Paulette’s outrageous sexual shimmering we were left in no doubt whom they desired. I’ve never seen such a sexy delivery man before the UPS man (Lee Sherwood) strutted the stage. He made a larger-than-life gay lover to the untruthful witness Yuri (Jack Wright) too. The exercise motivator Brooke (Hannah Schumann), another strong character and the essential Greek Chorus were additional treats. Space prevents me from mentioning all the other superb members of the cast, suffice to say, they all contributed magnificently to one of the best Viva productions I’ve ever seen! Director and Producer Dan Schumann and his team are to be congratulated for such a wonderful evening.

As all evening shows were soon booked out, you are advised to book early for their next production ‘The Dreaming’ in the Hayward Theatre, Ely 3-5th August 2017.

contact 01353 722228

Review of the Valentine’s Concert in Ely Cathedral on the 11th February 2017

February 12, 2017

The Valentine’s Concert in Ely Cathedral on February 11th was the eighth annual visit by Warren  Mailley-Smith and co musicians and it was one of the finest.

Warren Mailley-Smith (piano), Pavlos Carvalho (cello), Lucy Jeal  (violin) and

(soprano) gave us a splendid evening of romantic music that not only stirred the heart strings but amazed us with their technique and ability to bring out the musical qualities of the pieces they chose. The   compositions were by no means easy and the way in which the three instrumentalists demonstrated  such clarity and virtuosic skill was phenomenal. No matter how difficult the passage, these three excellent musicians synchronized perfectly. Susan Parkes (soprano) added to the wonderfully romantic spirit of the evening with her collection of songs at the end of the programme.

In Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, Warren played with accomplished fluency that comes with experience and insight, bringing out sonorous key melodies exquisitely and adding new qualities to this very famous piece.

The highlight of the evening for me, Rachmaninov’s ‘Sonata for Cello in G minor’, played by Warren and Pavlos, was magnificent. While demonstrating amazing technique and empathy for the music, these fine performers maintained Rachmaninov’s romantic melancholy and nostalgia well while reminding us of their tremendous agility and expressive capability in the more joyous passages.

Elgar’s ‘Salut d’amour’ was a must for the programme and Lucy played it beautifully on her violin.

Mendelssohn’s ‘Piano Trio in D minor’ was positively charming while Susan’s songs left us in no doubt that this was indeed a celebratory concert. The songs included Puccini’s ‘O mio babbino’, ‘Morgen’ by Strauss, ‘Je veux vivre’ by Gounod and ‘Habañera’ by Bizet. In the moments when her beautiful voice was focused, the sound was exhilarating.

What a delightful evening!

Review of Viva’s production of ‘Shakers’ in the Brook, Soham on Thursday 9th February 2017

February 9, 2017

Viva’s performance of ‘Shakers’ in the Brook at Soham on Thursday night was fantastic. This was a first night production, yet the four stunning actresses launched into their amusing scenarios immediately with confidence, gusto and skill. These highly talented actresses were Kerry Hibbert (as Nicki), Jenny Tayler-Surridge (Carol), Cassie Rouse (Mel) and Maddie Palmer (Adele). They played a group of disillusioned waitresses working at ‘Shakers’ , a supposed up-market cocktail bar, so realistically that we could empathise with them immediately.

Every nuance of humour, sarcasm and pathos was expressed and even when portraying crude, sex-obsessed blokes eyeing up the girls, these actresses never lost a moment and we were there in the 80’s witnessing the quirky characters and customs of the time, be they party girls, snooty media types, trendy snobs or ignorant slobs, they were very much the role(s) they were playing. Their poignant, tear-jerking monologues created contrasting moments of depth and insight into the emotions and turmoil that their characters suffered. The acting here was superb.

David Tickner lived up to his name as a first-rate director and with an excellent team of workers managed to pull off yet another fantastic production by this amazing company. More please!

There are two more performances of ‘Shakers’ on Friday the 10 and Saturday 11th February.

The next Viva production to look forward to is ‘Legally Blond’ from the 1st to the 4th March 2017



Review of The King’s School’s production of ‘Les Misérables’ in the Hayward Theatre on Thursday 8th December 2016

December 11, 2016

The King’s School’s production of ‘Les Misérables’ in the Hayward Theatre on Thursday was phenomenal. The young cast acted and sang with skill, the turmoil of their characters readily identifiable and the themes of injustice, tragedy, revenge, forgiveness and redemption evolved most effectively with the students’ strong well-focused voices and excellent diction and their highly believable acting.

Directed by Nick Huntingdon with music provided by Jonathan King and his team, this show held the packed audience spellbound as the dramatic and emotional events developed. We were immediately caught up in the anguish of escaped convict Jean Valjean (played by Oliver Wilkinson) who constantly sought justice and care for beautiful Cosette (Indea Cranner) while on the run from an unjust law and heartless Javert (played by Sebastian Carberry). Thénardier (Mark Spofforth) and Madame Thénardier (Emmanuelle Yembe) stole the show with when their macabre comic antics were on stage. Other notable characters were the keen lover Marius (Jean-Paul Gilbey), heart-broken Epinone (Eloise George), sadly-fated Fantine (Elizaveta Denisova) heroic Enjolras (Samuel Black) and the calmly-spoken Bishop (Orlando Squires). Orlando’s singing was especially impressive. The actresses playing young Epinone (Emma Farmer) and young Cosette (Tia Glenister) were also impressive performers.

Stage movements were carefully designed and the crowds of bawdy prostitutes, drunk inn-dwellers, women and rebels were highly entertaining enhancing the atmosphere wonderfully.

An inspired revolving staging easily turned into a battlefield, inn or romantic setting for lovers.

This was indeed an impressive production and it was no surprise there was a standing ovation at the end.

For more information about King’s School productions contact (Cats) and (DNA).

Review of ‘O Come, Come, Emmanuel’ by Ely Choral Society and Ely Youth Choir on Saturday 3rd December at St. Mary’s Church, Ely

December 4, 2016

The concert given by Ely Choral Society and Ely Youth Choir on Saturday 3rd December at St. Mary’s Church Ely was splendid. The title: ‘O Come, Come, Emmanuel’ indicated the nature of this interesting programme which focused on Advent rather than the usual Christmas Carols and readings.

The first work by Alan Bullard was written for Selwyn Chapel Choir which our own Sarah McDonald  directs. (Sarah is also Director of Ely Cathedral’s Girls’ Choir). The opening of the prelude was based on the familiar hymn ‘O come, O come Emanuel’ and the first phrase recurred regularly, making the whole piece that took up the first half of the progamme a cohesive whole.

The choirs under the baton of Andrew Parnell and accompanied on the organ by Edmund Aldhouse, were impressive. The adult choir voices were balanced beautifully and the youth choir’s singing was positively charming.

A very attractive piece by Andrew Parnell, ‘Advent Tidings’, opened the second part of the programme and the choirs really came alive. One of the loveliest performances was the full choir singing ‘Sing of a Maiden’ by Tim Alban Jones. Of the works sung by the Youth Choir, ‘Waiting for the Word’ was particularly impressive.

Moments for audience participation which was remarkably successful under the guidance of Andrew enhanced the evening.

The culmination of the programme was ‘That Wondrous Birthday’ by Ely-composer Arthur Wills who was present at the time. Andrew spoke glowingly of Arthur who came forward to express his delight at the performance: ‘Wonderful!’ he said. Arthur’s intriguing sense of atmosphere and unique arrangements of traditional music were fascinating.

This was indeed a wonderful concert. The next performance by Ely Choral Society is on 8th April in Ely Cathedral singing ‘Messiah’ by Handel.


Review of Antony Peeble’s piano recital in the Hayward Theatre on Thursday 1st December 2016.

December 3, 2016

review-antony-peebles-1Ex-Trinity College Cambridge student and experienced performer and teacher, Antony Peebles, gave a splendid piano recital as part of the King’s School Ely Concert Series in the Hayward Theatre on Thursday.

He played two sonatas by Beethoven, two works by Scriabin and Ravel’s ‘Gaspard de la nuit’. The latter piece was an amazing culmination of the programme and this fine pianist proved himself a master of producing really soft sounds that maintained their musical quality no matter how wide-ranging the textures from delicate trills and rapid runs to masses of chords. Fortunately the Steinway piano provided could respond to his skill. No matter how varied the pictorial episodes were in this composition, Antony captured their essence exactly. From the fluidity of the first movement and the haunting B flat in the second movement to the macabre antics of ‘Scarbo’ in the third, this excellent artist gave credence to every articulation. Even if it was ‘a nightmare to play’ it was no problem for this performer!

Needless to say, Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Appassionata’ sonatas were expressed magnificently, revelling in Beethoven’s contrasts: one minute smooth, calm and unhurried, the next suddenly excitable and agitated at great volume and strength yet all perfectly under this musician’s control. His use of the split second pause before important musical episodes kept us entranced.

Many pianists prefer the right hand to the left and would rather avoid the flat keys. Not this pianist. His performance of Scriabin’s Nocturne in D flat for the left hand flourished and the music flowed as if played by two hands. His expert touch made the sound appear to have several dimensions as the music surged across the piano.

Not satisfied with the challenges of this nocturne, Antony then played Scriabin’s Etude in D sharp minor, which was indeed a demanding study but magnificently mastered by this amazing pianist.

What an uplifting and memorable concert this was! It was no wonder there was a demand for ‘encore’!

The next concert in this series will be on Thursday 19th January 7.30 in the Recital Hall featuring Gemma Rosefield (cello) and Tim Horton (piano).



Review of Snail Tale’s ‘The First King of England in a Dress’ in the Maltings on Wednesday 30th November 2016

December 2, 2016

review-snail-tales-nov-16Up and coming production team, ‘Snail Tales’ entranced a packed Maltings on Wednesday with fanciful tales of the Fens and Knut, a king in a dress.  The script developed from workshops in schools that stimulated the imagination of the children, helping them to make up fantastic tales that were seamlessly woven into the action.

While a clear summary of the real history behind events was given, the accuracy of historical events in the play was a little suspect, but that was what it was all about. With an array of delightful songs and story-telling crammed with moments for audience participation, this splendid group engaged an audience of mostly children in a world that stretched the imagination and brought to life snippets of reality of a time for which there are few records. There should be much more of this kind of activity!

The singers and actors were highly entertaining, and special commendation should go to Olivia Balzano who is only eleven years old. She held her part magnificently. Chip Colquhoun was an impressive actor and singer. He kept things moving and played his made-up lyre well. When he plucked single notes, rather than strumming chords, it was quite effective. Laura-Jean Robinson was also amazing, her facial expressions a sheer delight. Even the Mayor of Ely, Ian Lindsay, was encouraged to appear on stage, and made a very good impression of a ‘bad monk’.

Congratulations must go to the actors, designer Jenny Stevens, illustrator Dave Hingley, graphic designer Jack Stevens, and the primary schools for their contributions to the storyline: St Andrew’s in Soham, Littleport community and Millfield.

This was a wonderful show packed with ideas – even giving the children an opportunity to have their faces painted. This team should go far. Watch this space.

Review of ‘The Railway Children’ by King’s Ely Junior School in the Hayward Theatre on Wednesday 23rd November 2016

November 24, 2016

The Kings School is known for its high standard of productions and the Junior School’s presentation of ‘The Railway Children’ was as delightful as expected. All the characters were there and well presented. The three children soon developed their personalities and indulged in realistically childish banter. They were Bobbie (played by Eva McGrath), the more ‘grown-up’ oldest child, Peter (Nicholas Denny), the only boy making efforts to keep up his macho image but not always getting it right and the youngest Phyllis (Isabel Duckworth), who had wonderful facial expressions and gave  hilarious reactions and comments.

Representing people who are much older is not easy, but Mother (Abigail Hughes) and Father (Hugo McGuinness) made excellent parents. We could really believe they were adult and living through the nightmare.

Other essential contributions to this very successful show included: Perks (Bertie Whymark), Old Gentleman (Edward Spencer), Mr Szezcpansky (William Biggs), Maid/Mrs Perks (Olivia Thomas), Butler (Rhys Williams), Doctor (Jesse Dennis), Cook (Charlotte Donnelly), Mrs Viney (Minty Gordon), Jim (Robbie Allan), Perks’ children, Persons one and two and the railway workers.

The realistic train was especially impressive as were the lights in the night scene and the sound effects, notably the landslide and staging and costumes were splendid.

Congratulations must go to the director Miss Charlton and the rest of her team for a highly entertaining evening.