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Nov 19th

Our Country’s Good at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood


Today I am jubilant! I spent last evening in a theatre full of young people watching an extraordinary play which extols the virtues of… theatre.

There can be no better way of attracting new audiences than this production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play, based on the true story of convicts staging George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer in Australia in 1788.

Co-produced by Out of Joint and the Octagon Theatre Bolton, it is directed by Out of Joint’s artistic director Max Stafford-Clark, who commissioned the play for the Royal Court Theatre 25 years ago after reading Thomas Keneally’s novel The Playmaker.

You can tell this production has been put together with the care and love Stafford-Clark must have for his ‘baby’. He’s nurtured it well, and his theatre company gives it the respect this modern classic deserves.

What hits the audience immediately is Tim Shortall’s simple but stunning staging: set against an ever-changing skyscape with backcloths rigged up as sails, the action takes place on a large raft in front of which is the outline of the Sydney coastline looking as if it were a beach meeting the sea. The effect is more than augmented by Johanna Town’s atmospheric lighting and Katy Morison’s sound effects.

The cast first appear as in a tableau, but the stillness is quickly shattered by the off-stage flogging of a convict, his perpetrator running backwards and forwards with bloodied hands – for this is at times graphic, with violence, sex and offensive language playing a large part.


Pictures by courtesy of the Theatre Royal Windsor

But it is Captain Arthur Phillip’s liberal treatment of the convicts which is the kernel of the story. The First Governor of New South Wales, who sees theatre as ‘an expression of civilisation’, assigns the sensitive Lieutenant Ralph Clark to direct the convicts and, by treating them as human beings, we see astonishing transformations, not only among the prisoners who work through their petty differences and jealousies, but also the officers. As the programme notes state: ‘In 1988 the play and the production were hailed as a celebration of the humanising force of theatre… Just as Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony was a paean of appreciation of the NHS, so this is of the theatre’.

Most of the cast members play multiple parts (and genders) and, to be honest, the women playing the convicts are the stronger characters and performers, though Simon Darwen is memorable for his entertaining role as East End pickpocket John Wisehammer rather than that of Captain Phillip. As Liz Morden, who is about to be hanged for theft, Kathryn O’Reilly spits venom (oh, yes, a lot of spitting actually goes on!). With scowling face she positively fizzes with aggression and attitude. Victoria Gee, on the other hand, is likeable but loud and coarse as Dabby Bryant, while acting completely transforms the mouse-like Mary Brenham, as played by Jessica Tomchak.

Nathan Ives-Moiba shows the weaker side to an officer as Ralph Clark and, among the other officers, Sam Graham as Harry Brewer is a colourful character.

Our Country’s Good is an important piece of theatre. Based on true facts, it shows how people can forget their own misfortunes through acting while the rest of us can sit back and wonder at the magical powers of storytelling.

Our Country’s Good is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until Nov 22.

Box Office: 01753 853888

Nov 13th

Vienna Festival Ballet in Swan Lake at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood


Like all little girls of my era I wanted to be a ballerina, and spent hours reading stories about them and drawing tutus and ballet shoes.

Half a decade later the magic is still there, and it is thanks to small companies like the Vienna Festival Ballet that classical favourites such as Giselle, Coppelia and The Nutcracker can be seen by a wide audience everywhere.

The company, founded by Austrian dancer and artistic director Peter Mallek in 1980, tours for seven months of the year with a repertoire of six ballets.

Their latest offering at Windsor is probably the greatest and most popular of all ballets, combining a good story with Tchaikovsky’s spellbinding music, but on the Theatre Royal’s small stage the love story which is overshadowed by the evil Baron Rothbart becomes an almost intimate experience.

It’s a pity the programme doesn’t give the names of the leading dancers as I would like to mention in particular the flamboyant and highly entertaining jester and the prima ballerina who dances the part of the Queen of the Swans. She has an almost ethereal presence and her pas de deux with Prince Siegfried is exquisite.
Odette Prince - Swan Lake.jpg 

The corps de ballet also portray the swans seamlessly, but in the palace scenes were, on the night I saw them, a little untidy and not always in time.

However, the overall experience was enchanting, if not a little spoiled by a fellow reviewer sitting in front of me taking notes on her (bright) tablet.

I know we live in a technological age, and I embrace it – to a certain extent. But the theatre is one place where we should be allowed to be transported into another world, and while the hard working young members of the Vienna Festival Ballet were giving their all, I found it distracting and disrespectful that someone should be using a tablet and then, obviously having made enough notes, left at the interval.

Vienna Festival Ballet’s production of Swan Lake continues at the Theatre Royal Windsor until Nov 15.

Box Office: 01753 853888

Nov 8th

Return to the Forbidden Planet - Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

By Dan Zbijowski

My first trip to Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch, was a highly enjoyable one. Having acted as Ariel in the same production some 18 years ago, I was keen to see this anniversary edition of Return to the Forbidden Planet. Fully expecting a rip-roaring ride, this musical extravaganza set aboard a spaceship didn’t disappoint.

Bob Carlton, the original creator of Return to the Forbidden Planet has also directed its latest incarnation. With his 17 year stint as Creative Director of Queen’s Theatre drawing to a close, he has an impressive resume from his time in charge, including creating the UK's only permanent company of actor/musicians. It therefore seemed fitting that a show specifically designed for such a company (and created by the man himself no less) was the one to lower the curtain on his time at Queen’s.

2 Beeps or not 2 Beeps.jpg
Photographer Credit - Nobby Clark

Return to the Forbidden Planet is part sci-fi b-movie, part rock'n'roll concert, with a healthy sprinkling of Shakespeare. The script is loosely based on the plot of Shakespeare’s Tempest and 50's b-movie Forbidden Planet. It centres on Dr. Prospero’s experimentation with brain enhancing drug “the X-factor” and the side effects it has. The musical is cleverly interwoven with parodies from the Bards many plays, and includes quotes that you’ll recognise, if not immediately, including the most famous ones from Hamlet, Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet.

Being set in a spaceship, the audience were treated to a pre-blast-off safety demonstration... if only standard airline flights had a 'reverse polarity drill procedure' that required audience participation. Already fully engaged in the action, a cameo from Brian May appearing as the Chorus via projector screen further set the tone of the fun to come. An estranged wife, a love triangle, a robot on roller skates, a monster from the Id and more instruments than an orchestra practise, the action never stopped.

A wonderfully Machiavellian Dr. Prospero, played by Jonathan Markwood, was probably just outdone in the performance stakes by the energetic and comically lovelorn Mark Newnham as Cookie, whose efforts playing guitar were as worthy of a stadium as a stage. A special nod should also be given to “Frido” Ruth playing Ariel, who, as well wearing a clunky robot suit and using Roller Skates, at one point managed to skate, carry a fellow actor and play an instrument all at the same time!

Cookie Rocks the show.jpg
Photographer Credit - Nobby Clark

My only small gripe was that the hand mikes, although used to comic effect, felt clunky and the hand overs were awkward in places. As this was a preview show there is no doubt that these issues will be worked out with stage time.

Despite being as crazy as it sounds and celebrating its 25th year, the show has lost none of its appeal. It certainly doesn’t feel dated in any way, the timeless and instantly recognisable songs have some modern riffs included, ensuring the production feels contemporary.  

The humour, musical agility and energy from the cast make this a thoroughly entertaining watch and they fully deserved the impromptu standing ovation at the end.  

The current run of Return to the Forbidden Planet at Hornchurch is already sold out, but there is no doubt that the longer this show goes on, the funnier it will get. With a nationwide tour planned early next year, I fully intend to catch it again and suggest you do too.

 By Dan Zbijowski

Until 15th November.
The Queen's Theatre, Billet Lane, Hornchurch RM11 1QT
Box Office: 01708 443333 
More information:


Oct 28th

But First This: A Musical Homage to Radio 4 at The Watermill West Berkshire Playhouse

By Clare Brotherwood

But First This - Image.jpg

I was so relieved to hear the Radio 4 pips this morning because, in radio announcer Kathy Clugston’s scintillating new musical, Selina Badminton, the new controller of Britain’s flagship station, reduces their number, as well as axing Woman’s Hour.

Believe me, the Today programme will never be the same again as Kathy takes us behind the scenes in a somewhat fictionalised studio setting where John Humphrys, forever looking pleased with himself, starts the first of a few cheeky numbers by singing the weather forecast, news reader Anna complains about people with long names, while kindly, dishevelled Jim Naughtie moans the demise of Woman’s Hour before going off to hunt down the missing Greenwich Time Signal pips.

You don’t have to be a Radio 4 aficionado to enjoy this production. Anyone who appreciates a cleverly written and very funny script, superbly acted by a versatile and charismatic cast, will be hugely entertained, but knowing the in jokes and the programmes whose titles pepper the dialogue makes it even more enjoyable. The audience at last night’s press night were obviously fans, becoming almost part of the show.

The evening didn’t start well. When I looked down onto the huge car park which was the M4 and knew I had to endure a 70-mile round trip to the theatre, I thought that even a musical based on my constant daytime companion couldn’t be worth the hassle.

It was!

From start to finish I was often aware of how broadly I was smiling, when I wasn’t whooping and laughing out (very) loudly. This is the funniest play I have seen since The Play That Goes Wrong, which I saw long before it went into the West End - where this production certainly belongs.

As Selina, Louise Plowright has huge presence, seeming almost like Cruella Deville as she relishes in her evil character. She is every bit as scary as the head of the pronunciation department; this time appearing like a black coated Dracula. How she must enjoy playing those parts.
Louise Plowright.jpg 

As John Humphrys, Michael Fenton Stevens also looks as if he is having a ball – unlike the real John Humphrys! And yet he manages to capture him so well that I had to tell myself he wasn’t the real thing.
 Michael Fenton Stevens.jpg

Having met Jim Naughtie I am able to confirm that Jonathan Dryden Taylor’s genial portrayal too, is spot on, while Helena Blackman as the news reader and Neil Ditt as the weather forecaster provide strong support and, like the rest of the cast, show their versatility when playing countless other characters. There are also off-stage cameo roles played by announcer Alice Arnold and Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills, whose original Edinburgh Festival show gave Kathy the idea for But First This.

Among those who appear on Radio 4 is Libby Purves, who happened to be in the audience last night, reviewing for her website She too is mentioned in the show, along with ‘appearances’ from Nicholas Parsons, Kirsty Young and Stephen Fry, and was delighted about it. She told me the announcers have such a great sense of humour but always have to keep it hidden, never showing it in their voices, so not only is But First This is celebration of Radio 4 but an explosion of hidden humour.

There are so many highlights: the three men singing how Woman’s Hour will make you one hell of a man; scenes from The Archers spoken as if by characters from Tennessee Williams’ novels, while concerns over Jim’s death as he rows in a storm from Lundy (Kirsty Young’s desert island) across the Bristol Channel looking for the missing pips reduced me to tears, only to find myself laughing again as the others tell Jim: ‘We thought you were dead!’ His reply: ‘Really? In a comedy?’

I hope Radio 4 never dies, and that But First This also has a long and happy life!

But First This: A Musical Homage to Radio 4 continues at The Watermill West Berkshire Playhouse until November 8.

Box office: 01635 46044

Oct 21st

The Perfect Murder @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

By Yvonne Delahaye


Our TV screens are awash with crime dramas with detectives trying to solve the crime, but have you ever wondered how to commit the perfect murder? Victor Smiley and his wife Joan have been married for a long time. But their marriage has reached crisis point and Victor has decided there is only one way to get Joan out of his life forever... but he’s about to get a nasty surprise... as a young Detective Roy Grace starts to investigate his very first homicide case, dark forces intervene and Grace begins to fear that nothing is quite as it seems in this entertaining dark comedy thriller.

This is the first ever stage production of the work of international best-selling crime thriller novelist Peter James – who has sold over 15 million books of his Roy Grace series and been published in 36 languages – The Perfect Murder, which spent 15 weeks at No.1 in the book charts, has been adapted by award winning writer Shaun McKenna.

Olivier Award winner Ian Talbot directs an all-star company in the autumn re-casting of The Perfect Murder. Having donned his white coat for eight series of ITV’s 1960’s hospital drama The Royal, Robert Daws, best-known to millions as Dr Gordon Ormerod, plays Victor Smiley. Robert's extensive TV credits have also seen him appear on screen as Sam Mountjoy in Roger Roger, Tuppy Glossop in Jeeves and Wooster and Roger Dervish in the award-winning Outside Edge. His extensive theatre credits include The Secret of Sherlock Holmes and Public Property in the West End and UK tours of Michael Frayn's Alarms and Excursions and David Harrower’s Blackbird, the later of which also starred Dawn Steele.

Dawn Steele has starred in numerous hit TV series including the BBC’s Monarch of the Glen, Sea of Souls and she played the hugely popular character of Alice Collins in ITV’s Wild at Heart. Other theatre credits include the lead role in The Agatha Christie Company's production of Verdict and Dawn also starred in Noel Coward’s previously undiscovered Volcano in both the West End and on tour.

They are joined by Gray O’Brien – who continues his highly acclaimed role as the loveable Don Kirk. Gray recently enjoyed an award-winning three years in Coronation Street and has also starred in the TV series Titanic, Peak Practice and Casualty as well as in the West End in Sleuth; Thomas Howes (DC Grace) who played the much loved character of William the footman in Downton Abbey for which he won a Screen Actors Guild Award and whose theatre credits include The Winslow Boy and the National Theatre Production of The History Boys and finally Romanian born Simona Armstrong, who the British public took to their hearts when she was discovered in the BBC's How do You Solve a Problem Like Maria and who now continues her run in the role of Kamila.

The play itself is very black comedy and all the performances are good, but I felt it was in need of some cutting especially in the first act.  The second scenes between Victor and Joan went on far too long and it seemed that the audience were getting restless for the plot to move forward.  The story was lifted by the appearance of Don Kirk (Gray O’Brien) looking extremely buff in just a pair of boxers and from there the proceedings progressed with unexpected twists and turns, interspersed with very dark humour.  It’s very enjoyable and should be taken with a huge pinch of salt, but I think if it was 20 minutes shorter it would be ‘the perfect play.

The Perfect Murder is produced by Joshua Andrews and Peter James, in association with Paul Tyrer and Jamie Clark at the Booking Office. Their next production – Peter James’ best-selling novel Dead Simple tours the UK from January 2015.

Book now at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre Box Office on 0844 871 7607 (bkg fee), or online at  (bkg fee)

Performances:   Mon 20 - Sat 25 Oct 
Evenings 7.30pm, Thu & Sat Mat 2.30pm
Tickets:  £10 - £32.50 when booked in person at the Box Office or for full details when booking on-line or over the phone visit (bkg fee)
Box Office:  0844 871 7607 (bkg fee)
Groups Hotline:  0844 871 7614
Access Booking: 0844 871 7677 (bkg fee)
Online Booking:  (bkg fee)

Reviewed By:
Yvonne Delahaye
Twitter: yvonnedelahaye

A light has gone out in the theatre world, as we pay respect to one of the most warm, much loved and vibrant actresses of our time.
Following the sad news of Lynda Bellingham losing her brave battle with cancer Aylesbury Waterside Theatre will be opening a book of condolence in her memory .

Lynda, originally from Aylesbury, was a firm supporter of the theatre, taking part in the ‘Topping Out’ ceremony in 2009, she also helped to launch the theatres first season in March 2010 and appeared on stage starring in Calendar Girls as part of that opening season.

Elizabeth Adlington Area Theatre Manager for Aylesbury Waterside Theatre said ‘On behalf of our staff and our customers we will be opening a book of condolences for the people of Aylesbury to share their memories of Lynda and their tributes and messages of support for Lynda’s loved ones.  We were privileged at the Waterside to have met Lynda on a number of occasions.  Our thoughts are with her family at this sad time.  She was a wonderful warm lady who will be sadly missed’

The book of condolence is now open to the public during opening hours at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre in the main foyer.

Oct 9th

A Party to Murder at The Mill at Sonning

By Clare Brotherwood


Credit: Craig Sugden

I like nothing better than to have a really good laugh. I also like to be scared out of my wits.

And this comedy thriller by Marcia Kash and Doug Hughes delivers both - in spades. It’s an absolute delight from beginning to end, and I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially on Hallowe’en.

Set in a lone house on an island in the North American lakes, where writer Charles Prince has invited six people for a Hallowe’en murder mystery party, there are enough bodies, blood and things that go bump in the night, as well as secret passages and the obligatory thunder and lightning, to make this fast moving full-on entertainment go with a bang.

The 18th century mill lends itself to hosting an eerie spine chiller and audiences are given a taste of what is to come during their pre-performance dinner when the restaurant’s lights are dimmed and a ghostly voice can be heard.

That is all I am going to tell you, however, as to give away just a smidgen of the plot would spoil every delicious moment of surprise - and, believe me, there are plenty of them. They come thick and fast, delivered with great gusto by a stellar cast under the direction of Ian Masters.

As always, the Mill’s set is worthy of mention, an on this occasion Michael Holt should be particularly congratulated for creating a secret passage.

A Party to Murder is at The Mill at Sonning until November 22

Box Office: 0118 969 8000
Oct 8th

The Small Hand at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

The Small Hand - cast.jpg

Even before the curtain went up we were shaking in our seats - literally - as the whole theatre throbbed with the first of Dan Samson’s many thrilling sound effects.

Susan Hill’s latest tale of terror to be adapted for the stage has been greatly anticipated, and it doesn’t disappoint.

For me, nothing can match the sheer horror that is The Woman in Black (the stage version not the film!) but The Small Hand has a lot to commend it.

Presented in a similar way to The Woman in Black, with the actors narrating in between scenes, this adaptation by the hugely talented Clive Francis tells the story of an art dealer who is drawn to a dilapidated Edwardian house where the sensation of being gripped by a small hand begins a nightmarish tale which I won’t divulge so as not to spoil the fun.

As the art dealer Adam Snow, Andrew Lancel is a far cry from British Soap Awards’ Villain of the Year as Carla Connor’s violent boyfriend Frank Foster in Coronation Street. His fear is palpable and his anguish had me filling up with emotion.

Lancel is very well supported by Diane Keen and Robert Duncan in a variety of roles, showcasing their versatility, with Keen playing everything from an American art dealer to a Scottish housekeeper, and Duncan drawing us in as Snow’s troubled brother while also playing an assortment of eccentrics. Though, on the first night of this national tour, he may have been trying a little too hard as his expressive voice rose and fell to such an extent that we couldn’t always hear what he was saying. As the Scottish laird he also ought to lose the shotgun. He wasn’t dressed for shooting and I doubt he would bring a shotgun into his drawing room and place it on his highly polished table. It serves no purpose but to give the scene authenticity, which it doesn’t

Inevitably, there is a ghost and I do worry for six-year-old Charlie Ward who plays him. With such eerie sound effects, Gary Hickeson’s atmospheric music and Lancel’s harrowing performance, I wonder he isn’t traumatised, and yet he played his part perfectly, with a stillness which must be so alien to one so young!

As in The Woman in Black, the set is sparse, but Nina Dunn’s back projection is stunning. The way one scene washes over the next and windows expand and contract is almost nightmarish in itself and adds a lot to the atmosphere.

Roy Marsden’s direction keeps the tension bubbling below the surface throughout the evening and once the production settles in I’m sure it will be even more enjoyable.

The Small Hand continues at the Theatre Royal Windsor until Oct 18 and then tours:

Oct 20-25: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Oct 27-Nov 1: Grand Opera House, York

Nov 3-8 Theatre Royal, Brighton

Nov 10-15: Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne

Nov 17-22: Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield
Oct 8th

BARNUM @ The Swan Theatre, High Wycombe

By Yvonne Delahaye

BARNUM_Wycombe_600x200_2.jpg ‘Barnum’s the name, P T Barnum, and I want to tell you that tonight, on this stage, you are going to see - bar none - every sight, wonder and miracle that name stands for!’
This exhilarating musical follows the irrepressible imagination and dreams of Phineas T Barnum, America’s Greatest Showman. The story of his life and his marriage to Chairy reveals a couple who looked at the world from opposite sides of the spectrum, and also reveals that she was the practical one who made his dreams come true.  We follow the legendary showman’s life as he lit up the world with colour, warmth and the excitement of his imagination and finally teamed up with J A Bailey to create Barnum and Bailey’s Circus - the Greatest Show on Earth.

Starring Brian Conley (Oliver!, Hairspray, Jolson) and Linzi Hateley (Mary Poppins, Mamma Mia!, Chicago, Les Misérables), Cy Coleman’s wonderfully exuberant score includes the hits; Come Follow The Band , The Colours Of My Life and There Is A Sucker Born Ev’ry Minute .
 Barnum is a musical with a book by Mark Bramble, lyrics by Michael Stewart, and music by Cy Coleman. It is based on the life of showman P. T. Barnum, covering the period from 1835 through 1880 in America and major cities of the world where Barnum took his performing companies. The production combines elements of traditional musical theatre with the spectacle of the circus. The characters include jugglers, trapeze artists and clowns, as well as such real-life personalities as Jenny Lind and General Tom Thumb.

The original production opened at the St. James Theatre on Broadway, on April 30, 1980 and closed on May 16, 1982 after 854 performances and 26 previews. The show starred Jim Dale as P.T. Barnum, Glenn Close as Chariy Barnum and Marianne Tatum as Jenny Lind. Jim Dale won a Tony and Drama Desk Award for his performance in the title role.

The show made its West End debut on June 11, 1981 at the London Palladium, where it ran for 655 performances. The London cast included Michael Crawford as P.T. Barnum, Deborah Grant as Charity Barnum and Sarah Payne as Jenny Lind. Crawford reprised his role opposite Eileen Battye in a UK Tour of the show which ran between 1984 and 1986, stopping off at various venues including the Manchester Opera House and Victoria Palace Theatre. The tour was recorded for television and broadcast by the BBC in 1986. It was later released on VHS and DVD.

In 2013 Cameron Mackintosh revived the musical at the Theatre in The Park for the Chichester Festival Theatre, which was closed at the time.  Two-time Tony nominee Christopher Fitzgerald played Barnum and when a UK tour was muted, Brian Conley was cast and so the hard work began for him.

Brian Conley is one of our great all-round entertainers and is perfectly cast as the larger-than-life showman, commanding the stage, eking out every bit of comedy, but also showing emotional depth in the second act.  I saw him earlier this year at The Swan in his one man show and his warmth, humour and energy infects the audience and you know he has everyone in the palm of his hands.  He said then that he was anxious about learning to tight rope walk and we all held our breath when he, thankfully, made it across the stage.  This role needs a big personality and with Brian’s stature dominating the stage, I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the role now.

Linzi Hately, as his wife Chairy, is the perfect match and we really feel the genuine warmth, affection and support that she gave to husband P.T. She has a beautiful singing voice and captures her strength and vulnerability perfectly. When Kimberley Blake, as Jenny Lind the opera singer, sang Love Makes Such Fools of Us All you could hear every crystal note, so pure and resonant was the sound I’m sure it could shatter glass!

The show is brash, colourful, energetic and dynamic.  It’s a sensory feast that leaves you dazzled at all of the activity, never being able to see everything as there is so much happening all around you.  The costumes are sumptuous and vibrant and the ensemble of dancer/acrobats are so incredibly talented and strong, that I did wonder how some of their feats got past the Health & Safety brigade!

The show runs at The Swan, High Wycombe from:
Tue 7 - Sat 11 October
Tickets £23.00* - £39.00*
A £1.50 per ticket booking fee applies, capped at six per order. Fee-free booking for Friends of Wycombe Swan; Groups of 10+ please call 01494 552875.
The tour will continue around the UK until next summer, so for dates near  you please visit:

Reviewed by:
Yvonne Delahaye
Twitter: yvonnedelahaye

Oct 7th

The Importance of Being Earnest @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

By Yvonne Delahaye

What an absolute joy it was to see this star studded production, which has just transferred directly from the Harold Pinter Theatre in London after a hugely successful 3 month run.  Reprising their 1982 National Theatre roles as Algernon Moncrieff and John Worthing, J.P. are Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis.  When this cast was first mentioned I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to raise an eyebrow, after all John Worthing is supposed to be 29 and these 2 accomplished actors are, shall we say, a 'little way into middle age?'  How would this work I wondered, but of course all is not as it first seems for this is a play within a play.  Acclaimed comic novelist, Simon Brett, was commissioned to create an original new context for the play and the play opens with the actors from The Bunbury Company of Players rehearsing their next production.  It’s a brilliant concept and works like magic, so any concerns about age are quickly dispelled as we are absorbed into this joyful scenario.

The Importance of Being Earnest elegantly lampoons the hypocrisies of Victorian society and opens as two bachelors, the dependable, John Worthing, J.P. (Martin Jarvis) and upper class playboy Algernon Moncrieff (Nigel Havers), feel compelled to create different identities in order to pursue two eligible ladies Cecily Cardew (Christine Kavanagh) and Gwendolyn Fairfax (Cherie Lunghi). The hilarious misadventures which result from their subterfuge;  their brushes with the redoubtable Lady Bracknell (Siân Phillips) and the uptight Miss Prism (Rosalind Ayres) result in a plot that twists and fizzles with some of the finest dialogue to be found in theatre.   

The play moves along at a firecracker pace with the rakish charm of Nigel Havers still very much in evidence and Martin Jarvis’s stature and resonant voice lending a gravitas to the role.  The cast are all wonderful, but of course Lady Bracknell always steals the show and Sian Phillips is absolutely magnificent.  Every line delivered is ‘bang on the money’ and her energy is astounding.  I know how physically demanding it is to deliver 8 shows a week and I am in awe of her stamina, though she has, of course,  ‘remained thirty five for years!’

The notable cast also includes Niall Buggy and Patrick Godfrey, who also played Merriman in the 2002 film adaption of The Importance of Being Earnest.  The Bunbury Players include Portia Booroff, Carole Dance and Hugh Osborne who are on stage throughout ready to take over a role at a moment’s notice.

Rupert Gavin, producer for Incidental Colman, said “For our 100th production, in our 33rd year as a producing company with a long tradition in comedy, we are celebrating this milestone with a production of the landmark comedy in the English language, The Importance of Being Earnest. For
this, we have drawn together an exceptional creative team, a group of brilliant comedic actors, and we bring of course, a twist to proceedings, that you would only expect of us.”

Lucy Bailey, Director, said “I was lucky enough as a student, to be allowed to observe rehearsals of Peter Hall’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the National Theatre in the early 80's. I remember watching Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis wrestle over cucumber sandwiches and being entranced by their charm and playfulness. When they approached me, some 30 years later, to work with them on a new production, I just couldn't resist! We have created a new framework for the play, aided and abetted by the writer Simon Brett and designer William Dudley. We have gathered together an exquisite acting ensemble to take on the challenge of Oscar Wilde's most popular and daring play.”

Seeing such a stellar cast having an absolute ball relishing their roles will be one of the lasting memories I’ll have of live theatre.  Even if you have to queue to get a return ticket, it really would be worth it as this has to be one of the best pieces of theatre you’ll ever see!

Book now at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre Box Office on 0844 871 7607 (bkg fee), or online at  (bkg fee)

Performances:   Mon 06 - Sat 11 Oct 
Evenings 7.30pm, Thu & Sat Mat 2.30pm
Tickets:  £10 - £35 when booked in person at the Box Office or for full details when booking on-line or over the phone visit (bkg fee)
Box Office:  0844 871 7607 (bkg fee)
Groups Hotline:  0844 871 7614
Access Booking: 0844 871 7677 (bkg fee)
Online Booking:  (bkg fee)

Tour continues to:
Richmond Theatre from Monday 13th-Saturday 18th October
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham from Tuesday 21st – Saturday 25th October

Reviewed by:
Yvonne Delahaye
Twitter: yvonnedelahaye

Sep 24th

Double Death at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

DL007006 - Double Death.jpg

Brian Capron and Kim Tiddy

Claps of thunder and flashes of lightning are staple ingredients for setting the scene in thrillers, especially ones set in creepy Cornish country houses. And the sound and lighting effects herald this thriller particularly well.

The first act doesn’t exactly kick up a storm, however - until you realise that it’s a slow build up to a surprising and stunning climax.

The plot is certainly novel:  the combustible relationship between twin brothers has already led to attempted murder - or what it an accident? - and when the now paranoid paraplegic victim of that incident returns home from hospital, a game of cat and mouse ensues - with tragic consequences.

Described as ‘volatile and schizophrenic’, wheelchair-bound Ashley seems rather mild-mannered  as played by Tom Butcher; while as Ashley’s twin, Max, he is not particularly threatening. Playing two roles must be difficult, however, and hard work in such an eventful storyline, and I gather Tom joined the cast at a late stage. Certainly he doesn’t miss a cue as he swaps between the roles, mostly by disappearing into a working lift - whose light as it descends adds to the creepiness. It must have been a logistical nightmare for director and designer Philip Stewart, but the lift and an intercom are valuable props, unlike the playing back of a childhood home movie whose dialogue was too muffled to be heard.

Brian Capron who, after more than 10 years, is still remembered as Coronation Street murderer Richard Hillman, is on the other side of the law this time, convincing as a local policeman (complete with accent) with limited intuition, while Kim Tiddy as Ashley’s nurse has something of  Nurse Ratched about her. It is Judy Buxton as the twins’ indulgent aunt who makes the most impression. Her spirited performance adds colour and not a little humour to the proceedings.

Written by the Windsor-born actor Simon Williams, who starred as the twins at this very theatre several years ago, Double Death certainly has plenty of thrills and spills but it is sometimes a little lacklustre. Perhaps a bolt of lightning may help!

Double Death is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until Sept 27 and then continues touring:

Sept 29-Oct 1: Civic Theatre, Darlington

Oct 6-8: Marina Theatre, Lowestoft

Oct 15-18: Haymarket, Basingstoke