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David S K Henson

Actor, director, lecturer and voice coach

Review of COMPANY

London College of Music, Watermans Centre, Brentford 16-19 May 2012

What you expect and what you get when you go to the theatre very rarely matches. And many of the surprises are not the sort of surprises you were necessarily looking for. I had to walk out of a Richmond Theatre production of a very minor Coward, Star Quality, at half-time recently and a Rose Theatre production of Michael Frayn’s Here was irritating beyond belief. Why revive either of them -they’re just not very good.

I expected Company directed by David Henson and performed by London College of Music graduates to be well sung - well, you would, wouldn’t you? - but you don’t expect to see a production of West End quality in Brentford, an unlovely London suburb mostly famous for a very ordinary football team, and that is exactly what we got. Brilliant is not a word I overuse, in fact I am usually a hard man to please, but the Sondheim show at the Watermans Centre was close to that and it would not over-egging the praise by suggesting that three or four of these talented and spirited performers would walk into a West End show and not let anybody down. Of course, they could all sing which is always a help but Company can still be enjoyed even with a cast that acts well and sings moderately. But most looked right and acted right as well - we had a black Bobby in the shape of Adrian Lester lookalike Marcel J Whyte and although he missed one or two notes, he was so likeable we forgave him. And in Queenie James, the most vacant airhead April there has ever been, he had support of the highest order. Their “Barcelona” was a high spot in an evening full of high spots. Not far behind the sexy Queenie came the ebullient pocket dynamo Jerica Nelson as “Another Hundred People” Marta and Rachel Lochhead as a hilarious “Getting Married Today” Amy. If life was fair, this trio will make it to the very top. But it isn’t very often, is it?

There was much else to admire. Hayley Marfleet has the ability to do bigger parts than Sarah while Bethan Foster’s Jenny and Viqui Colmer’s Kathy made big impressions. And if the fellers were overshadowed it was not by much. There were some good voices although Maximillian Troy Tyler looked too young and insignificant for the world-weary “Ladies Who Lunch” Emma J Bateman.

Some ageing make-up would have been appropriate in one or two cases and although the New York accents were top-class, there could have something a bit more Manhattan about the way some of the men dressed. Otherwise, it was close to perfect and congratulations to musical director George Carter and his versatile orchestra who never missed a beat.

They called it an amateur production but there’s amateur and amateur, isn't there? Would-be professionals with a talent to sell are not the same as housewives and estate agents joining the local amateur dramatic/operatic society and putting on a fun show chiefly for their own enjoyment, and it would not be fair to compare them.

What we can compare the University of West London’s music arm with is last autumn's very likeable production of Follies by RAM and good though that was; I did not see anybody there with quite the same star potential. A joyous, thrilling evening. Would that more could have seen it.

Sondheim – The Magazine - June 2012 Number 65 page 24 Jeremy Chapman

Review of 'INTO THE WOODS'

London College of Music at Waterman's Theatre, Brentford May 15-18, 2013

FOR those of us in or approaching the autumn of our lives, one of the great joys is relishing and encouraging young talent. If there is a purpose to life and reason for it, it surely has to be to make the world a better place for those who come after us and in our little world of musical theatre there is every indication that standards of acting, singing and writing grow ever stronger.

We old 'uns always fantasise about the past and love to think that "things were better in our day" but we have to take the blinkers off. Angela Lansbury was smashing as Mrs Lovett but was she as good as the Caroline O'Connor we saw at the Chatelet or the Imelda Staunton who bewitched us at Chichester and the Adelphi? I doubt it.

The 12 finalists we saw at the Sondheim Society student performer of the Year competition at the Garrick prompted Merrily We Roll Along star Jenna Russell, who compered the show, to enthuse that the future of musical theatre and song-writing was in "very good hands". And once we have all learned to spell and pronounce the name of our exciting winner, Turlough Convery, it won't surprise anyone present if that gifted Irishman eventually becomes a West End star. With his big stage presence and rare ability, like previous winners Kris Olsen and Alex Young, to dredge every last drop of humour from a song, he goes into the box marked 'Special'.

But SSSSPOTY, for all its growing reputation as one of the special musical-theatre occasions of the year, has no exclusivity on talent and on the same evening not far away at the Watermans theatre in Brentford, the enthusiastic and wonderfully well-tutored London College of music, the arty arm of the University of West London, were getting their final curtain call after a successful four-day run of Sondheim and Lapine's mesmeric Into The Woods. Having raved over Company, LCM's previous attempt at Sondheim a year or so earlier, I was expecting plenty from the evening and got it in spades.

Being more a team effort than a vehicle for outstanding individual performance, it was difficult to say that anyone in the cast of 17was definitely destined for the top but, given a fair roll of the dice, Max Panks, who played the dual role of Cinderella's Prince and the Wolf, and the outrageously OTT Matt Coppins as the Steward and Cinderella's Father, will surely create quite a stir when they go out into the great wide world and try to make a living at this game.

Panks and his fellow prince, Jonathan Spencer, had the ladies in the audience swooning and are ready-made juvenile leads although they could maybe have got a few more laughs out of that rollicking male anthem 'Agony', such a clever song that Sondheim decided to put it in twice.

Also creating good impressions were pretty-as-a-picture Hannah Massett as Cinders and the sinewy, scary Anya Hamilton as the Witch. Anya has a voice, knows how to make use of arms and hands, and made the most of her big second-act numbers, 'Last Midnight' and 'Witch's Lament'.

Others who caught the eye were Daniel Boyden as Jack who gave us a fine 'Giants In The Sky' and the Ugly Sisters, Emma Reeve and Danielle Lincoln, who milked every laugh out of James Lapine's script and Sondheim's witty lyrics.

It was good to hear the 'Our Little World' duet between the Witch and Rapunzel given an airing as this was omitted from the original Broadway production in 1987 and added at the Phoenix Theatre in London four years later. It does not appear in every version these days which is a pity as it is a terrific song.

Musical director George Carter looked after keyboards himself while conducting a six-strong team with his usual flair and David Henson, the director, had clearly made his cast aware of every dark nuance in this complex work in which "be careful what you wish for "turns a lively fairy tale into a cruel lesson about community responsibility and the stories our 'Children Will Listen' to and digest for life. A long evening at three hours and a first act that occasionally flagged, but this Into The Woods got out of them long before the end for another resounding LCM triumph.

Sondheim – The Magazine – May 2013, Jeremy Chapman