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REVIEW – WITCHFINDER

performed by JUNCTION 4 PRODUCTIONS

Lowther Pavilion, Lytham      Wed Oct 30 To Sat Nov 2 2019
 

Directed by Mandy Hall

Musical Director: Bruce McLaren

I had a very pleasant afternoon at the Lowther Pavilion watching Junction 4’s production of the musical, Witchfinder. I was not aware of this musical until my visit, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

Straight from the opening number with its strong clear vocals from both the chorus, and the excellent Andy Lane whose portrayal of Thomas Potts was solid throughout.

 

The second number did not disappoint either, with the lovely voice of Amy Stockdale as Alizon Device.

 

The singing throughout was of a very high standard and congratulations must go to Musical Director, Bruce McLaren, not only for his excellent orchestra and the strong principal singing, but for the tightest chorus I have heard in a long, long while.

 

Director, Mandy Hall, must also be congratulated for her production by keeping the dialogue pace, and with clear diction. The pace slowed a little in the first scene, in King James court, but picked up again after that.

 

Now the first of two very minor niggles: personally, I am not a fan of major scenes being played against blacks, but the strong performances compensated for that. My second minor moan is at the opening of Act II, when the ladies were wearing so many different shades of socks/tights and style/colours of shoes and slipperettes, that it distracted from a nice opening.

 

Anyway, back to the positives which far outweighed any negatives.

 

Charlotte White, Shannen Emms and Darren Skelly played the love triangle superbly; their second half trio, “Each Passing Year”, was a highlight for me. Shannen has a beautiful singing voice and played the role of Lady Sarah to perfection.

 

Darren’s portrayal of Captain James Roberts was played with great authority. You could feel his pain as he wrestled with his conscience.

 

Charlotte was just brilliant as Catherine Howard. I very rarely get emotional at shows, but I had a lump in my throat as she was sent to her fate.

 

Another superb vocal performance was given Chris Sandiford, as Roger Nowell. His second half vocal, “You’ve Seen It in Your Nightmares”, was superb, as was his character portrayal.

 

I must mention two of the youngest principals, Kieran Melling and Phoebe Ann Mason, who both more than matched their elders.

 

Honourable mentions must go to Bernard Kennedy, who gave us some comic moments, as Josiah Wickham. I shall never look at cabbages in the same way again! And Mike Cummings, who gave an assured performance, as Edward Sykes.

 

Congratulations to everyone involved in this production.  I look forward to your next show, South Pacific.

Association of Community Theatre

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REVIEW – LA CAGE AUX FOLLES

performed by PRESTON MUSICAL COMEDY SOCIETY
Charter Theatre, Preston      Tues May 24 To Sat May 28 2011

 

Congratulations to Preston Musical Comedy Society.  On Saturday 28th May I had the pleasure of attending the evening performance of their production of ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ at the Charter Theatre, whilst on a trip from London to visit a friend.  As I am originally from Blackpool I already knew of the society’s reputation, but I have to say that from the overture to the finale I could have been watching a West End production, which is something I regularly do, as I am employed by one of London’s leading theatrical agencies.  It was clear for all to see that everyone in this cast were giving 100% to the performance and enjoying every minute.
This show is ambitious for any professional company to stage let alone an amateur society.  But what a decision they made.  This whole production was excellently staged and performed from the live orchestra to the magnificent costumes and scenery.
This show had everything a truly believable love story, excellently directed and performed.  With excellent comedy timing portrayed in all the right places.  ‘Les Cagelles’ deserve a special mention, as many of the audience were left surprised at the excellently staged ‘end reveal’ to discover that they had made the wrong decision in guessing who was male/female.
A special mention should go to Stewart Harland (Jacob) who made this role completely his own.  And a final mention must go to the two leading men Bruce McLaren (Albin) and Tony Lancaster (Georges) for what can only be described as an award winning performance.  With the society’s long history at nurturing stars of the future I am sure it will not be long before we hear more of Bruce, who will certainly be one to watch out for.
Finally I hope that long may the society continue to take some risks with their productions, as this has certainly proved that they can achieve what may seem like the impossible. Congratulations to everyone involved with the society and may those well deserved awards continue to come your way.
Letter sent to Lancashire Evening Post by ‘Berys’ from Simpson Fox Associates Theatrical Agency, Shaftesbury Avenue, London 

REVIEW – SAMSON and DELILAH By CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS

performed by Preston Opera

Preston Minster, Church Street, Preston  Fri May 1 to Sat May 2 2009

I thoroughly enjoyed Preston Opera's stylish and focused production of Johann Strauss' operetta Die Fledermaus last year.  But I was somewhat surprised that they were now going to tackle Saint-Saens' great romantic masterpiece, Samson and Delilah.

It's a huge, almost melodramatic piece, very different from the lighter pieces by Strauss.  It calls for a massive orchestra, very large chorus and a number of very demanding solo roles for soloists with huge vocal and dynamic ranges.

But I need not have worried.  their superbly gripping performance in the atmospheric surrounds of Preston Minster was a real triumph.  The locally-based orchestra, skillfully reduced to 'chamber' size, were more than up to Saint-Saens' complex scoring.

The chorus, neatly and visually differentiated into both the warring Hebrews and Philistines, produced some wonderful commentary to the action,, at times sensuous, reflective and prayerful.  They also gave us some robust, gutsy singing to complement the climaxes.

Perhaps the biggest triumph of the evening, however, was the soloists. Rebecca Chellappah, making her Preston Opera debut, was scintillating and superbly dramatic as the anti-heroine Delilah.  She displayed remarkable versatility, from the erotic seductress to dominating, devious mistress.  Finally it was her cruel taunting that led to the brutal and dramatic demise of her tribe.

Bruce McLaren's robust, vulnerable yet ultimately dignified Samson was a superb match for Chellappah's Delilah.  The other soloists, particularly David Palmer's Satrap of Gaza, and Barrie Wright's High Priest, also gave fine performances.

Chris Gill's sure and flexible conducting and Geoff Horton's imaginative staging left no musical or dramatic opportunity unexplored.  The troupes of 'handmaiden' dancers also gracefully enhanced the erotic and pathetic aspects of the story.

The dramatic and acoustic possibilities of the Minster were used to stunning advantage, and completely enraptured the capacity audience.  It was a triumph of an evening

Michael Nunn, May 2009

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REVIEW - SAMSON AND DELILAH

Preston Minster May 2, 2009

 

A richly rewarding and imaginative break with tradition for Preston Opera staging Saint--Saens' three act opera in such a dramatic setting.

Gone were the differing challenges of the Guild Hall and Charter Theatre, to be replaced with magnificent stonework which seemed to return the sound with interest. And what a fine sound it was.

To say singers and players rose to the occasion would be to understate their performances.

PO's chorus has been longing for a space such as this for years, and when the moments came the power and force was thrilling.

Equally, quieter moments of tender vocals were matched with a finely sensitive response from the strings.

Every Saint-Saens' challenge was met full on, and the choice proved wise as little movement was required on the Minster's limited stage area.  Even Samson has his locks shorn off set.

The nave was utilised for dancers and soldiers, and lightning crashed around the vaulted ceiling.

Principal performers clearly relished the sacred space.

Rebecca Chellappah was smilingly duplicitous in seducing the hirsute Samson, played by Bruce McLaren, whose revenge was to, well...bring the house down.  And David Palmer's depth of projection promised to be the perfect instrument for the surroundings until he met his untimely end far too early in the plot.

The elegiac lament at his passing induced the best from Chris Gill's talented players.

As the evening light faded and the Mister lighting took glorious effect, the poor Philistines copped it again.

Mal Morris, Lancashire Evening Post, Published Date May 4, 2009

"Bruce McLaren is a young tenor singer with a modern image and the type of approach which would please hotel audiences. The songs from the shows and the slightly larger than life humorous approach put me in mind of the brilliant London-based entertainer Robert Bastian, and McLaren's impressive 'head voice falsetto' version of Bring Him Home, from Les Miserables, was the highlight here"

Mark Ritchie, The Stage, Showcall Showcase, Nov 2007

 

"Any venues booking Bruce McLaren would well do check that their soundproofing is up to scratch, as he surely has on of the most booming, impressively loud voices on the circuit.  Certainly more at home tackling West End musical material than contemporary numbers, he's tailor-made for a lead role in just about any big production, and highly suitable for cruise ship work.  Whichever he ends up doing this year, I'm sure he'll impress audiences with his vocal range."

Derek Smith, The Stage, Showcall Showcase II, Feb 2007

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"Stunning voice....great persona!"

Anne George, Trevor George Entertainments

 

"Fantastic Performer"

Bobby Ball, Jan 2007

REVIEW - DIE FLEDERMAUS

performed by Lytham Amateur Operatic Society

Revenge is often a dish served cold as Gabriel Eisenstein discovers to his cost in Johan Strauss' classic operetta Die Fledermaus.  Eisenstein (Chris Dodd) becomes the victim of an elaborate joke as retribution for a prank he once played on his friend, Doctor Falke (Martin Cope).  Although due to spend 8 days in the local jail, Eisenstein is informed by Falke that he has been given a few hours of reprieve in order that he may attend the grand ball.  Little does he know that Falke has also persuaded Eisenstein's wife Rosalind (Barbara Butcher) to make an appearance at the ball disguised as an Hungarian noblewoman.  An infamous ladies' man, Eisenstein unwittingly flirts with his own wife before rushing off to keep his appointment at the jail.  Once in jail, Eisenstein is surprised to discover that the police have already incarcerated Herr Eisenstein following a raid on his home.  It soon emerges that the occupant of the cell is none other than Rosalind's lover, Alfredo who, under the impression that the real Eisenstein was already under lock and key, had paid a secret visit to his paramour.  Eisenstien is furious at these revelations but his anger soon subsides when Rosalind arrives with evidence of his own transgressions that evening.

This was a slick and stylish production of a popular operetta.  Chris Dodd gave a polished performance well supported byBarbara Butcher and Martin Cope.  Rosemary Tonge was engaging as Rosalind's maid, Adele, and shared many humorous moments with the prison governor played by Tony Wedge.  The highest accolades, however, must go to Bruce McLaren who was excellent as the bacchanal opera singer and part-time lover, Alfredo.

The sets were superbly designed and, together with beautiful costumes and a fine orchestra, contributed greatly to a splendid production.

Tommy Warburton, NODA North West Review, Sept 2000

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