Yes, wonderfully I have received another NODA Award! 🙂

Epsom Light Opera’s production of my version of HMS Pinafore (which I wrote and directed) has been awarded a Best Gilbert & Sullivan Runner Up Award! Make that what you will. 🙂

My production Mame, recently staged at the Epsom Playhouse, received some wonderful personal reviews:


“What a fantastic production last night. Amazing music, singing, dancing and casting – a feast for the eyes and ears, in fact, quite a banquet!”


“What a superb show, I loved it! There just wasn’t a weakness in the whole thing, a truley impressive and thoroughly entertaining evening.”


“WOW, absolutely wow, we couldn’t clap loudly enough.  Can’t wait to see your next show in April.”



NODA Review – By Jon Fox
Reviewed on Wednesday 19th October 2016

This sparkling, energetic and touching musical began life on Broadway in May 1966 and ran for over fifteen hundred performances winning several Tony awards for the leading players. Its genus was however from the 1955 novel by Patrick Dennis and the 1956 Broadway comedy “Auntie Mame” and 1958 film of the same name. Because of the necessary cost of fabulous costumes, big sets and large orchestral sound, it is rarely staged now by amateur companies, more’s the pity.

Director James Fortune’s spirited production had all the necessary ingredients: talented players in great depth, magnificent staging and stage sets, sumptuous costumes, fabulous dancing and choreography backed by a vibrant and brassy band. The show had energy enough to satisfy the Duracell Bunny! It had pace, emotion, pathos and some memorable songs, not least the title song “Mame”. However, for my taste one of the most heartfelt and moving songs ever written for the musical stage is “If He walked into my Life” sung hauntingly by the indefatigable and richly talented Lisa Scott as Mame. It would be incorrect to say Lisa carried this show, as so many others were also top notch but without a stunningly charismatic lead like Lisa this show could not possibly succeed.

Set in brash and bustling New York shortly before the 1929 Wall Street Crash, this production featured over fifty people hurrying to keep up with the Big Apple’s busy schedule. There was even a Lithuanian Bishop! Crossing the stage busily in both directions all New York City life was represented. Young Patrick played with a rare confidence by eleven year old Freddie Wilson (one to watch!) and his nanny, Agnes Gooch, the richly gifted Caron Ireland, opened the show by looking for his Auntie Mame’s address. Both were somewhat perplexed by the goings on around them. Freddie later played his own son Peter Dennis at the end of the production! In theatre anything is possible.

Patrick was duly taken into his Aunt’s care and was quickly introduced to her unconventional life style. Talk about the University of life! Agnes was employed by the lavish spending Mame as she began her battle to educate Patrick in her way, and not in the conventional way that his trustee Dwight Babcock – beautifully played by Andy Robson -tried to instill. The chemistry throughout between young Patrick and Mame was highly realistic and real warmth was evident between them both.

As the story unfolded we met more fascinating characters; Mame’s friend, confidante, and egotistical lead actress Vera Charles, played with superb presence and class by Charlie Hoddell; Dilip Patel was Mame’s faithful servant Ito, a warm hearted character, skilfully played and integral to the plot; Lindsay Woolsey, a publisher, was given much veracity and style by Stephen Chalkley; Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, was Mame’s financial saviour and subsequent husband – doomed to an untimely death in the Alps – the paragon Chris Evans as Beauregard emanated charm, likeability and professional class. Beau’s southern relatives were all wonderfully played with “awful people” hideousness by the following – Monica Turnbull as Mother Burnside (also a delightful Madame Branislowski) and her equally appalling family, beautifully played in snooty, arrogant style by Paul Hyde and Sandra Zeffman as Mr and Mrs Upson, his parents, and the horsey, spiteful ex-fiancee Sally Cato, trying but failing to humiliate Mame. Rebecca Cenamor as Sally was deliciously nasty, getting every ounce from this unpleasant character.

Rick Qureshi as the strong willed and charismatic adult Patrick, was introduced by the top magician director James Fortune in a stunning stage deception trick which completely fooled the audience (and this reviewer). Patrick, now at university and free from Mame’s guiding hand was introduced by a now mature Junior Babcock, nicely portrayed by Russell Thompson to the ghastly Gloria Upson – a peach of a performance by Jenevieve Phillipson . Her own snobby relatives played in egotistical and overbearing style, caused the rift between Mame and Patrick. This was only healed when Mame got her own back by returning the invitation for them all to come to New York City , where her deliberate marriage saboteur tactics succeeded in opening Patrick’s eyes to their ghastliness. His affections then turned thankfully to the lovely Pegeen Ryan, Mame’s decorator, played with warmth and sympathy by Emily Evans. The horrible Upson clan included the redoubtable Alex Land as the awful Uncle Jeff and an equally skilfully played Cousin Fan, given snobby life by Rachel Yelland.

The dancers and chorus were too numerous to mention personally, but every person on stage played their roles with credit and this was a very special performance by the whole company. There was much top quality singing, well controlled by the very experienced director Francis Griffin. His eight piece band was of superb quality and was a major plus point. I must credit the magnificent and often intricate choreography under the sure eye of Charlotte Thompson. This richly talented young lady is a regular on stage with ELOC, who would be crazy not to engage her again – and soon – as company choreographer. Her magnificent dancers with their splendid feather costumes brought deserved “Aahs” from a rightfully impressed audience.

I loved the crescent moon show scene where Mame upstaged and fell out with Vera. The fox hunt scene was also noteworthy, with yet more superb costumes, as was the richly comedic Agnes as a swinger and the hilarious bloody fingers manicure scenes. (Beau was the “victim”). In fact, costumes generally were the best I have seen in the amateur theatre since …… well I can’t remember when! Elizabeth Callow, Sally Dallosso, Monica Mickels, Costume Workshop, Triple C and finally WAOS supplied and co-ordinated by Elizabeth. Awe inspiring!

The Finales to both acts also impressed fully. Lighting and sound were very surely handled too, but the overall palm must go to marvellous show director James Fortune. He achieved a successfully balanced show with a host of believable characters, all well cast who provided a rich mix of all human emotions, carefully chosen to tug at and fully engage the heartstrings.

The production was by any standards a huge success leaving a privileged audience in wonder at the talent bestriding the stage. ELOC, please take a richly earned final bow!

A final praise for the comprehensive programme, with clear cast pictures and with a full page given over to NODA.

Jon Fox
NODA District 19




WAOS’s production of SWEENEY TODD which I directed has just been given TWO – yes, count them – two NODA Awards!

The first one was, as my other two for THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK and TITANIC THE MUSICAL, the Award for Excellence in the region.

The other was the Technical Award for the whole South East of England!

Goodness me!

I congratulate EVERYONE involved in the show in any capacity.

These were group awards for us all. 🙂


Wow! What an amazing review! Well done everyone. .



Epsom Light Opera Company – HMS Pinafore 13th April, 2016

Having performed in and directed over 100 Gilbert and Sullivan shows including this one, I know the repertoire rather well. To be honest, HMS Pinafore is not even among my top ten as I find the plot unconvincing and the humour forced in places. I therefore took my seat with a heavy heart to review this show – and then Damascus!! All those stodgy D’Oyle Carte productions and tedious amateur ones including many in which I have appeared – Gone!! Just like that.

The “magical” director James Fortune – a member of the Inner Magic Circle – sprinkled a ship load of magic dust all over this seminal production. It was, in essence, a new show with some familiar characters and melodies, and I simply loved it! WS Gilbert was the most topical of writers and men ….. “No telephone communicates with his cell” (1878). But Gilbert was soon to install the new telephone in his home and in the Savoy Theatre, so what better than a “cell” phone in this age of technology. “Rafe” became “Ralph” (except to Dick Deadeye) and then, upon his demotion, back to “Rafe” again. Hebe became a Lady Jane type (“Patience”) complete with several “crushed” and “crushed again”. This much enlarged part was forcefully played by Charlie Hoddell and was hugely enoyable.

There was a running gag where Sir Joseph called Captain Corcoran every name under the sun beginning with “C” save the correct one. Around 15% of all the dialogue was not from Gilbert, but was instead modernised, usually humourously. Two sailors were drummed upon stage before the show properly began to sing an amusing ditty asking the audience to turn off their ‘phones. There was ships rigging in the balcony of the theatre where we first observed Ralph Rackstraw, who was sensibly cast a little older than usual to look at least closer to the captain’s age. This age problem is to my mind an obstacle HMS Pinafore can never truly overcome.

The essential class system plot was faithfully maintained however, despite Sir Joseph letting his hair down and throwing bottles / glasses in the “Never mind ….” trio, together with Josephine and Captain “Corkscrew”. These were neatly caught by the attentive crew. All G&S operas are of their time, but to survive in the modern world and, crucially, to attract younger people both in cast and audiences, they must be relevant to today’s world. I loved the two naughty sailors, Helen Ash and Daniel Crego-Bustelo. They had attitude aplenty and revelled in it.

We were treated to a professional singer playing Josephine. The beautiful tones of Honey Rouhani lit up the stage, acting and flirting deliciously. A rare treat!

Little Buttercup – Lisa Scott – was larger than life, charismatically and sympathetically played. Nic Ash as Captain Corcoran, Corkscrew, Cauliflower etc. became Captain “Cor blimey” upon his demotion and was a marvellous foil to the madcap Sir Joseph of Chris Evans. Chris had much of the humour in this version, including wonderful non-Gilbertian lines. He appeared on deck wearing a pink rubber ring and dominated the stage throughout.

James Turnbull was another top quality performer as Ralph Rackstraw. His duet “Refrain audatious Tar” with Josephine was special, as was his speech ending “I hope I make myself clear, lady” .

Dilip Patel was the villain Dick Deadeye, appearing “magically” downstage left and whispering urgently to the captain. Dilip was one of the best Deadeye’s I have seen, which are many in number. He sang his song from Princess Ida brilliantly – a most “disagreeable man”. This is said to be based upon W.S. Gilbert himself who, though he was certainly often disagreeable, not least to Richard D’Oyly Carte himself, was much loved by his company for his many kindnesses to the chorus. History has slightly misrepresented Gilbert as a person.

Chris Haslett was a fine boatswain, singing his song “He is an Englishman” with fervour. Len Martin also did well as his Mate. Emily Evans was entirely typical of this sparkling production as a winning Midshipmite.

The chorus were fully supportive of these special principals, dancing energetically with some excellent costumes by Costume Workshop, who supply the Harrogate Festival. I particularly liked the Drunken Tappers.

Yet another innovation was the sound and lighting effects when the Captain was being taught to dance a hornpipe on his table by Sir Joseph. The Ruddigore patter trio worked well too and all three parts could be heard. The singing throughout the whole show was of top order!!

The band under the sure command of Musical Director David Edwards was always supportive, never overpowering the singing, giving full vent to Sullivan’s genius. It also had the required pace – many amateur companies take G&S too slowly, spoiling the beauty – not so here, thanks goodness.

Choreographer Amy Astley had clearly driven a dedicated company into giving their very best in her sparkling dance routines. The company movements were crisp and polished. The “Catherine Wheel” sailor effect was superbly carried out.

A special mention must be made of the superb set, one of the best I have ever seen on the amateur stage. The ship was entirely realistic looking, though the programme credited no-one especially responsible. Whoever designed it and built it deserves great credit. Perhaps it was brought in from a professional set hire company?

The evening ended with the superb Josephine, Buttercup and Hebe leading the whole company in “Rule Brittania”. Rule ELOC would be more appropriate.


‘Sweeney Todd’ had only short runs in both New York and London, 557 and 157 performances respectively, despite the fact that it is considered to be one of Sondheim’s most melodic and verbally acute scores. It draws on different styles of musical composition including English ballads, Victorian ditties and folk music, and the composer amused himself by using a William Walton-like cadence whenever the word ‘London’ was set.

You may remember that I’m not a great Sondheim fan, although I do of course appreciate that the words and music are incredibly clever, but for the uninitiated they make for uncomfortable listening. However I was pleased to see that the theatre was fairly full on Friday evening and that the audience were appreciative of the piece.

As Lee says in his message, the score is demanding and complex and this alone presents an enormous challenge to the vocalists. The staging is tricky too, but the set served all purposes and the different levels created the drop necessary in order that the customers destined to be made into pies could fall down the chute. The simple addition of a balustrade stage right created the house/window effect on that level, and the props and furniture were suitable for the period, except for the shiny stainless steel bowl as mentioned by Chris*.

The opening number was powerfully sung, very threatening and set the scene for the darkness that is the tale of the demon barber of Fleet Street. It was a visual feast with the cast representing a wonderfully varied lot of characters. The street costumes looked authentic, not just adapted to look scruffy, and the clothes worn by Judge Turpin and Beadle Bamford were in contrast quite splendid.

Had I not known better I would not have recognised Lee and what a superb job he did with the role of Sweeney Todd. His singing was faultless, and in the role of the man who returns to England after being sent off to Australia 15 years earlier, cheated of the life he should have had, we witnessed how his intention to avenge the wrong clearly grew into an overriding obsession as the story progressed.

Jenny was excellent as Mrs. Lovett. Her singing and acting couldn’t be faulted but she looked far too clean and wholesome! She was the only woman on stage, apart from the upper class ones, who appeared spotlessly clean*. She needed aging somewhat too, and as the make up was extremely good for all the other characters, quite the best I’ve seen in 12 years of reviewing shows, I wonder how Jenny escaped without a blemish.

As the young ward Johanna, Becky Bond sang and acted the part with sincerity and charm.
Anthony Hope is the young man who hopes to win Johanna’s affections and Lewis Padgett played him convincingly. His vocal ability and acting were commendable.

The role of Judge Turpin, a most unpleasant and corrupt man, is comparable to that of Sweeney Todd in that he is central to the plot and both are incredibly complex characters. Mark was impressive in the role and the flagellation scene was a very powerful one. His stature added to his threatening presence.
His sidekick Beadle Bamford who does his master’s bidding so willingly, was played effectively by David Methven. His acting was good but occasionally his voice projection eased off a little.

The asylum scene was really harrowing and a terrible reflection of what happened to the poor people who were committed to them at that time. It was an unsettling scene.

In complete contrast and bringing some lightness to this, on the whole very dark piece, was Adolfo Pirelli, and Graham Kirby-Smith played him brilliantly. His singing was good and he was the epitome of an Italian travelling salesman of the era (except that he wasn’t!) His accent was very good and he brought out the comedy in the role. St Dunstan’s Market Place where we first saw him was bursting with activity and visually uplifting. The props were very good.

Melanie Morrisey gave a first class performance as Tobias Ragg and we saw the change in her character as she grew to feel ‘at home’ in her new job at the Sweeney/Lovett enterprise.

What a twist in the plot when the Beggar Woman turns out to be Lucie! Hannah Kitchener was totally believable in the part. Her whole demeanour depicted the character of a bent and course old street beggar. She gave a most accomplished performance.

The other remaining named roles supported the principals well, and the chorus members were terrific. Each and every one contributed greatly to this memorable production.

Sound was consistent and sound effects were good – the flapping of birds wings and the roar of the flames particularly – and the lighting added to the atmosphere tremendously.

James Fortune presented a well thought out and directed musical and didn’t clutter the stage with furniture or props but made the two tier set work for all locations.

Ian Peters and his musicians were supportive and not overpowering and the challenging musical score was in expert hands.

Your programme has a very striking cover, the contents are interesting to read and it is nicely set out. I’m sure you will want to enter it into the programme/poster competition.

Thank you so much for inviting me to see ‘Sweeney Todd’ and for your usual hospitality on theevening. I enjoyed as I always do coming up onto the stage afterwards to meet the cast.

Congratulations to everyone involved on staging an exceptionally good show.

E. Gloria Smith

N.O.D.A South East Regional Representative – District 12

  • Shiny iron and steel bowls were definitely around in 1846 and Mrs Lovett would have been the only female in Fleet Street who would have washed regularly. Ah well. 🙂 (James Fortune)

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