It's back and it's better than ever
The 39 Steps Theatre Royal Bath
This 21st century version of John Buchan's 1915 novel has been one of the great theatrical experiences of the new millennium.
We last saw this multi-award-winning production in Bath five years ago and it is bright, innovative and funny as it was then – and probably more so.
For sheer magical entertainment you won't do better.
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Once again it is astonishing, when we have seen a cast of what seemed like dozens of different people during the course of the evening, just four people finally come back on stage to take a bow.
Patrick Barlow's production is a classic example of what you can do with a suitcase full of different hats, a smoke machine, a few boxes and four first class actors.
They allow us to watch as people escape from the police across the top of a fast moving train, hang suspended from a bridge over a raging river and treck handcuffed across boggy moorland in the mist.
But although The 39 Steps is very funny, it is still at heart an action story and we are moved through the evening at a hurtling pace from the moment Richard Hannay finds a strange girl in his room to the final moment when . . . well, better not to give the game away.
Although the play follows the novel pretty closely the evening also borrows quite a lot from Alfred Hitchcock's film version of the story.
If you can still get a ticket you won't have wasted your money. Let's hope it is not another five years before we see the show back again.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle Next Stage Theatre Co Mission Theatre, Bath
Thought to be Brecht's best play, this is a parable about ownership and justice but on the way Brecht takes a swipe at whatever targets come his way – the military, the judiciary, the rich, the poor, intellectuals, all are on the receiving end of his often humorous dialogue.
Starting after a war, two rural communities argue about who should manage the land; the previous small farmers and goatherds or more progressive fruit growers who will produce more.
But then we get a play within a play where: "It's our job to entertain you. Your job to draw conclusions."
After a war the local Governor is killed and his wife flees, leaving behind her child, who is then cared for by Grusha, a kitchen maid who escapes to the mountains with him, despite the hardships this entails. "Terrible is the seductive power of goodness," remarks the narrator.
A parallel story is that of the judge, Azdak, chosen as judge (the previous one having been hung) when the crowd are given the choice between him and aristocrat. Azdak gets the job as, "The judge was always a scoundrel, now let the scoundrel be judge."
Two years later, when the Governor's wife returns to claim the child as her own, Azdac has to decide if the child should remain with Grusha, who has raised him, or the Governors wife. Hence a test involving the Caucasian Chalk Circle.
There are many diversions on the way in this lengthy but always involving and entertaining play, performed fully in the round with minimal scenery, ie none, it's left to that best scene setter of all, imagination.
The large cast play the parts of many more characters well; often half a dozen each and with minimal costume changes.
Much more fun than this member of the audience anticipated, and as ultimately it's decided that, "Everything belongs by right to those who care for it," the play gives ample food for thought as well as entertainment.
It runs until Saturday.
Bath Cantata Group St Stephen's Church, Bath
Saturday marked the Bath Cantata Group's last performance with Edna Blackwell as their musical director after 35 years at the helm.
In the beautiful setting of St Stephen's Church, Lansdown, the diminutive and spirited Edna began the evening by conducting the group's rendition of Faure's Requiem. This included one of the evening's highlights, Sanctus played wonderfully by the orchestra's leader, Matthew Taylor.
The second half began with a lovely rendition of Rossini's Qui Tollis from Petite Messe Solonnelle, via Handel's well known Let The Bright Seraphim.
Edna orchestrated a version of Liza Lehmann's In a Persian Garden to include long-serving orchestra members such as the string section, paying tribute to Matthew Taylor.
We were then treated to Handel's The Trumpet Shall Sound followed by the finale of Mozart's Missa Brevis where the four soloists excelled.
The evening's tribute to a memorable leader who was described as "generous, with a great sense of humour, understanding and hard working" mentioned that Edna had spent many hours posting musical scores out to the orchestra members, so much so that she was once accused by her local post office of being an 'eBay grandma'.
When Edna resigns from the BCG at the end of this summer, she will continue to teach, deputise with Bath's Pump Room Trio and accompany her small group Operaletta.
Edna said that for her next big birthday, when she turns 100, she will play Happy Birthday to herself in the Pump Rooms –a true inspiration and hard act to follow.
Paragon Singers Church of St Alphege, Bath
There is much to be said for singing a programme through without an often extended interval, with just the briefest of breaks for legs to be stretched and choir throats to be cleared.
And this programme of three masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque music was a celebration of delights.
The 16th century composer Lassus' setting of Lagrime di San Pietro, sung a capella, is a classic of intricate counterpoint. Bach's Jesu meine Freude needs no introduction.
After a minor difference of tune between Steven Hollas on the organ and the voices, early on, this was a really authentic performance, the tempi finely judged, and the ensemble clear and crisp, with a strong, robust finale ending in the joyful tierce de picardie.
The final Scarlatti setting of the Stabat Mater was a revelation.
It describes Mary at the foot of the cross, yet without lingering over her grief. The agony of Christ is evoked with astonishingly complex harmonic progression, yet without a trace of sentimentality.
It was a very satisfactory night of musical excellence for conductor Keith Bennett and his talented singers.
Peter Lloyd Williams