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Review: A fine festive tribute to spirit of Christmas past; 1,000 Years of Christmas Malvern Festival Theatre.

Byline: Richard Edmonds

Seasonal anthologies of prose, poetry and music are generally quite rare at Christmas, yet Timothy West, Sally Bradshaw (soprano) and Michael Haslam (piano) showed us just what we're missing.

Evenings such as this are not really recitals they can best be described as a collage, a cluster of prose and verse items along with a selection of songs and the occasional musical rendering on the piano.

But the delights of this particular evening, assembled by the performers, lay in its ability to present the rare and the unusual with touches of the familiar which satisfied the more conservative souls in the audience. Dylan Thomas and Dickens, as you might expect at this time of year, but not T S Eliot's The Journey Of The Magi. Instead, we had Mr West reading with that inimitable ease (which is this brilliant actor's hallmark) Alan Coren's We Three Kings. The running gag here was the use of the word Orientare which suggested that Melchior and company had arrived in Bethlehem from some Asian never-never land called Orientare.

Again, the audience rose to this delightful bit of humour responded very well to Mr West's superb reading of a Thomas Hardy excerpt where a tiddly church choir who had let themselves go on hot cider fell into disarray. The cider so occupied their upper chambers that they played dance tunes during a long-winded church service and were cussed by the squire who felt that not only God was insulted but his vassalage was betrayed by this extremely funny bit of heresy.

Great good humour took this well-wrought evening along at a fast pace and Mr West would certainly expect nothing less form his colleagues. Near the end Ms Bradshaw, who sang some rare songs over a thousand-year timespan, gave us Benjamin Britten's deeply moving New Year Carol. It was sung with exquisite grace and I think that many people had a lump in their throat.

In a recent interview I inadvertently added an extra year on to Mr West's age, something for which I apologise most humbly. Who would wilfully dock a year from the life of one of this country's finest actors -- not I assuredly.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 5, 2001
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