Steve Earle and the Dukes


Brighton Dome, Brighton, Tuesday, July 17

“PEOPLE ask me, ‘Why isn’t this album political?’ I didn’t know this s*** was going to happen when I wrote the songs!”

Steve Earle is apologising to the audience at the Dome because his terrific new record So You Wanna Be An Outlaw doesn’t have any songs about Donald Trump.

A good thing perhaps.

The left-wing country rocker opened his show with six numbers from it. Even a Brighton audience might find half a dozen anti-Trump songs in a row a bit much.

New songs divide live audiences. But Outlaw – Earle’s first proper country album for many years – is so good, it got a rapturous welcome.

Earle played 27 songs in two hours so there was plenty of room to cover all the bases of his astonishing career.

Inevitably, early classics My Old Friend The Blues and Guitar Town got the biggest cheers, as did Taneytown and Hardcore Troubadour from his golden period of the late 90s/early 00s.

Copperhead Road, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, went down a storm too – although Earle occasionally seems fed up with his biggest hit.

Moving between electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin and harmonica, Earle was in great voice.

And the Dukes, featuring Chris Masterson on lead guitar and his wife Eleanor Whitmore on violin, know how to crank out both high-voltage rock ’n’ roll and subtle country twanging.

Earle is an engaging and amusing performer, too, introducing Whitmore, the only woman, as “diluting the ugly and upping the IQ” of the band.

At one point Earle said: “This town is one of my favourite places in the world to play in. I sell more tickets here than anywhere.”

Some fans may have jumped ship years ago when Earle sobered up and started getting on his soapbox but that is exactly the reason Brighton still loves him.

Simon Copeland

Me and My Girl


Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester, July 9, runs until August 25

THIS season’s productions have not met with the usual acclaim from critics, although they have been well received by audiences and by this reviewer.

Not surprisingly there has been speculation over the choice of Matt Lucas for the lead role of Bill Snibson, in the first of this year’s musicals.

Is he an inspired choice or a star name mistake?

Unfortunately I am unable to provide the answer as indisposition meant that Lucas had to miss Monday’s Press Night.

Having seen a throat specialist he had been advised to rest his voice.

Therefore the stuff of theatrical dreams occurred as up stepped understudy Ryan Pidgen who, with just a few hours of rehearsal that afternoon, wowed the audience.

His performance was stunning and seamless.

He earned the show its fifth star.

This 1930s musical had already received a book revision in 1985 by Stephen Fry and now the artistic team at Chichester have given it a new lick of paint.

Gareth Valentine, Musical Director, has introduced some new arrangements and choreographer, Alistair David, several exciting routines.

The production is slick with excellent ensemble playing, although at times the humour is heavy handed.

The plot has Cockney Sibson inheriting a title and estate, his tussles with the gentry and his fight for his true love.

A strong cast has Caroline Quentin, adding singing and dancing to her acting skills, as the domineering Duchess of Dene and Clive Rowe delivering a delightful aristocratic performance.

Bill’s sweetheart Sally is in the safe hands of Alex Young. One moment leading the lusty knees-up the next sweetly singing ballads.

Siubhan Harrison has fun as a saucy scheming temptress whilst Dominic March does well as the obligatory silly ass.

But it is Jennie Dale (Porchester the tap dancing solicitor) who steals scenes whenever she appears.

Barrie Jerram

Fantastic Mr Fox


The Barn, Southwick, Wednesday, July 18, runs until July 25

ROALD Dahl’s classic children’s story has already made it from page to screen.

Now it moves to the stage as Southwick Players Youth bring the Fantastic Mr Fox to life. It is a tale of good versus bad with Mr Fox outwitting his enemies, three greedy farmers.

He causes their plans of getting rid of him to backfire.

The stage version is obviously adapted for a very young audience and its simple script is matched by the simplicity of director, Nettie Sheridan’s staging.

A cast of 28 with ages ranging from 7 – 16 take on roles as foxes, badgers, rabbits, moles, rats and weasels as well as the odious farmers and other humans.

Acknowledgement must be made of the splendid animal costumes and, especially, the make-up team headed by Chris Horlock.

Having spoken of the show’s simplicity it has to be pointed out that set created by the construction team is far from basic. It allows acting on three levels – above ground, underground burrow and deeper tunnels.

It even has a huge tree that crashes down when the ground is excavated by JCB diggers – a clever costume design.

There are strong performances from Louis Johnson as Mr Fox, Luke Fleming and Sydney Colburn (Mr & Mrs Badger), who also act as the story’s narrators. Chay West (Mrs Fox) gets to display her vocals skills with a sweet solo.

The other animals make a fine chorus providing suitable booing at the murderous machinations of the odious farmers – a right trio of villains played with gusto by Evie-Grace Mott, Freya Sheridan and Harrison Viinikka.

The play uses music to portray the animals’ family groups but it seems to hold up the action and, on several occasions, over rides dialogue. The hard work of the cast is undermined by weaknesses in the script.

Barrie Jerram