Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

A musical on the grand scale


Tinkers Farm Opera


KISMET might not be grand opera but in the hands of Tinkers Farm it is certainly a production on a grand scale.

A cast of 48, all in sumptuous Arabian costumes, splendid elaborate sets, almost a new one for each scene, and a 14 strong orchestra, which is twice, or more, the numbers usually seen in the band of professional touring musicals, all showed admirable ambition.

Kismet has not long been available to amateurs and was last seen professionally, and then only in London , in 2007, with an English National Opera production with Michael Ball and Alfie Boe. A production which singularly failed to impress the critics.

Based on a 1911 play by Edward Knoblock and with a book by  Charles Lederer  and Luther Davis, and music and lyrics by Grand Hotel’s Robert Wright and George Forrest -  leaning heavily on Russian composer Alexander Borodin - Kismet falls somewhere between musical and light opera.

It tells the tale of a wily poet who can talk himself out of anything, except every time he talks himself out of one set of troubles he only succeeds into talking himself into the next.

The fates, Kismet of the title, intervene in the opening scene when the poet, played with a likeable air by Julian Bissell, claims to be a relative of Hajj, a beggar who has gone on a pilgrimage, to allow him to sit on Hajj’s seat, the best begging seat in Baghdad.

As he was just using it as a seat he could have just said sorry when challenged and moved – but that would have been too simple - and made it a very short show - so from that moment on he is Hajj and Kismet has a whole set of misadventures lying in wait for him.picture of Kismet poster

For example the one eyed brigand Jawan, played with some menace by John Clay, who is a big lad, thinks he is the real Hajj and kidnaps him, demanding the return of his son, a past crime our poet, not being the real Hajj, knows nothing about, so true to form he digs himself out of that hole by digging a deeper one, claiming he is some sort of wizard with magical powers.

John, incidentally, is in his 72nd show in 54 years of amateur and professional stage work which is a real bit of theatre magic. 

After tricking Jawan out of a bag of gold, and buying a few harem girls along the way to keep him going, Hajj then he runs up against the Wazir of police, played by Rob Tulk, who has the build and that bald-headed sinister look that would make him a splendid executioner or torturer in something nice and violent, such as Robin Hood.

A pity his big moment singing his solo Was I Wazir had to contend with what sounded like a building site in full swing working away behind the frontcloth as the set was changed from the garden of widow Yussef’s house to a roof-top pavilion at the Wazir’s palace.

Diane Geater as the Wazier’s wife of wives  Lalume, who seems to indulge herself with not so much a bit as a gigabit on the side, went for more Barbara Windsor than sultry in the seduction stakes, which worked well.

She had a pleasant voice to boot but was too often fighting a losing battle against the band, which is not the fault of the musicians, but a little help from amplification would not have gone amiss. Indeed sound was a problem on several occasions with even dialogue struggling to be heard above the music which means sound needs to be tweaked for the rest of the run.

Then there was the Caliph, top honcho in old Baghdad, who had potential wives coming out of his ears, but unless he marries one or all of the three princesses of Ababu the Wazir’s loan from their father, the King, will fall through and his creditors and the police chief would be wazir today and gone tomorrow.

The only problem is that the Caliph only wants one wife, some mysterious woman he met in widow Yousef’s garden, so Hajj is charged by the Wazir with preventing that marriage to save his own, and ultimately the Wazir’s skin.

The only problem is that the mystery woman is Marsinha, daughter of our old friend Hajj. You can probably see the problems arising from old Baghdad all the way to the Crescent already.

Rose Rowley as Marsinah is the pick of the singers with a fine, trained soprano voice, pitch perfect, plenty o power when needed and soaring effortlessly up to some quite testing top notes.

Her solos and duets with Richard Lloyd-Owen as the Caliph, sporting a decent tenor voice, were the musical highlights with well known numbers such as Stranger in Paradise, Baubles, Bangles and Beads, and And This is My Beloved.

Good support to from John Leaman as Omar Khyyam.


As a largely forgotten and hardly popular musical it was a bold choice from Tinkers Farm and the ambitious scale of their production brought its own problems. Cost of theatre hire and other expenses limits technical and full dress rehearsal times for cast, stage crew and orchestra which makes opening nights a potential minefield. The orchestra, under new musical director Edgars Cuzinskis had a shaky start in the overture but settled down as the night went on, and it did go on . . . and at three hours and ten minutes the show needs at least 20 minutes shaving from its running time.

Thirteen scenes gave us an impressive seven full sets and at least four frontcloths including a full stage scrim – a gauze allowing us to see the stage behind with suitable lighting.

But scene changes behind the frontcloths were too noisy and too slow, particularly the final change to the Caliph’s Palace.

Such a large cast means that crowd scenes can be slowed by everyone funnelling on or off stage and a few first night wobbles meant that the show never managed to pick up pace to develop the natural rhythm that all shows create fro themselves.

But with such a big cast and a whole city of scenery it is a credit to Stage Manager Steve Percy and director Janet Phillips that the teething problems were not larger.

As it was the show had the sort of problems that will benefit enormously from a full run through with stage crew and cast all the slicker with quicker changes and snappier delivery now they have an opening night under their belts. To 10-04-14

Roger Clarke


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