By Alicia Denny
Until December 7
Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester PO19 6AP
For Chichester audiences, it’s a part of Christmas as traditional as turkey and tinsel -the start of the season with a fanfare of festivity, thanks to Portsmouth’s HM Royal Marines Band and the city’s own cathedral choristers.
Much of the popularity of the evening is down to the compering and conducting of Captain Andy Gregory, whose charm and ease with the audience is allied to a disciplined musicality, bringing out the best of the men and women under his command.
The programme is not just standard instrumental carols or Jingle Bells but a variety to keep the audience interested, including solos by both female and male singers plus virtuoso playing by some of the musicians, including guitarists, and a big band selection.
There was also an opportunity for four members of the renowned Corps of Drums, immaculate, of course, in their dress uniforms with white pith helmets, to show their skills.
Under the direction of Chichester Cathedral’s Charles Harrison, the 14 boys and six adults of the choir brought delicate harmony and thrilling purity of sound to the stage as they interspersed the band’s performances with carols and sacred music.
As with Andy, over five years of being involved in the concerts, Charles has a developed a special rapport with his choristers, the band and the audience who make up a happy group intent on imbuing the Festival Theatre with Christmas spirit.
In the second half, with the boys having returned to The Prebendal School, the men, who call themselves Close Company when not wearing their cassocks, took on a larger role in the concert and showed their versatility, especially in an interesting rendition of Wham’s Last Christmas, sung in barbershop style.
In a nod to the band’s military heritage and linking to the Christmas truce of 1914 during the First World War, they featured in a poignant rendition of Silent Night, echoed by Sunset, played by the Marines’ bugler, before the mood was lifted again by audience participation in a medley of carols and tunes to send everyone home after their annual dose of splendid pre-Christmas music.