Review – Four Quartets, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 9th June 2021

T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets comes to the Royal and Derngate hotfoot from its opening at the Theatre Royal Bath last week, with star of stage and screen Ralph Fiennes ambitiously presenting these four connected poems as a theatrical event; the perfect antidote to COVID, as it’s a naturally socially-distanced play in front of a socially-distanced audience, and lasting 75 minutes so that it needs no interval. It examines the concept of time, and who wouldn’t wish to go back to the relatively carefree days of 2019 when all we had to worry about was who would win the General Election.

Personally, I’ve always struggled with the Four Quartets. The first poem, Burnt Norton – which isn’t an obscure colour on an artist’s palette but a manor house in Gloucestershire – was published in 1936 as a stand-alone work. Later, Eliot decided to write three more poems, sharing the same five-part structure, to create an extended collection. Each poem starts with a series of statements and counterstatements; then moves into a more lyrical mode; then movement becomes the central theme; then a short lyric precedes a final resolution. Reading them, some of his lines bounce off the page with elegant clarity and inspirational thought. The still point of the turning world, for example,  is a phrase that has seamlessly floated into everyday language. Other parts come across as intractable and turgid, and you resent Eliot for being just too darn clever-clever for his boots, with his classical allusions, religious façade, and use of deliberately obfuscatory language. No wonder Toilets is T. S. Eliot spelled backwards.*

Back in the day, Eliot recorded a reading of the Four Quartets, and his recitative skill was utterly abysmal. Every word sounds the same, portentously, and dully given the same emphasis. It’s a very boring experience. The challenge for Mr Fiennes is to make the four poems come to life as a dramatic narrative, that either clarifies their meaning for us, or makes us look at them in a new way, or somehow gives us something more than just sitting down and getting our old Faber edition out.

And Oh My Giddy Aunt does he succeed! From the moment he gives extra, inquisitive weight to the word perhaps in the second line of Burnt Norton, you know this is going to be a real interpretation of Eliot’s words, not mere recitation. Imagine that Mr Fiennes is Mr Eliot, trying to grapple with a complicated concept that is emerging in his brain, speaking out his mind’s words to see if they make any kind of sense; if they do, he runs with it, excitedly giving them meaning and truth; if they don’t, he falters, his words fall away and we all feel as though we’ve reached the same dead end. If the Four Quartets were a game of rugby, and Mr Eliot the fly-half, he winkles an idea out of the scrum and either scores an instant try in a blaze of glory, or gets tackled by half a dozen burly opponents and gets squished. Either way, Mr Fiennes takes us every step of his journey, and it’s irresistible.

There’s no doubt that he is helped by Hildegard Bechtler’s domineering and eerie set – two big revolving drab slabs that evoke the dry concrete of Burnt Norton, Christopher Shutt’s sound designs that bring the crashing waves of the Dry Salvages thundering into the auditorium, but above all Tim Lutkin’s superb lighting that guides us through the sections of the poem, radiating light onto Mr Fiennes’ face when the surface glittered out of heart of light, beaming red to evoke pentecostal fire in the dark time of the year. Dressed in sombre colours and barefoot, Mr Fiennes takes Eliot’s words and eludicates and clarifies them, entertains us with them, surprises us with them, invests them with humanity rather than just dry and dusty theory. He demarcates each individual section of the poems with a change of tone or stance, so you always get a sense of the progress being made. He brings out the very slight moments of gentle humour; Eliot would be aghast at how populist his twittering world could be interpreted in the social media age.

From the audience’s perspective, the show can be as active or as passive as you wish it to be. The beautiful glossy programme starts with a quotation from Eliot’s own The Frontiers of Criticism: “As for the meaning of the poem as a whole, it is not exhausted by any explanation, for the meaning is what the poem means to different sensitive readers.” It’s entirely up to you. You can listen and watch, alert as a rabbit with your whiskers twitching, munching down whatever meaning you feel appropriate from the words and movements; or you can recline back, and let Mr Fiennes’ voice simply wash over you. Because I have always found the Four Quartets very hard to understand, I really wanted to come out of this show feeling better acquainted with it, with greater insights and awareness of what’s going on. And Mr Fiennes gives us that with huge generosity and patience. I can’t imagine how anyone could have converted Eliot’s words into a stage show better.

* It isn’t, but I made you think twice.

Production photographs by Matt Humphrey

Five Alive, let Theatre Thrive!

 

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Uzbekistan – October 2009

Nearly at the end of our lockdown armchair travel alphabet, and U is for Uzbekistan – a country I’d always wanted to visit, ever since I first heard about the silk route and saw pictures of incredible Registan Square in Samarkand. So what do you think of, when you think of Uzbekistan? Maybe it’s the same as me – the Golden Road to Samarkand?

The amazing spires and domes of Registan Square. I’ve got so many photos to show you… 116 in fact, so buckle up and let’s start on the road to Samarkand from the capital Tashkent.

Our first port of call was Shahrisabz, the birthplace of Tamburlaine the Great, or Amir Temur as he is known locally. Here’s the Great Man himself

Here’s some of what remains of Amir Temur’s Ak-Serai Palace…

This is the Mausoleum of Jehangir, Timur’s oldest and most favoured son.

And this is the Kuk Gumbaz mosque, a Friday mosque built in 1437 by Sultan, astronomer and mathematician, Ulug Beg.

We continued our drive down to the border town of Termez. As the route is used for smuggling drugs from Afghanistan we were stopped regularly by police – maybe once every half an hour, to check our passports and the boot of the car. All very polite but no nonsense at the same time. Eventually we reached Termez! This was the view outside our hotel:

So there was never any doubt as to where we were! Our tour was to start at the local museum.

But it was a Monday, and the museums were shut. However, our guide also worked at the museum, and she arranged for it to be opened specially for a private tour just for us! That was quite a privilege. We saw loads of riches – here are a few of the exhibits that interested us:

Alexander of the Great Bust – if I read that right

Tamburlaine’s chess set (allegedly)

A fine samovar. And much more, as you’d expect. Our next port of call was the Hakim-al-Termizy mausoleum complex.

Beautiful inside:

Hakim-al-Termizy was a Sufi saint, jurist, and writer who died in Termez in 859. There appears to be a bandstand in the gardens.

See the flat white building behind? That’s a military installation in Afghanistan. That’s how close to the border we were! Nearby is the Fayz Tepe Buddhist Temple – a 2000 years old monastery complex

We also visited Kampyr Tepe, which had just (a matter of days) been released from being a miltary zone and opened up to tourists. There was no one else around for miles, and hardly any excavations had really been completed. Walking around, we spotted these kitchen containers, still in their original location.

And pieces of pottery just laying on the ground

Our final visit of the day was to the Murch Bobo Mosque, the Friday mosque built in 1916. Very colourful!

A slightly nerve-racking drive back from Termez to Samarkand – because none of the petrol stations had any petrol, as the government had sequestered it all for the lorries carrying the freshly picked cotton. So we relied on reused two-litre coke bottles of petrol bought on the black market in villages as we went! But we did reach Samarkand – and all its glories.

Just wandering around on our own, on our first day

so much fantastic architecture

the domes, the towers

Registan Square itself, made up of madrasahs and a mausoleum

Here is the famous Sher-Dor Madrasah, with its fantasy tigers on the front arch

The magnificence of it all takes your breath away

Plus these buildings are tall! This is the Tilya Kori Madrasah

The arches are immaculately defined

And the decorations extraordinary

Here’s the tomb of Tamburlaine (again allegedly)

Look at all this exquisite internal decoration

This is Ulug Beg’s Observatory, built in the 1420s.

A fascinating place

Here is Ulug Beg meeting some other people. And they all look like Ulug Beg.

The Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis. Stunning architecture, housing the bodies of the great and good, including a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed. The roofs under the outside part of the mosques are brightly painted in the Iranian style (apparently).

Beautiful colours

So much to enjoy

This is the other major Madrasah, Ulug Beg Madrasah.

We also visited the Bibi Khanum Mosque with its famous stone Koran stand. Childless women are meant to crawl underneath it to make them more fertile.

It’s all beautiful by night too.

And whilst this may look like a welcoming sight – the wine is very sweet and not that great. Still we bought a few bottles to take home, as you do.

Let’s take a pause from all this architectural splendour, and take a look at some markets. Some of them are in the usual format of – well, a market! This is the market in Termez

And this in Bukhara

And this in the capital, Tashkent. Nice melons.

But in most places, people just sell their home/farm grown/caught produce by the roadside. On the way out of Tashkent, people sell their wares out of prams.

Or some more melons

Fruits and spices

The ubiquitous pomegranites!

If you saw a pram, it never had a baby in it. This one in Khiva contained bread!

Anyway, back to the sightseeing. After we left Samarkand we had a long drive to our next location, Bukhara, crossing the Kyzylkum Desert. Our next night was spent in a desert yurt.

And it was in the middle of nowhere!

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? I have never, ever been so cold in my life. My uncovered head sneaked out of my sleeping bag overnight and the subsequent headache didn’t lift for three days! I was very happy to move on towards Bukhara.

The outer walls of the fortress are enough to deter any invaders

And the old town is rather attractive – probably the most attractive place we found in the country

Evocatively lit at night too!

The next day our tour started with the Ismael Samani mausoleum


The Memorial complex of Al-Bukhari is a lot more modernAnd the Chashma-Ayub mausoleum, site of Job’s well – and now a museum for the town’s water supply!

This odd design looks as though it could blow over in a strong wind. Not so. It’s the Bolo Hauz Mosque. Very busy on Fridays, when the attendees spill out on to the street.

It was built in 1712


See the beautiful detail of the tiles
Here’s the Kalon mosque, rebuilt in the early 16th centuryIt’s a stunning sight

Madrasahs fill the courtyards

And more fantasy creatures on the decorations – Simurghs on the portal of Nadir Divan-Beghi madrasah

And the Chor Minor, with its four minarets

We saw the famous Bug Pit – but it was a bit shabby really

Onwards the next day to Khiva, a city protected by UNESCO but which has been transformed into a living museum, so it has a slightly odd feel to it.

This is the lovely Muhammad Amin Khan Madrasa

The walls of the city are immense!

And it’s very atmospheric by night

Various sights include the Kukhna Ark

which offers great views of the city from the top

including the walls

And the harem!

In the Juma mosque, every pillar has a different carving

In Khiva they celebrate the man who invented algebra, Al-Khorezmi.

Before returning to Tashkent (which we did on a most terrifying broken down old Uzbekistan Airways propeller plane) let’s have a look at some of those exquisite tiles that you find dotted around the entire country.

Tashkent is a modern city. From our hotel room we could see the TV tower straight in front of us!


But there is room for the famous storks too!Which are even immortalised in silver!

In Independence Square

There are modern schools

Modern Madrasahs

A modern Friday Mosque complex

Not sure the brooms in the market are that modern though!

And the super pears are imported from China!

There are modern statues! This is the Monument to the Fallen in the Wars

And this is the Memorial to the survivors of the Earthquake

Before we leave Uzbekistan – let’s have a look at the people. They say people make a place, and that’s certainly true of Uzbekistan. Lads on a street market outside Tashkent:

A bride and groom in Shahrizabz. They are meant to maintain solemn faces all day. If they (especially the bride) are smiling, it implies they are of, shall we say, loose virtue

Some reckless and daredevil Russian fellows (at least, according to the T-shirt one of them wore)

Photograph me please!!

Those impish Russian guys again

A calligrapher – almost everyone over the age of 30 in Uzbekistan has a mouthful of gold teeth!

A potter

Some likely lads

Folklore and fashion show girls
A happy bunch of farm workers

A family from Khiva

And a terrible Tashkent twosome!

Thanks for joining me on this long, but hopefully entertaining set of Uzbek reminiscences!

 

The Agatha Christie Challenge – A Caribbean Mystery (1964)

A Caribbean MysteryIn which Miss Marple has been sent on a rest holiday to the Caribbean island of St Honoré, where she is cornered by an old bore named Major Palgrave, who tells her a story about a murder and offers to show her a photo of the murderer; however, at the last minute he thinks better of it. Nevertheless, murders follow, and Miss Marple is up for the challenge to find out the culprit is and prevent more deaths. As usual, if you haven’t read the book yet, don’t worry, as always, I promise not to reveal whodunit!

ArpachiyahThe book is dedicated “to my old friend John Cruikshank Rose with happy memories of my visit to the West Indies”. John Rose worked on the dig at Ur under Leonard Woolley, and when Max Mallowan oversaw a dig in Arpachiyah in Syria in 1932, he recruited Rose as his draughtsman. A Caribbean Mystery was first published in the UK by Collins Crime Club on 16th November 1964, and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1965. It was also published, in two abridged instalments, in the Toronto Star Weekly Novel in January 1965.

Craddock and MarpleAlthough some significant contemporary reviewers saw this book as a return to form for Christie, personally I found it rather disappointing. As does sometimes happen with Christie, it gets off to a cracking start, but then it seems to lose its way in the middle, before gathering all its bits and pieces and getting its act together for a decent ending. Unlike most Miss Marple books that had been published by this date, A Caribbean Mystery places Miss Marple firmly in the heart of things, without a Detective Inspector Craddock or similar copper to do the majority of the donkey work, which normally leaves Miss M to hover in the wings and turn up for a few crucial blows.

police inspectorNo, in this book, the local Caribbean detectives play a very minor role and it’s up to Miss Marple to mastermind the investigation. She wastes no time starting her detective work, well before any of the authorities suspect that something might be amiss. But you quickly realise it’s a role with which she isn’t actually that familiar. Unlike Poirot, who lies with the greatest of ease, you see her go through pangs of guilt about telling porkies to suspects in order to find out what she wants. Moreover, she has to team up with the offensive Mr Rafiel, who treats most people like slaves; he’s a crude and offensive conversationalist at the best of times. We’re simply not used to seeing Miss Marple put up with impolite behaviour, and, without a decent English police superintendent or a polite environment to work in, this just doesn’t feel like The Real Miss Marple. Maybe we miss St Mary Mead too much, but sometimes it’s as though another character has invaded the book and taken over Miss M’s personality. That might account for the fact that once she had started her investigations in earnest, rather than finding it unputdownable, I found hardtopickupable.

modern novelsLet’s take a further look at what more we learn about Miss Marple in this book; as she takes central stage throughout, there’s a lot of material to consider. Right at the beginning we hear her views on “modern novels” – “so difficult – all about such unpleasant people, doing such very odd things and not, apparently, enjoying them.” It maybe comes as no surprise that Miss Marple wouldn’t like that kind of book; one thinks of her with her Bible and maybe a Jane Austen if she wanted something racy. But Christie goes on with something that may come as a surprise: ““Sex” as a word had not been mentioned in Miss Marple’s young days; but there had been plenty of it – not talked about so much – but enjoyed far more than nowadays, or so it seemed to her. Though usually labelled Sin, she couldn’t help feeling that that was preferable to what it seemed to be nowadays – a kind of Duty.”” Miss Marple! Are we discovering that you’re not quite the maiden aunt we always presumed? Sometime later her mind goes back to the past. “A young man she had met at a croquet party. He had seemed so nice – rather gay, almost Bohemian in his views […] he had been suitable, eligible, […] and Miss Marple had found that, after all, he was dull. Very dull.” It doesn’t sound like they had a passionate affair, so it’s hard to know what to make of her romantic past.

Bread and butter puddingAway from her natural environment, she’s not enjoying her holiday as much as she ought, and certainly not as much as her nephew Raymond would have expected. She’s bored by the weather always being fine: “no interesting variations”. Tim Kendal is alert to her slight unhappiness, and somewhat erroneously offers her bread and butter pudding to make her feel more at home. “Miss Marple smiled and said that she thought she could do without bread and butter pudding very nicely for the present.” But she doesn’t like the steel bands; “she considered they made a hideous noise, unnecessarily loud.” She doesn’t like the way young people dance; “flinging themselves about, seeming quite contorted.” She’s critical of Lucky: ““forty, if she’s a day, and looks it this morning,” thought Miss Marple.” She feels sorry for Esther: “Miss Marple sighed, a sigh that any woman will give however old at what might be considered wasted opportunities” – but in this instance it’s the fact that she doesn’t know how to make herself attractive. Miss Marple never was bound to the cause of feminism. All this amounts to the fact that there isn’t much joy in Miss Marple in this book – she’s out of sorts, out of place and the twinkle in her eye is missing.

NurseOne other aspect to the narrative that didn’t entirely feel comfortable to me was the side plot about Molly’s health. Without giving too much away, so I must pick my words carefully, it did feel at times as though Christie considered it a separate story, not properly integrated into the rest of the book. But that may be a deliberate ploy by Christie to mask an important part of the plot. I’ll leave you to decide!

HoletownOtherwise it’s quite a straightforward book; it all takes place in the one location, the Caribbean island of St Honoré, which is an invention of Christie’s, whose chief town appears to be Jamestown. That’s the original name of Holetown, the capital of Barbados, so maybe that’s where Christie is setting it in her imagination. Like Evil Under the Sun, And Then There Were None and the next book she was to write, At Bertram’s Hotel, a hotel plays a prominent part, which always lends a sense of confinement and claustrophobia to a story.

SereniteIn other references, Miss Marple wonders if she made up the quote “the many splendoured weather of an English day”.  It looks like she did, as I can’t find any other instances of that phrase online. The bottle that was found in Major Palgrave’s room, Serenite, is a natural medication extracted from herbs and is a non-addictive sleep aid. It’s also the new name given to a gemstone found in Oregon, USA! There is also a magnesium-based drug called Serenight.

bibleMiss Marple advises us that as a child they were told to put cobwebs on a cut. Really? I’ve never heard of that before. But apparently, it’s true. Spider webs supposedly have natural antiseptic and anti-fungal properties, which can help keep wounds clean and prevent infection. Who knew?! There’s also a couple of instances where Miss M appears to call on the Almighty to help. “Who will go for me? Whom shall I send?” she asks. This is taken from the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 6 Verse 8. And she misquotes the Bible in her sleepiness, “and the evening and the morning were the last day”; it should be the first day, not the last day, and that comes from the creation story, Genesis Chapter 1 Verse 5.

KiplingTalking of the Bible, one of the chapters is entitled “Without Benefit of Clergy”, which is a short story by Rudyard Kipling; and Miss Marple says that she once worked for “the Armenian relief”, which I presume meant working with refugees. There is an Armenian Relief Society, founded in 1910 and based in Boston, Massachusetts. Another tantalising insight into Miss M’s back story that is only lightly touched on. We want to know more!

SuetoniusMr Rafiel comes out with some Latin: “Ave Caesar, nos morituri te salutamus”. Miss Marple apologises for not knowing much Latin; but it means, those who are about to die salute you – and is taken from Suetonius’ Life of the Caesars. Basically, Rafiel is telling Miss M that he’s not got long to go; and, indeed, by the time Christie was to write Nemesis, in 1971, Rafiel has died.

PoundRegular readers will know that I like to consider any significant sums of money in Christie’s books and work out what their value would be today, just to get a feel of the range of sums that we’re looking at. There’s only one in this book – the sum of £50,000. It’s an important sum – and is the amount that one of the characters has willed to another of the characters – I’ll say no more on that front because it might give some of the game away! Anyway, that’s the equivalent of over £700,000 today. A very nice little inheritance!

 

Now it’s time for my usual at-a-glance summary, for A Caribbean Mystery:

 

Publication Details: 1964. My copy is a Fontana Paperback, twelfth impression, published in March 1972, bearing the price on the back cover of 25p. The cover illustration, presumably by Tom Adams, depicts the dead face of Major Palgrave, his bulbous glass eye staring out hideously at us. There’s also a snapshot – which is a Very Big Clue.

How many pages until the first death: 16. Another very quick death, which always gets the reader’s juices flowing!

Funny lines out of context: Sadly none.

Memorable characters: Most of the characters are not particularly memorable, or individually well drawn. I’d say the standout character is Mr Rafiel, because of his charismatic stature and ruthless domination of his staff and the other characters – even Miss Marple. He’s a shouting bully, used to getting his own way through a lifetime of successful business deals and with no sensitivity to other people’s feelings. But you can tell that there is a lot of intelligence there too, and he and Marple form a pretty useful detective team.

Christie the Poison expert: Poison is involved in the first death, and in another attempted murder that is frustrated just in time. There’s a suggestion that arsenic is involved, also Belladonna Atropine, and Datura, which is not just a pretty flower.

Class/social issues of the time: I said earlier on that I felt this was a very straightforward book in some respects, and that’s certainly reflected in the lack of social issues discussed in the book. Nevertheless, there are still a few interesting things to consider.

The book predates Roy Jenkins’ Permissive Society, but you can see some of the more modern ways of speech and behaviour appearing. Miss Marple’s nephew Raymond has a friend who wanted somewhere quiet to write a book – he’s going to stay in Miss Marple’s house whilst she is in the Caribbean. ““He’ll look after the house all right. He’s very house proud. He’s a queer. I mean –“ He had paused, slightly embarrassed, but surely even dear old Aunt Jane must have heard of queers.” I’m pretty sure that back in 1963 this was disrespectful, but common, terminology.

It’s also interesting how Molly seems to expect to have to put up with behaviour that today we’d consider unacceptable sexual harassment. The drunken Gregory, for example: ““now then, Molly my lovely, have a drink with me […] now don’t run away.” His arm fastened round her arm. “You’re a lovely girl, Molly […] I could go for you, you know, in a big way.” He leered at her.” Clearly, she looks on this kind of incident as just one of the down sides of the job.

Given Christie’s propensity for a little latent xenophobia, if not racism, it was always going to be unlikely that a story that takes place on a Caribbean island would get off scot-free in this department. There are, for example, some assumptions made about the local Caribbean staff, that, sexually, their morals are not all they should be. Miss Marple reflects: “nice natures, all these girls, and a pity they were so averse to getting married. It worried Canon Prescott a good deal. Plenty of christenings, he said, trying to console himself, but no weddings.”

There is also an uncomfortable moment where Dyson laughs at the sight of Victoria’s face; “it had looked like a faceless apparition but that was because, though the dress was white, the face was black”. Admittedly Dyson was drunk, but still I didn’t care for that sentence. Even more uncomfortable is when Tim tries to explain Molly’s anxiety: “Coming out here to the West Indies. All the dark faces.” There is, however, one paragraph where Rafiel appreciates how hard Molly and Tim have worked to get the hotel up and running, and his choice of language is very much of its day but now feels simply racist. I’m going to leave you the quote with no further discussion on the subject: “They’ve both worked like blacks, though that’s an odd term to use out here, for blacks, don’t work themselves to death at all, so far as I can see. Was looking at a fellow shinning up a coconut tree to get his breakfast, then he goes to sleep for the rest of the day. Nice life.”

Classic denouement:  The culprit is uncovered when Miss Marple and Rafiel step in to prevent another murder, and thus there is no time for a grand gathering of suspects in the best Poirot tradition. As a result the revelation is a little hurried, but, without question, it’s dramatic and exciting. Then there is a final chapter, where everything falls into place, followed by an epilogue, which makes the end feel a little lopsided. I should, however, say, that I couldn’t remember whodunit when I started to read the book, but about two thirds of the way through I successfully guessed who it was. And if I can do it, I expect most people can!

Happy ending? Not a traditional Christie happy ending – more a wistful one. Some people get a raw deal out of it.

Did the story ring true? There are two glaring aspects to the story which for me are entirely far-fetched. Palgrave is about to show a photo of a murderer and then stops in his tracks because he sees something/someone presumably involved in that old murder. There’s no way that that could have been the first time that Palgrave saw that thing or that person – so why would he start the conversation in the first place? That doesn’t make sense to me. There’s also a moment where Miss Marple just happens to find a book concealed underneath a mattress, which certainly provides something of a clue. Again, how did she know to look there? No, for me this book is one of those to be filed under Too Much Coincidence and Too Far-Fetched, sadly.

Overall satisfaction rating: A good start and a good end but it sags in the middle; and you also feel Miss Marple isn’t depicted in quite the same way that she has been before, which feels disappointing. Added to the coincidences discussed above, I can’t give this book more than a 7/10.

Third GirlThanks for reading my blog of A Caribbean Mystery, and if you’ve read it too, I’d love to know what you think. Please just add a comment in the space below. The next book that Christie wrote was At Bertram’s Hotel, but I’ve already written about that book, as my first few Christie blogs appeared in the order that I originally read them! Therefore next up in the Agatha Christie Challenge is the book after that, Third Girl, of which I only have a vague recollection – Hercule Poirot feeling very much out of place in Swinging Sixties’ London. I’m really looking forward to re-reading this one! As usual, I’ll blog my thoughts about it in a few weeks’ time. In the meantime, please read it too then we can compare notes! Happy sleuthing!

Theatre memories, you say? All right then! January to April 2007

  1. Omid Djalili – Oxford Playhouse, 17th January 2007

Omid DjaliliOne of the very first stand-up comedy shows we ever saw, Omid Djalili was beginning to break through on TV comedy shows and I have to say that, live, he is sensational. A great night’s comedy.

  1. Cabaret – Lyric Theatre, London, 27th January 2007

Rufus Norris’ amazing production of Kander and Ebb’s brilliant musical, that continues to tour and to influence other productions to this day. Anna Maxwell Martin proved her versatility as Miss Sally Bowles, and a very affectionate coupling of Sheila Hancock as Fraulein Schneider and Geoffrey Hutchings as Herr Schultz. James Dreyfus played Emcee and I expect he was terrific, but the night we saw it, his understudy was playing and I regret I have no note as to who that was. An excellent production.

  1. Hay Fever – Oxford Playhouse, 24th February 2007

I had always wanted to see a production of one of Noel Coward’s earlier sparkling comedies, but sadly I have hardly any memories of this show, starring Christopher Timothy and Stephanie Beacham as the heads of the theatrical Bliss family. I’m sure it was good though!

  1. Spiegel – Ultima Vez/Wim Vandekeybus at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 2nd March 2007

This show could have been called Wim Vandekeybus’ Greatest Hits, with excerpts from several of his previous shows forming a new work as a whole. Again, very few memories of this show, I’m afraid.

  1. Guys and Dolls – Milton Keynes Theatre, 7th March 2007

Breaking my usual rule about not including shows I’ve seen before in these blogs, this was a very brash production of Guys and Dolls by Michael Grandage, but my memory is that it was a little underwhelming. The four big roles were played by Alex Ferns, Samantha Janus, Norman Bowman and Louise Dearman.

  1. Equus – Gielgud Theatre, London, 17th March 2007

A really big ticket at the time – Richard Griffiths as Martin Dysart with Daniel Radcliffe as Alan Strang; and Jenny Agutter as Hesther. A terrific coupling of two amazing actors, one slowly reaching the end of his career, one blossoming at the start of his – and both known for their work on Harry Potter. Young Mr Radcliffe was still only 17 when he took on this brave role. And it was every bit the riveting show that you would imagine.

  1. Madama Butterfly – Welsh National Opera at the Milton Keynes Theatre, March 2007

A beautiful, strong and sensitive production of Puccini’s opera – but mainly notable for me as it was the last time we took the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle to the theatre, before her dementia sadly took over. I’m delighted to say that she loved it.

  1. Boeing Boeing – Comedy Theatre, London, 6th April 2007

Marc Camoletti’s wonderful comedy from 1962 was given a completely fresh make-over and bounded back to life in this brilliant revival by Matthew Warchus. A dream team of a cast, with Roger Allam as the Lothario Bernard, Mark Rylance as his bemused friend Robert, Frances de la Tour as the bolshie maid Bertha, and Tamzin Outhwaite, Daisy Beaumont and Michelle Gomez as the three air hostesses whom Bernard is controlling through close following of the Boeing timetables. Incredibly funny, full of beautiful period detail, and a total joy.