Royal and Derngate Northampton Subscription Season Launch

So we had the launch party for the Royal and Derngate’s Subscription Season in the Royal theatre last Thursday evening. Great to whet your appetite for what the Royal’s got coming up for the year. Artistic Director Laurie Sansom introduced various directors and performers who will be on stage during the year ahead and it was a tantalising concoction.

The Years BetweenThe first thing they’ve got planned is The Years Between by Daphne du Maurier which sounds like it will be a meaty experience; Kate Saxon the director and two members of the cast spoke enthusiastically about their rehearsal process and it certainly made me look forward to the play, as it isn’t one with which I am familiar at all.

Diary of a NobodyDiary of a Nobody was next, and Robert Daws read an amusing extract from the play. It’s being directed by the same guy who directed Travels with my Aunt last year and that was a very inventive and lively production, so this should be good too. I miss Aunt Augusta’s tweets. She was a bit of a girl, really.

In Praise of LoveIn Praise of Love is a 1970s Rattigan play with which I am not familiar, but it sounds like it will be very promising. I enjoyed seeing his last play Cause Celebre in 1977 so I’m well aware he’s not just a 1930s/40s kind of guy, although those early plays are very entertaining too. “Il a des idées au-dessus de sa gare”. I’m all for more Rattigan. Bring it on.

Hamlet the MusicalI’m very much looking forward to Hamlet the Musical; we had a song from Hamlet himself, and if it is anything to go by, this should be a complete hoot. I’m not concerned about being a Shakespeare purist, I’m sure the original tragedy will survive this show. I met Hamlet afterwards, he didn’t entirely blend in with the rest of the crowd wearing his Comedy Dane outfit but I thought he was a thoroughly decent chap going by the name of Jack Shalloo and I’m sure he will deliver a palpable hit.

Eden EndEden End is the next show, a J B Priestley play, again one I’ve not seen, and I don’t think I would normally jump at the chance to see it, but I am confident that it will be ace as it is directed by Northampton’s very own Laurie Sansom. I’ve had a quick flick through my copy of the play and it seems fine on first sight. My favourite Priestley play is Dangerous Corner and I learned at this launch that Mr S has directed that play previously too, so that’s good enough credentials for me.

Two Gentlemen of VeronaIt’s a long season isn’t it. We’re now looking ahead to autumn. Two Gentlemen of Verona being performed by RashDash, a physical theatre company. They weren’t there on the night but we saw a video of them at work and it looks fascinating. I couldn’t quite see yet how their style would suit the Two Gentlemen but I like the idea of its being staged in modern Milan with models and catwalks. We’ll have to see.

The Go-BetweenThe last of the series is The Go-Between; one of my favourite films. This is now conceived as a musical which made me slightly nervous, because the only music that I associate with it is Michel Legrand’s haunting film soundtrack. However, one actor whose name I regret I didn’t catch, came forward and sang a song from it, and it wouldn’t have been out of place in Sondheim’s Company – intricate and delicate. I have high hopes.

So I’m predicting (and indeed hoping for) a year of more ups than downs.

I was trying to think of what I would like to see in a “fantasy” Royal subscription season. I’d like to see Laurie Sansom do some Pinter as he is so good at getting the best out of a complete ensemble. The Birthday Party would be a treat. I thought some Orton would also be good. I can imagine a farcical and daring production of What the Butler Saw on the Royal stage. Actors from 2009’s Ayckbourn season would be great doing that. I’d never seen any Eugene O’Neill until 2009’s Beyond the Horizon but I read all his plays when I was a teenager and I’d love to see a production of Mourning Becomes Electra. I’m sure the R&D could do it. I’d also love to see a revival of Peter Nichols’ Poppy but the Royal is probably a bit small for that. Lots more ideas bubbling under the surface of my brain, but I’ll stop boring you now.

Review – Admission One Shilling, Royal, Northampton, 15th January

Admission One ShillingWhen Patricia Routledge was young she saw one of Myra Hess’ famous wartime piano concerts, usually held at the National Gallery; and this charming entertainment involves Miss Routledge seated comfortably at a table whilst pianist Piers Lane enhances the tale of Myra Hess and her concerts with delicately played piano interspersions. 

I knew nothing about Myra Hess. In fact, I think I thought with a surname like that she was related to Rudolf and was probably a spy or something. Quite the contrary. Using Myra Hess’ own words compiled by her great-nephew, Patricia Routledge conveys her spirit with superb enunciation in a classically British style. Amongst a number of anecdotes, one particularly comes to mind: Myra Hess tells of the expert performer of German Lieder, who wanted to cancel her concert as she believed no one would have wanted to hear the German language during the war. Myra Hess convinced her to go ahead with the concert and on the day the performer was greeted with the warmest of standing ovations. A simple story, but one that is delicately heartwarming.

Patricia RoutledgePatricia Routledge is, as you would expect, crystal clear of voice, allowing Myra Hess’ very proper and gentle humour to surface 70 years on, commanding the stage even though she is seated to one side throughout. Piers Lane plays the music splendidly, but unobtrusively – it is always Miss Routledge who is in control.

At just an hour without an interval it doesn’t make a complete evening’s entertainment, but it is nevertheless most enjoyable and educational.

Review of the Year 2010

Here are the Chrisparkle awards for 2010, awarded to the shows that I saw last year. A few odd shows didn’t get blogged for whatever reason, and they have not been considered for the awards.

Let’s start with Best Dance Production

Easy! I’ve seen it so many times but it’s simply unbeatable. Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake at the Milton Keynes Theatre.

Not going to give a “worst” award, as I only saw two other dance productions in 2010 and they were all very good – Richard Alston and Deborah Colker.

Classical Music Concert of the Year

Enjoyed them all, but I’m going to award the top prize to the Royal Philharmonic at the Derngate in Northampton with the programme that culminated with that breathtaking performance of Holst’s The Planets. A close second was the RPO’s programme that included Natalie Clein playing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto.

Again no “worst” award.

Best entertainment show of the year

Although the Birmingham panto was pretty fantastic, the absence of Joan Collins prevents me from giving it the award. Therefore the easy alternative is the wonderful celebration of Sondheim’s 80th birthday at the Derngate and starring Maria Friedman. I’d also like to give a special mention to Doon Mackichan’s Primadoona at the Menier Chocolate Factory for its unpretentious hilarity.

Best stand-up at the Screaming Blue Murder nights in Northampton

We saw 32 comics over the course of the year, but the really brilliant ones stood out:
3rd place – Marlon Davis
2nd place – Otiz Cannelloni
1st place – Paul Sinha

Best musical of the year

It’s got to be the first show we saw this year – Legally Blonde. OMG you guys it stands out!

Definitely worthy of worst musical of the year – Paradise Found.

Best Play/Comedy of the year

5th place – Honest at the Mail Coach in Northampton
4th place – Duchess of Malfi at the Royal Northampton
3rd place – Shirley Valentine at the Menier Chocolate Factory
2nd place – End of the Rainbow at the Royal Northampton
1st place – Out of Joint’s The Big Fellah at the Royal Northampton

Worst Play/Comedy of the year

5th place – My Zinc Bed at the Royal Northampton
4th place – The Talented Mr Ripley at the Royal Northampton
3rd place – Jus’ Like That at the Royal Northampton
2nd place – Educating Rita at the Menier Chocolate Factory
1st place – Calendar Girls at the Derngate Northampton

(None of these productions was bad. I didn’t see a bad production all year. It’s just that they were the five that disappointed most.)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical

3rd place – Jill Halfpenny in Legally Blonde
2nd place – Tamzin Outhwaite in Sweet Charity (Menier Chocolate Factory)
1st place – Sheridan Smith in Legally Blonde

Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical

3rd place – Marcus Brigstocke in Spamalot (no singing but a great performance)
2nd place – Mark Umbers in Sweet Charity
1st place – Alex Gaumond in Legally Blonde
NB Gavin Creel in the London production of Hair would have been in here somewhere but I never got around to blogging the show!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Play

3rd place – Janie Dee in A Month in the Country (Chichester Festival Theatre)
2nd place – Meera Syal in Shirley Valentine
1st place – Tracie Bennett in End of the Rainbow

Best Performance by an Actor in a Play

3rd place – James McArdle in A Month in the Country
2nd place – Hilton MacRae in End of the Rainbow
1st place – Thomas Morrison in Honest

Best ensemble performance by the company

3rd place – Sweet Nothings at the Royal Northampton (Young Vic production)
2nd place – The Duchess of Malfi
1st place – The Big Fellah

Favourite theatre of the year:

The Royal, Northampton

Here’s to another happy year of theatregoing!

Review – Dick Whittington, Birmingham Hippodrome, December 30th

Dick WhittingtonWell this was the panto with the starriest cast of all this year. Joan Collins, Julian Clary, Nigel Havers fresh out of the jungle, Keith Harris and Orville – yes indeed! Still treading the boards and the duck still can’t fly.

And then the stirring unquiet on the internet that Joan Collins wasn’t appearing in many of the performances because she was suffering from flu. Well there’s a lot of it about. And I’m sure she would have had a flu jab. Still, even if she was just doing her best to appear it would have been a good thing.

Julian Clary Alas no. When we arrived for the matinee last Thursday there were no notices up saying “the management regrets” or inserts in the programme that read “Miss Collins role will now be played by…” So we thought we were on to a winner. But as the lights came down, the first person on the stage was the Company Manager, regretting that a significant person in their company was unable to perform. A huge wave of misery passed through the auditorium. Stoically we applauded the fact that a local lad would be playing her part. (Yes, lad, not lady).

Nigel Havers But you can never book a show on the strength that a certain member of the cast will definitely appear. It’s one of the rules of theatregoing. The whole cast could be off with rabies and they could bring in residents from the nearby old peoples home to read the script, it’s allowed. Even when the theatre has trumpeted the appearance of Miss Collins since the early part of last year. The show must go on, not the star.

So you can sense my disappointment.


Wayne Fitzsimmons This is a majorly terrific panto, with some of the funniest and liveliest panto performances you are ever likely to witness. Let’s start at the top. Julian Clary is the Spirit of the Bells – a male fairy. No sniggers, please, or rather, loads of sniggers. Whenever he appears he lights up the stage and there is an incredible comfort to his interaction with the audience. You can just trust him to say the right thing at the right time. And his singing…. I wonder what Lee Marvin would have made of it. And his interaction with Orville… lying in bed with the duck, and just saying “tempted…” really funny stuff. I won’t tell you any more of his lines because the show’s still on for another month.

Keith Harris Nigel Havers is King Rat, and a dashed fine attempt he makes at it too. Lots of current references, particularly to his time in the jungle – if you didn’t see him in “I’m a Celebrity…” you’ll miss a lot of the jokes. Now if he had been appearing with Joan Collins I can imagine the sparkiness between the two of them would be great. However we saw Wayne Fitzsimmons – usually one of the dancers – appearing as Queen Rat. It was a performance full of venom but without much subtlety or comic timing; still, he remembered all his lines and kept the show going.

Liam Tamne And yes, Keith Harris and Orville, and Cuddles, is back. You have to say about him – what a trouper. Like Julian Clary, his interaction with the audience is brilliant, his routines are funny and you should have seen and heard the way the kids were laughing. Full blown, uncontrollable, bottom of the heart laughter. An excellent performance.

Kathryn Rooney Liam Tamne and Kathryn Rooney as Dick Whittington and Alice Fitzwarren also performed their socks off. Very likeable personalities, sang and danced extremely well, but also with good comedy skills, usually at the mercy of Mr Clary. I wasn’t quite so sure about Jeffrey Holland as the Dame, I think the part was somewhat underwritten and his costumes weren’t really over-the-top enough. Probably too much to compete with the Spirit of the Bells, but it did come over a little underwhelming as a result.

Jeffrey HollandAdding in an athletically appealing pantomime cat and a Sultan of Morocco who provides (in the words of John Barrowman in a Birmingham panto a few years ago “something for everyone”), and you have a really super show. I wouldn’t worry too much if Joan Collins is off sick the day you go – you’ll have a great time.

Review – The Rivals, Theatre Royal Haymarket, December 29th

The RivalsWe always like a trip to London during the Christmas break, and a major part of this is getting half price tickets for something at the TKTS booth. There were two shows I fancied seeing – and this was one of them. I’ve never seen a proper production of The Rivals though of course I had read it as a student. My memory of it was that it was good, but not as good as The School for Scandal or The Critic. And having seen a decent production of it now, I think I was right.

Penelope KeithThe big draw for this production is the To The Manor Born coupling of Penelope Keith as Mrs Malaprop and Peter Bowles as Sir Anthony Absolute. And an excellent couple they do make. Penelope Keith in particular keeps her scenes moving at an excellent pace, Peter Bowles making the most of her malapropisms whilst still being a real character at heart. Occasionally we felt that Peter Bowles was phoning it in, but he was still entertaining to watch.

Rhys Jennings One person I was well-impressed with was Rhys Jennings, who was understudying the role of Bob Acres the night we saw it. A very solid performance, getting lots of laughs!

I wasn’t that impressed with the set though. It cleverly reminds you of the Royal Crescent in Bath, which is of course where the play is set; but it also reminded me of a bullring, and I’m not sure that’s appropriate – the play’s hardly torturing its characters to death. The lack of natural scenery made the constant picking up and putting down of furniture between scenes rather tedious. I would have preferred a few regency stripes. But that’s just me.

Theatre Royal HaymarketOne thing about using the half price booth – lots of other people do too, so the best seats we could get were row S of the stalls. Felt quite a long way back, and the Haymarket doesn’t offer massive leg room (none whatsoever in those seats); so the fact that the two and a half hours flies by without checking your watch must mean they’re doing something right.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,500 times in 2010. That’s about 6 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 54 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 240 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 169mb. That’s about 5 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was September 8th with 63 views. The most popular post that day was Review – The Big Fellah, Out of Joint, Royal & Derngate Northampton, 7th September.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for patricia hodge, lynda bellingham, tell me on a sunday claire sweeney review, leanne best, and claire sweeney.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Review – The Big Fellah, Out of Joint, Royal & Derngate Northampton, 7th September September 2010


Review – Tell Me On A Sunday, Royal & Derngate, Northampton, 31st August September 2010


Review – The Duchess of Malfi, Royal & Derngate, Northampton, 20th October October 2010


Review – My Zinc Bed, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, Tuesday 2nd March March 2010


Review – The Talented Mr Ripley, Royal & Derngate, Northampton, October 6th October 2010