Yet More Theatre Reminiscences – September 1979 to July 1980

Another twenty, as there are a few student productions here.

  1. Death of a Salesman – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 21st September 1979.

image(685)Michael Rudman’s strong production of Arthur Miller’s fantastic play was an absolute treat. With Alf Garnett himself, Warren Mitchell, I saw how a gifted actor can shake off the role for which he was best known and totally inhabit a brand new role with consummate ease. It was a mighty, emotional and stirring performance. image(686)I also remember very strong scenes between Mitchell and Stephen Greif who was brilliant as Biff. Doreen Mantle’s Linda was very quiet and subservient in a manner that might be seen as old-fashioned today. But it was a superb production and I loved it.


  1. Hello Dolly – Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 26th September 1979.

image(683)image(692)image(693)One of the most memorable productions I can remember, I went with the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle because she was a huge fan of Carol Channing, and from this production I could certainly see why. If ever an individual performer dominated proceedings – but all for the right reasons – this was it. From the moment she stepped on stage Ms Channing exuded warmth, fun, style and a determination that we were all going to have a terrific party, and boy did she deliver. With an excellent supporting cast led by Eddie Bracken as Horace and Tudor Davies as Cornelius, this had glamour, musicality and a sheer showbiz swell. Largely copying the original 1964 production, we both loved every minute of it.


  1. Bent – Criterion Theatre, London, 1st October 1979.

image(687)I saw this with my friends Sue and Nigel because Sue particularly wanted to see it. On reflection it was a landmark production, breaking many boundaries in its serious and sensitive examination of the persecution of gay men in Nazi Germany. That said, it had image(688)plenty of humour too and was superbly directed by Robert Chetwyn with an extraordinary cast led by Ian McKellen. Its most famous scene is the non-touching sex conversation between McKellen’s Max and Tom Bell’s Horst – maybe a salutary tale for the future, it may be the only way people can have socially distanced sex in future! A very fine and emotionally charged play.

  1. Evita – Prince Edward Theatre, London, 2nd October 1979.

image(772)image(773)image(774)Evita had been running for over a year before I finally got around to seeing it; fortunately Elaine Paige was still in the role and I have to say, she was magnificent – I completely understood and agreed with the hype. Harold Prince’s production was on a very grand scale, and you don’t need me to tell you what a great musical it is. Gary Bond was a strong Che, as was John Turner as Peron. I still think the original concept album with Julie Covington is the best recording though.

  1. – Ballet Rambert – New Theatre, Oxford, 13th October 1979.

image(766)This was my first visit to a dance show, having admired dance on TV occasionally but not really enjoying it. I went with my friends Mike and Lin to see this triple bill of works by Christopher Bruce (Night with Waning Moon and Sidewalk) and Siobhan Davies (Celebration) and really enjoyed it. Amongst the dancers were soon-to-become favourites Lucy Pethune, Ikky Maas, Catherine Becque and Christopher Bruce himself. This was the slow start of what would become a love affair with dance!


  1. The Undertaking – Fortune Theatre, London, 3rd November 1979.


I decided to take a few days away from University to go back home, and whilst there decided to take a couple of London theatre trips. First up was to see this curious but actually fascinating little play at the Fortune, with Kenneth Williams as a strangely disturbing undertaker overseeing the arrangements for a weird funeral. It was an extraordinary cast led by Mr Williams, including Reggie Perrin’s CJ, John Barron, Luton Airport’s Lorraine Chase, Mrs Meldrew Annette Crosbie and The Rag Trade’s Miriam Karlin. I had dinner in Covent Garden before the show and whilst having a little walk around afterwards almost literally bumped into Kenneth Williams, who was wearing a very seedy mac and looked down his tremendous nose at me with disdain. I didn’t mind – it was a celebrity bump. I can’t remember too much about the play apart from the fact that I enjoyed it a lot.

  1. Not Now Darling – Savoy Theatre, London, 5th November 1979.

image(724)An all-star cast graced the stage of the Savoy Theatre in this revival of Ray Cooney and John Chapman’s 1967 farce that had also been made into a film in 1973. image(725)This was very much the Ray Cooney show, as he co-wrote, produced, directed and appeared in it! I think this was the first time that I had seen a preview – front stalls at the Savoy for just £5 can’t be all bad. I cannot remember that much about the show – I think perhaps it already felt a little dated but it was performed with incredible gusto by Leslie Phillips, June Whitfield, Sylvia Syms, Derek Bond, and others, as well as the aforementioned Mr Cooney.


  1. Mother Goose – New Theatre, Oxford, 7th January 1980.

image(782)image(719)Missing out a return visit to the Palace to see Jesus Christ Superstar again, and a Christmas trip to the New Theatre Oxford to see A Night with Dame Edna again (this time the tour), my next theatre experience was my first pantomime as an (albeit only just) adult – Mother Goose. In fact, I think this was the only time I’ve ever seen this particular panto which has rather fallen out of favour. I went with my friend Jon and his girlfriend Wendy, and we sat in the balcony of the New Theatre, which is rather a long way from the stage – but nevertheless it was good fun. Mother Goose was played by John Inman, who was at the height of his TV popularity, with archetypal country bumpkin comic Billy Burden as Farmer Giles.


  1. Jubilee Too – Hampstead Theatre, London, February 1980.

image(780)I was invited to see this first night by cousin Gill, who was friends with the writer Stephen Jeffreys. Produced by Paines Plough, it contrasted the Queen’s 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations with the political underworld of the time. The cast were Denise Armon, Alister Cameron, Kate Saunders (now better known as a writer), Trevor Allan and Robert McIntosh.  Gill and I went to the after show party. I felt very privileged to chat to the cast members! Stephen Jeffreys was very helpful when I contacted him a few years later for assistance doing my thesis and he gave me a number of interesting ideas to explore. Jubilee Too, however, in retrospect, wasn’t one of his great successes.


  1. Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance – Oxford Playhouse, 23rd February 1980.

image(777)image(779)A student production, by the St John’s Mummers, of John Arden’s famous military parable, featured, as Musgrave, a young Jon Cullen who I knew instantly would go on to be a fantastic actor – and so it has proved, better known by his full name Jonathan Cullen. Can’t remember that much about the production though.


  1. Salome/The Orchestra – Morden Hall, St Hugh’s College, Oxford, March 1980.

This double-bill of one-act plays was quite the talk of the town, even though I say it myself (I was the Stage Manager for Salome). Oscar Wilde’s play was given a new translation from the French by my friends Sue (who directed it) and Nigel, whilst other friends (Mike, Pete, Steve, Doug and others) appeared in it. My friend Lin directed The Orchestra. Given my involvement in this show, it’s particularly annoying that I cannot find my programme or the official photographs. “A total triumph” (Daily Telegraph). (In-joke).


  1. Twelfth Night – Oxford Playhouse, 14th March 1980.

image(734)image(735)An OUDS production, notable for a few interesting appearances. At the time I was good friends with Mark Payton, who played Sir Toby Belch, and I think gave a pretty strong performance. In the fairly uninteresting role of Fabian was a young chap from New College by name of Hughie Grant (it couldn’t have been long before he dropped the -ie from his name). He attended a party held in Mark’s college room that I remember quite vividly. The music for this production was composed by a young Rachel Portman, whose Oscar for the film Emma I saw on display in her downstairs loo about ten years ago (long story). It was directed by Jeremy Howe, currently editor of BBC’s The Archers.


  1. Middle Age Spread – Lyric Theatre, London, 10th April 1980.

image(783)image(784)Roger Hall’s Middle Age Spread had been a big hit in New Zealand and did quite well in the West End too. Bringing together The Good Life’s Richard Briers and Paul Eddington, the play centred on a headmaster having an affair with a young teacher. Messrs Briers and Eddington were a dream team who gave great performances, but I remember at the time thinking that the play itself lacked a certain spark – it attempted to be Ayckbournian, but it didn’t quite make it. Nevertheless, it was still a good show.


  1. Accidental Death of an Anarchist – Wyndham’s Theatre, London, 14th April 1980.

image(741)Dario Fo’s superb farce was very much the toast of the town and was given a brilliant performance by the young spirited company, Belt and Braces. Gavin Richards starred in and directed the show, as well as having adapted Fo’s original play. It was fast, furious and very very funny.  Mr Richards went on to have a varied and very successful career in theatre, TV and film. But I also have great memories of the terrific comedy playing by Gavin Muir as the two constables. As you can see, I received one of the Maniac’s calling cards – it was all in the punctuation, if you remember! Fantastic play that certainly deserves a revival.

  1. Born in the Gardens – Globe Theatre, London, 16th April 1980.

image(750)image(751)Determined to see as much Peter Nichols as possible, having really enjoyed Privates on Parade, I booked to see his latest play, Born in the Gardens, a four-hander with an excellent cast. It concerned a mother and son who lived together in a crumbling old house. It was Peter Nichols at his saddest, with some very tragic characters but great performances from Beryl Reid, Barry Foster, Peter Bowles and Jan Waters. Like Maud in the play, I still often refer to the microwave as the Michael-Wave.

  1. Annie – Victoria Palace Theatre, London, 17th April 1980.

image(748)image(749)I didn’t really want to see Annie, and I know that a 19-year-old chap on his own probably stood out like the proverbial spare prick at a wedding, but I thought I ought to, just to satisfy my general knowledge. It is a disarmingly brilliant show that bludgeons you into submission to like the little girls. How could you possibly not enjoy such superb child performances? I’m not sure which cast I saw, so Annie might have been played by Catherine Monte or Tracy Taylor, but she was very very good. The show had already undergone a change of cast so the meaty roles were Stella Moray as Miss Hannigan, Charles West as Daddy Warbucks, and, best of all, Matt Zimmermann as Bert Healy.

  1. An Evening with Dave Allen – New Theatre, Oxford, May 1980.

image(764)image(765)The famous Irish comic Dave Allen took his one-man show to Oxford for a week, and I couldn’t believe that none of my friends wanted to see him. So I went alone, and he was fantastic. Nothing more to say!




  1. Krapp’s Last Tape and Endgame – Oxford Playhouse, 18th June 1980.

image(760)image(761)A double-bill of two of Samuel Beckett’s intriguing plays; but not just any old double-bill. Directed by Beckett himself, this was the San Quentin Drama Workshop’s productions, presented by the Goodman Theatre of Chicago. The man behind the Drama Workshop, Rick Cluchey, played Krapp and Hamm in both plays, with Bud Thorpe as Clov, Alan Mandell as Nagg and Teresita Garcia Suro as Nell. It was fantastic.

  1. Sisterly Feelings – Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, 2nd July 1980.

image(757)Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play was one of those clever occasions when a toss of a coin onstage determines which path the play will take. I can’t remember now whether it was Abigail or Dorcas who took Simon to the picnic, but I do seem to recall I saw the “Abigail under canvas” second act rather than “Dorcas at the races”. An exciting and fun affair, this had a tremendous cast with Dr Cameron himself, Andrew Cruickshank, Penelope Wilton, Michael Bryant, Michael Gambon, Anna Carteret, Stephen Moore and a young hopeful by the name of Simon Callow. Highly enjoyable.

  1. Private Lives – Duchess Theatre, London, 7th July 1980.

image(752)image(753)This Greenwich Theatre production of Noel Coward’s crackingly good play came with excellent notices but I found it rather stiff and starchy. Maria Aitken played Amanda and I think she made the character a little too unlikeable. Can’t remember much more about it, I’m afraid.




Thanks for sticking with this long post of theatrical memories! My next post will be back to the holiday snaps and some memories from a day in Dublin last summer. Stay safe!

Review – Lungs, The Old Vic, In Camera Performance, 26th June 2020

LungsA few weeks into the lockdown and Mrs Chrisparkle and I were wondering what theatres could do to raise some money whilst still providing an artistic reward for our cash. Donating to your favourite local theatre is obviously a good move if you can afford it, but times are hard and there’s only so much anyone can do. There have been dozens of streamed broadcasts of recordings of successful shows transmitted over the airways during the lockdown which are well worth watching and making a donation for the privilege of doing so. But what about live performance, with all its risks, electricity, surprises and energy? A recorded performance can be a great reminder of a memorable show but it’s not quite the same as The Real Thing.

A few weeks further into lockdown, and, lo and behold, the Old Vic had the brilliant idea of presenting a play on their iconic stage, live alive-o, for which theatregoers could buy tickets in the usual way and then watch the live performance at home via Zoom (who’d heard of zoom four months ago?) recreating the genuine theatre experience as closely as possible without actually having to endanger ourselves by breaking social distancing. I knew hardly anything about the show but decided that buying a ticket had to be worth a try.

106087044_1810229569119312_7234165074705332147_nAnd so it was that last night we watched Lungs, Duncan Macmillan’s two-hander that enjoyed a successful run at the Old Vic last year, with new life breathed into it in this socially-distanced version with no set, hardly any crew and just a couple of camera operators. But the questions to be faced were: a) how would this work, b) would the connection be reliable, and c) could this be the short-term future for live performance? Answers: a) like a dream, b) absolutely, and c) YES! The Old Vic are on to an absolute winner with this idea.

To be fair, we’d probably have enjoyed it more if I’d remembered that I’d booked for last night’s performance and not next Friday’s, as I had erroneously written in my diary. Too much lockdown can make the brain go flabby, obvs. Fortunately, the Old Vic sent an email alert reminding us that the show was starting soon, and Mrs C was able to delay our evening meal until after the show finished. Thus, we made it to the virtual theatre with ten minutes to spare. As I was underprepared I couldn’t work out how to turn off the subtitles, so we had to watch the play with them on, not that that was a particular problem – but I’ll know for next time.

106175335_2666682963545118_4185622019019841800_nLungs is a snappy, pacey series of dialogues between Matt Smith’s Him and Claire Foy’s Her. Starting with them bickering in the aisles of a virtual IKEA, you can tell their relationship is never going to be a calm affair. Young, idealistic types who self-congratulate that they give to charity and watch subtitled films, they fret about the repercussions of starting a family to the detriment of the planet, but decide to go for it anyway. However, the route towards having a baby is often fraught with difficulty and sadness, and the play beautifully – and sometimes agonisingly – takes us on their torturous journey to parenthood. But it’s not just about infertility problems – in fact, it isn’t about infertility at all – it takes a much broader look at all the little things that can influence a relationship. I’ll say no more, but it contains a number of what J B Priestley would have called Difficult Corners.

Technically, it’s deceptively simple. One camera on her, one on him, placed side by side on the screen, which gives a more dynamic and intimate presentation than just simply showing the whole stage all the time. The camera work was excellent, by the way, as was the sound, and everything was perfectly lit, so great work by all the tech people. Before it starts, the sounds of audience murmuring, five-minute bells, and backstage announcements put you in the mindset of this being a Proper Play in a Proper Theatre.

Lungs CastThe two performances are superb, interlocking and overtalking with passion, enthusiasm, anger and as many other emotions as you can imagine. Scenes merge into each other with scarcely a pause for breath (hence the need for the Lungs in the title) but it’s performed with immaculate clarity and the lack of set is a positive bonus in that there’s nothing to get in the way of the storytelling. Matthew Warchus’ direction is all about the verbal choreography between the two, almost balletic in its accuracy and balance. Mr Smith and Ms Foy work together incredibly well, each making the most of their roles’ inconsistencies and fallibilities to present two genuinely well-meaning people who hop from car-crash to success and then back again. In these times of heightened sensitivity, there are plenty of occasions when you might feel a little moisture in the eyes.

Whilst we can’t have the real thing, this for sure is the best next option. Personally, I’d be really happy to pay the going rate to keep theatres supported if they could put COVID-compatible performances together like this. If you feel the same, visit the Old Vic website and book yourself tickets. Keep strong team, we can do this!

Lockdown Armchair Travel – India – Varanasi in 2016

I is for India – my favourite country in the entire world to visit – and here’s a few days we spent in Varanasi in November 2016. If I ask you what do you think of, when you think of India, it’s probably the Taj Mahal. But in Varanasi? It’s the Ganges and the Ghats. But first, did you know, just outside Varanasi is Sarnath?


Sarnath is famous for the being the first place where Buddha taught.


So it’s a very holy and revered site, with a super stupa at its heart.




And, unsurprisingly, a major place of learning.


But Varanasi itself centres on the Ganges.


All streets lead there!


Especially at night, when pilgrims, locals and tourists alike swarm to the river for the Aarti ceremony.



Important to reserve your seat early, but you may be sat next to a cow.





In the morning – very early – take in a leisurely boat ride along the Ghats to see life on the riverbank and to see the pilgrims bathing.










Death is as much part of life in Varanasi as anywhere else, but the city is well known for its riverside crematoria. The dead are cremated on the banks of the Ganges and it’s a major aspect of the city. Crematoria smoke frequently fills the sky.


And the wood for burning is piled high


Time for a wander around the old town





There’s also a highly respected university


But, like anywhere in India, all the best pictures are to be found on the street






And by the water


PS Watch the traffic. Some vehicles can be very large!


I don’t think that elephant indicated right.


Gotta love Indian roads


“Knock, knock. Excuse me, but do you have any apples?”


PPS. 1970s snack in the hotel!


If you’d like to find out more about our brilliant few days in Varanasi, here’s the link to the blog that I wrote at the time. Next blog – probably on Tuesday – will be back to the theatre trips, and memories of shows I saw from September 1979 to July 1980.



Still More Theatre Memories – July to September 1979

Ready Steady Go!

  1. The Family Reunion – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 9th July 1979

image(662)image(663)I decided to go and see this because I’d never seen a T S Eliot play before – and boy was it heavy going. I don’t have much in the way of memories of this show, but I do remember that I didn’t enjoy it much! A transfer from the Manchester Royal Exchange, this had a very classy cast led by Edward Fox but also featuring Joanna David (whom Fox would marry 25 years later), Constance Chapman, Avril Elgar and a respectably authoritative figure of British Theatre, Esmond Knight.

  1. Happy Birthday – Apollo Theatre, London, 13th July 1979.

image(668)On the strength of the reputation and hilarity of Boeing Boeing, I decided to see this new comedy by Marc Camoletti, translated (as always) by Beverley Cross. Again, I can’t remember too much about it other than it was extremely funny in the typical farce tradition. image(669)The cast was led by Dad’s Army’s Ian Lavender, plus Christopher Timothy, Elizabeth Counsell, Julia Foster and Malou Cartwright. I don’t think this play features as one of Camoletti’s big successes – but he was so successful anyway that it didn’t matter. The programme was very generous with its production photos as you can see!



  1. Filumena – Lyric Theatre, London, 18th July 1979.

image(658)A super-strong cast and a massively positive critical reception led me to expect a brilliant comedy. However, I was really disappointed. I found it stodgy, noisy, and rather boring. And I discovered that I was really tried and tested by the use of Spaghetti English – the play is set in Naples, image(659)and to prove it, all these British actors spoke as if they arguing in a pizza kitchen witha realla heavya Italiana accentas!  So incredibly tedious. So look at this cast: Joan Plowright (yes, indeed, Lady Olivier), Frank Finlay, Patricia Hayes and… looking way, way, way down the cast list a 24-year-old Ken Stott and a 25-year-old upstart by name of Pierce Brosnan. Not for me.



  1. Dispatches – Cottesloe Theatre, National Theatre, London, July 1979.

image(649)image(653)A gripping adaptation of Michael Herr’s book about the Vietnamese War, written and directed by Bill Bryden. It had a fantastic cast and I remember really strong performances from Kevin McNally, Brian Protheroe, James Grant, Oscar James, Jack Shepherd and especially Don Warrington, who I had always enjoyed in TV’s Rising Damp. Creative and inventive use of the Cottesloe acting space too. Enjoyable would be the wrong word, but it was very well done and exciting.


  1. Can You Hear Me at the Back? – Piccadilly Theatre, London, 23rd July 1979.

image(638)This was written by Brian Clark, who had written the excellent Whose Life is it Anyway, and maybe it was the fact that the title was also a image(642)question that swung it for me to book – but this was another show that was quite a disappointment. My main memory of it was that it was incredibly pretentious, but I can’t quite remember why. A terrific cast though: Peter Barkworth, Hannah Gordon, Edward Hardwicke, Michael Maloney and a pre-Tenko and Dynasty Stephanie Beacham, who all looked as bored during curtain call as I felt. A lot of angst for not a lot of dramatic benefit.

  1. Bodies – Ambassadors Theatre, London, 28th August 1979.

image(644)After a five week-break between shows to accommodate a pretty disastrous camping holiday with university friends, I went to see Dinsdale Landen in James Saunders’ new comedy, Bodies, an examination of marital infidelity as so many 1970s plays are.image(645) My chief memory of this was that it was very wordy and much more to do with talking about things than doing them, so again, I think I might have been rather bored by this play. image(633)

I hadn’t had much luck that summer picking out the best shows!

  1. The Gin Game – Lyric Theatre, London, 4th September 1979.

image(635)image(637)image(622)Ignoring my first ever visit to the Pendley Festival in Tring to see Macbeth, my next London show was The Gin Game, which I booked on the strength of its cast. I admit, I had no idea who Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy were, but they had a lengthy reputation; and, I have to admit, on stage, they were absolute dynamite. The play is the story of two elderly care home residents who strike up an argumentative friendship over a series of gin rummy games. Beautifully acted, written and presented, it was a privilege to see.

  1. The Government Inspector – The Old Vic, London, 5th September 1979.

image(627)image(626)The Old Vic Company held an exciting season in the autumn of 1979, but the show I chose to see was Gogol’s The Government Inspector because I’d heard it was a clever and funny satire, and I knew nothing of Gogol and wanted to find out. It was a great production of a very funny play and I really enjoyed it. The cast was led by Ian (you might say that, I couldn’t possibly comment) Richardson on top form, with great support from Barbara Jefford, Ronnie Stevens and a talented cast. Right at the bottom of the cast list, as a townsperson, and not meriting an entry in the list of biographies in the programme, one young pre-Jewel in the Crown Art Malik.


  1. Close of Play – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 12th September 1979.

image(619)image(621)There were two reasons to book to see this new play; it was written by Simon Gray, whose career I was following closely, and it starred Michael Redgrave, in what was to be his last appearance in a theatre. Sir Michael played Jasper, the elderly, demented, catatonic head of the household, whilst his family members squabble and reminisce on their situation. A very strong and moving play with a stonkingly good supporting cast including Michael Gambon, John Standing, Zena Walker and Anna Massey. Directed by Harold Pinter, of course.


  1. For Services Rendered – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 14th September 1979.


Returning to the Lyttelton two days later (and I’d be back again the following week) to see Michael Rudman’s production of Somerset Maugham’s classic examination of the effects of the First World War on an otherwise polite-appearing family. Done with a great sense of period and occasion, this excellent production starred Jean Anderson as the elderly mother trying to influence the morals of her random offspring, with a fantastic supporting cast that included Barbara Ferris, Phyllida Law, Peter Jeffrey, Alison Fiske and Robin Bailey. Very absorbing and enjoyable.

Thanks for joining me on this set of blasts from the past. Tomorrow, it’s back to the holiday snaps and I is for India, my favourite travel destination, and a few days in glorious Varanasi back in 2016. Stay safe!

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Iceland in 1998

I is for Iceland – not the supermarket but that frozen little island to the north of the nearest Viking. We went there for a week in March/April 1998, during which time the day temperature warmed up from -4 to +3 degrees. Positively balmy!

So what do you think of, when you think of Iceland? Mainly – ice!


I took lots of photos on this holiday but for some reason can only find a few – and I’m not sure where most of them were taken. I know there’s the amazing place in the centre of the island where the tectonic plates meet – and all the steam rises out of the centre of the earth!


The very bold and daring might creep right up to the edge and look down!


Not that far from the capital Rejkjavik you can find the Þingvellir National Park




It’s an extraordinary landscape



Our hotel was the Saga and was just on the outskirts of Rejkjavik, which gave a very picturesque view of the city as you walked in.




The big pond was frozen when we arrived, but had turned into water by the time we left!


Plenty of opportunities for some quirky photos



And the locals were very friendly


Sorry not to be able to show you more of the sights, but this is a little taster if you fancy going, or a small souvenir if you’ve already been! Tomorrow it’s back to the theatre memories, and some shows I saw between July and September 1979. Stay safe!

And There’s More Theatre Memories – November 1978 to July 1979

Lots of Student productions here so I’ve doubled up this selection to twenty shows!

  1. Vandaleur’s Folly – 7:84 Theatre Company at the Oxford Playhouse, 17th November 1978.

image(598)7:84 was an influential and creative socialist theatre company whose name derived from the fact that 7% of the population owned 84% of its worth – or at least did in 1966, I expect it’s even less evenly distributed today. This touring production came under the 7:84 England banner, the company ceasing in 1984 after it lost its Arts Council grant, although 7:84 Scotland continued for another 20 odd years. Vandaleur’s Folly was written by John Arden and Margaretta D’Arcy and was based on the Ralahine Co-operative Commune set up in Ireland in the 1830s, but also propounded arguments for the British withdrawal from Ireland. I can remember very little about it, apart from the fact that it made me feel very trendy and studenty.


  1. Night and Day – Phoenix Theatre, London, 25th November 1978.

image(601)During that first university term, my friend Rob and I decided to take some of our new friends, Mike, Kevin and Doug, into London for the weekend, and part of the treat was to see this new play by Tom Stoppard. image(602)It was a satire on the British News Media (some things never go away) mixed with the concerns of a post-colonial era. I remember it being very clever, very funny and very erudite – Stoppard at his best. It starred Diana Rigg and John Thaw, who were both superb; the cast also included Upstairs Downstairs’ very own Lord Bellamy, David Langton. I’d like to revisit this play some time when the theatres are allowed to reopen!

  1. The Death of Cuchulain and Shadowy Waters – St Hugh’s Players, Oxford, 26th November 1978.

image(617)image(614)Included in my list here because a) I’m still very friendly with some of the production team and b) this was the one and only time that I’ve seen a production that used Japanese Noh masks. One of these cast members is currently the UK Ambassador to Turkey! I never did get on with W B Yeats and this was all very difficult to fathom.


  1. Aubrey’s Brief Lives – Oxford Playhouse, 28th November 1978.

image(616)Aubrey’s Brief Lives is a wonderful opportunity for a character image(615)actor to indulge in some Elizabethan gossip, and this was a superb one-man performance from a young chap who I knew would go on to greater things – and so he did. Nigel le Vaillant was in the year above me at university and we met on the night I went up for interview the previous December – and what a charismatic and fascinating chap he was (and I’m sure still is). He’s primarily known for his TV appearances as Dangerfield.


  1. The Skin of our Teeth – Burton Taylor Studio, Oxford, December 1978.

image(591)image(592)I’m including this OUDS (Oxford University Dramatic Society) production in my list because I’m still close friends with one of the cast! But it’s not a play I particularly relished if I’m honest. A few members of this cast have gone on to do amazing things with their lives!



  1. The Millionairess – Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, January 1979.

image(593)image(594)image(595)I saw this with my friend Rob as we were both Penelope Keith fans (see Donkeys Years a couple of years previously) and she played the central character with natural authority and charm. Better known as the film where Peter Sellers played the Indian Doctor alongside Sophia Loren, this production also featured Nigel Hawthorne, Ian Ogilvy, Angharad Rees and Charles Kay as the Doctor – this time, Egyptian, as Shaw had intended. Enjoyable and traditional, as everything at the Haymarket always was!


  1. A Night with Dame Edna – Piccadilly Theatre, London, 15th January 1979.

image(585)Again I went with Rob and also our friend Wayne (see Oh Calcutta a few years previously) to see Barry Humphries in his most inimitable role, as the irrepressible Dame Edna Everage. He/she was at the height of the character’s prowess, and it was a memorable night of non-stop near-the-knuckle laughter. The first half started with Sir Les Patterson, Australian cultural attaché, at his most repulsively hilarious. I do remember him spotting a couple of latecomers, welcoming them in, getting their names and saying, “I must tell my friend Dame Edna Everage about you” to an audience that exploded half in hysterics and half in sheer sympathy. It was a great show, and I caught Dame Edna again later in the year when she visited Oxford. A comedy legend at his best.

  1. Class Enemy – Oxford Playhouse, 3rd February 1979.

image(587)Anvil Productions’ version of Nigel Williams’ Class Enemy, that had recently enjoyed a successful run at the Royal Court Theatre. Six students in search of a teacher, I remember this as being a fascinating image(574)and strong play given an excellent performance by some very talented young actors. The cast included Peter Lovstrom, who has continued to have a solid acting career, Keith Jayne, who entered financial services, Gary Shail, who has combined acting with a recording career, and Mark Wingett who appeared in The Bill for twelve years. Interesting to note that this play was adapted much later in Bosnia and set in Sarajevo in 2007, with the young adults emerging from the horrors of war.

  1. Bedroom Farce – Oxford Playhouse, February 1979.

image(575)I’d only seen the National Theatre production a little over a year image(576)earlier, but it’s a fun play and it was on locally, so why not? This production was directed by Richard (I don’t believe it) Wilson. I note that among the talented cast was John Alkin, who left acting in the 1980s to set up a spiritual healing centre with his wife Lee Everett Alkin (Kenny Everett’s former wife).

  1. Measure for Measure/Occupations – Oxford Playhouse, 7th & 8th March 1979.

image(577)These two plays, produced by OUDS, ran in repertory for the week, and very strong productions they were too. It was my first time seeing Measure for Measure and I found it really engrossing, and Occupations is the Trevor Griffiths’ play about the Fiat factory occupations in 1920s Italy. I’m sure the works of Griffiths are due a retrospective. Measure for Measure was the first production that I ever officially reviewed; I was working for student newspaper Tributary at the time.

Nigel le Vaillant led both casts. But I was really impressed by a young chap from Wadham who played the foppish Lucio, and I gave him a glowing review. His name was Tim McInnerny – and his Lucio was the forerunner of his characterisation of Lord Percy in Blackadder II. Also in the cast was Radio Active’s very own Helen Atkinson-Wood, Mark Saban (now a psychologist, but for many years a successful actor), Martin Hatfull (one time UK Ambassador to Indonesia), Neal Swettenham (lecturer in Drama at Loughborough University), and a young Helen Fielding, without whom none of us would have heard of Bridget Jones and her diary.


  1. A Chorus Line – Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, 31st March 1979.

image(581)OK I admit I wasn’t going to write about any more of the Chorus Line productions I saw, but this was the last night of the production’s two-and-three-quarter years’ run and it was my 8th time of seeing it, this time with some friends from university. A very moving experience, as the audience was full of ACL aficionados, and we gave it a stonking reception. My main memory is of Miss Diane Langton unable to leave the stage at the end of What I Did for Love because of its huge reception, her standing there with grateful tears in her eyes. An unforgettable night. However, I have to say, we were very reserved in comparison with the last night of A Chorus Line at the Palladium in 2014. Now THAT was a humdinger!


  1. Deathtrap – Garrick Theatre, London, 5th April 1979.

image(568)Now always known as Ira Levin’s Deathtrap for copyright reasons, this comedy thriller had been packing them in for a few months and it was a show you either loved or you hated. Personally, I loved it, with its awkward twists, image(569)false ending, lies and scoundrelly behaviours; one of those plays where almost nothing is as it seems. A fantastic central performance by Denis Quilley as Sidney Bruhl, but with terrific support from everyone else. Very enjoyable.


  1. Joking Apart – Globe Theatre, London, 11th April 1979.

image(573)image(562)Alan Ayckbourn’s latest comedy had been open for just a month or so, and had a formidable cast including Alison Steadman, Christopher Cazenove, Julian Fellowes and that master (mistress) of the befuddled old lady act, Marcia Warren. It centres on a happy couple who unwittingly cause havoc amongst their friends and relatives. Every bit as enjoyable as you would have expected it to be.

  1. Chicago – Cambridge Theatre, London, 14th April 1979.

image(564)image(565)Yes indeed, this was the West End premiere of that musical that refuses to die and just keeps on coming. I went with my friends Sue and Nigel because she had heard it was sensational. If you see a production of Chicago today, it’s full of showbiz and glamour, all that Fosse choreography and vicious manipulation. But the original Chicago, which had transferred from Sheffield, was a much quieter affair, with choreography by Gillian Gregory and a thoroughly British cast including Jenny Logan as Velma, Antonia Ellis as Roxie, Don Fellows as Amos and Ben Cross (indeed) as Billy Flynn. I’ve always had a problem with Chicago – I hate how it celebrates cruelty and crime; from that point of view it’s the complete opposite of A Chorus Line which celebrates everything that’s good about people. It ran for 600 performances, but when it came back next time round, it was a much more erotic and scintillating affair.

  1. The Observer Oxford Festival of Theatre 1979 at the Oxford Playhouse, 1st, 7th, 8th and 11th May 1979.

image(566)I saw four of the productions in this festival; one is on the shortlist for the worst thing I’ve ever seen, one was absolutely brilliant, and the other two I can’t remember at all. Alas I have no recollection of The Fool’s Theatre Company’s production of The Fall of the House of Atreus, or of the Experimental Theatre Club (of which I was a member)’s Princess Ivona. I loved – and reviewed – the Fool’s Company’s double bill of Salome and Steven Berkoff’s East (I had dropped into a rehearsal a couple of weeks previously and interviewed the director) – I think East is one of the funniest and most inventive plays ever. Kim Wall and Mark Heap have gone on to have sterling acting careers.

image(552) Vying for the biggest disaster ever was the Sherman Theatre Company’s production of Othello, with Edwin Kandiwiya Manda, Artistic Director of the National Dance Theatre of Zambia, in the title role. Mr Manda enunciated the part beautifully throughout, but with exactly the same intonation and expression for every line. When Othello sends Desdemona off so that he can agonise over her fidelity, he says the line: “Farewell, my Desdemona. I’ll come to thee straight.” With Mr Manda’s execution (and I use the word advisedly) of this line, it became “I’ll COME to thee…… STRAIGHT” as if explaining the direction and velocity with which his private parts will invade hers. One of those plays were you were literally shaking with suppressed hilarity from the start but you had to leave at the interval in order to protect your own self-esteem.

  1. Hamlet – Oxford Playhouse, 24th May 1979.

image(554)image(555)Another student production, Claudius was played by Dougal Lee, from my college, and who is still a mainstay of the Pitlochry Theatre Company, Hamlet was Simon Taylor, that chap Tim McInnerny was First Gravedigger and Fortinbras, and there are other names there I recognise from other student productions.


  1. Every Good Boy Deserves Favour – Oxford Playhouse, 31st May 1979.

image(556)image(557)A different production from the show I’d seen the previous year in London, directed by Gordon McDougall, amongst whose claims to fame is co-selecting the children in the long-running TV documentary Seven Up. The cast included John Bown, Graham Lines and Mark Penfold, all of whom frequently appeared in TV plays.

  1. Songbook – Oxford Playhouse, 4th June 1979.

image(558)On its pre-West End tryout tour, this fantastic musical lives on in my mind as one of the best shows I’ve seen. Written by Monty Norman (yes the man who wrote the James Bond theme) and Julian More, this show acts as a kind of Side by Side by Sondheim about the songwriting genius, and totally fictional, Moony Shapiro. It traces his career from his early days of East River Rhapsody, through the Second World War where he wrote Bumpity Bump for the very posh-voiced Cicely Courtneidge (although she’s never mentioned), plus the musical Happy Hickory (Finian’s Rainbow by any other name) and various other musical gems.image(550) One of my favourite songs is the extremely unPC Nazi Party Pooper sung by a furious Hitler at his piano, annoyed that his Berlin Olympics have been ruined by the success of Jesse Owens. Inappropriate for today for all sorts of reasons, but it’s a very clever song. The cast of Anton Rodgers, Gemma Craven, Bob Hoskins, Diane Langton and Andrew C Wadsworth (whom I told 25 years later that I had enjoyed this show so much) were all on brilliant form. I’d love this to be revived.

  1. She Would if She Could – Oxford Playhouse, 15th June 1979.

image(608)image(607)George Etherege’s Restoration Comedy was given a masterful production directed by Jonathan Miller and starring Paul Eddington and David Firth. Crammed with brilliant performances and marvellous comic business this was a top class show from start to finish. I absolutely loved it.


  1. Flowers for Algernon – Queen’s Theatre, London, 5th July 1979.

image(613)image(612)image(609)For the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle’s birthday, we went to see this short-lived show (the introduction of VAT to the price of theatre tickets knocked a few productions into financial chaos) but it was sensational, and is probably still my second favourite production of all time after A Chorus Line. Daniel Keyes’ famous story about the young man treated with a drug to bring him out of his learning difficulties into the realms of a high achiever, only for the drug to fail and for him to revert to his previous state, was turned into a most moving musical by David Rogers and Charles Strouse, and gave Michael Crawford his (in my humble opinion) best role ever as Charlie. Cheryl Kennedy was also magnificent as the doctor who enters into a relationship with him. I defy you to listen to the song Whatever Time There Is and not blurt out into uncontrollable tears. But the whole score is terrific. This is another fantastic show that I’d love to see again.

Thanks for accompanying me on this rather lengthy theatrical reminiscence. Tomorrow it’s back to the holiday snaps, and I is for Iceland and a chilly trip in March 1998. Stay safe!

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Greece – Athens 2016

Amongst other countries, G is for Greece, and we’ve been to Athens a few times, most memorably for a day trip from London when Easyjet first started and the flights were 1 penny. But these photos come from a sunny day on a Mediterranean cruise in March 2016.

So what do you think of, when you think of Athens? Gotta be the Acropolis.


It’s a large and exciting complex of ruins and you can spend hours there






And the views are stunning



But there are other fascinating sights. I love the 1896 Olympic Park



Everything you’ve heard about the Athens traffic is true


Need any flags?


But my favourite sight in Athens is the Archaelogical Museum


I’m not normally one for museums but this is full of amazing exhibits. The Mask of Agamemnon, a funeral mask from 1500 BC is astonishing


Zeus is fantastic doing his Warrior 2 pose in yoga. Maybe bend that forward leg a little more?


“It’s your turn to deal.” “I’m sick of cards, this is our fiftieth round.”


We’ve all had days like this


Nice vase


One fall, one submission, or a knock out


Oops! I appear to have lost my clothes


But my favourite thing in all of Athens is the statue of the boy on the horse, better known as The Jockey of Artemision, made around 150 BC. You see something different from every angle!







And, just like any other city, there are always a few odd photo opportunities




Thanks for joining me on this brief trek through Athens. Pausing to regroup on Monday, so on Tuesday it’s back to the theatre memories and some shows I saw between November 1978 and June 1979. Stay safe!


Still More Theatre Reminiscences – August to November 1978

Another drift into the theatre programme annals of time!

  1. The Daughter-in-Law, Oxford Playhouse, 16th August 1978.

image(542)This would be the first of several visits to the Oxford Playhouse over the next few years, on this occasion with the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle as we did a pre-university recce of the area near my college-to-be. We took in this production of D H Lawrence’s 1913 play that wasn’t performed until 1967. It’s a fascinating play about marital infidelity and mother/son relationships, in a typically Lawrentian style. Performed by the Horseshoe Theatre Company as part of that year’s Oxford Festival, it was simple in presentation which worked well, letting the power of Lawrence’s text shine through.

  1. Coriolanus – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, 29th August 1978.

image(545)Largely on the strength of Alan Howard’s brilliant performance in Wild Oats that I saw the previous year, I booked for this rather visceral and bloodcurdling production of Coriolanus, directed by Terry Hands. I think it’s the first time that I saw loads of blood and guts on a stage and it definitely impressed me, although I was confused and finally annoyed at their insistence on referring to the hero as Cor-rye-o-larnus, an affectation that irritates me to this day.


A fantastic cast also included Graham Crowden, Oliver Ford-Davies, Maxine Audley, Julian Glover, and a promising young actor by the name of Charles Dance. I bought a poster of this production that adorned my student walls for many years.

  1. Return of The Passion – Cottesloe Theatre, National Theatre, London, 30th August 1978.

image(549)My first visit to the Cottesloe, and my first experience of a Promenade Performance, which I absolutely loved. This production of the York Mystery Plays had been a success the previous year (hence The Return of The Passion) but I had no idea of the level of stage intimacy and theatrical dynamite that you could achieve by having the audience walk around the performers and vice versa. image(536)The most memorable moment for me – and I can still feel the goosebumps 42 years later – is when I got caught between Jesus and Judas having a stand-off confrontation with each other and I could look directly into the eyes of each and see the power and indeed The Passion of their argument. I could almost have interrupted them and attempted a little mediation. An extraordinary cast was led by Mark McManus (later best known as TV’s Taggart) as Jesus, Jack Shepherd as Judas, Fulton Mackay (of Porridge fame) as Peter, Brian Glover as Cayphas, and a young Brenda Blethyn and Alun Armstrong. One of the most electric of shows that I ever experienced, and one of those occasions where I regretted not having someone there to share it with. But the memory lives on!

  1. American Buffalo – Cottesloe Theatre, National Theatre, London, September 1978.

image(537)image(538)Having enjoyed reading David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago and the hilarious Duck Variations (how many ways can you do it with a duck?) I was determined to get tickets to see the British premiere of American Buffalo, also at the Cottesloe. This meaty play of theft, betrayal and commercial shenanigans was treated to a gripping performance by Dave King, Jack Shepherd and Anthony May. I think this was probably the first time I’d been exposed to lengthy bad language on stage but I came out of it unscathed.


  1. The Cherry Orchard – Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, 4th September 1978.

image(539)Keen to see more Chekhov, I took myself off to the Olivier to see this production by Peter Hall and a very grand event it was. A superbimage(540) cast led by Albert Finney, with Nicky Henson, Robin Bailey, Dorothy Tutin, Susan Fleetwood and Ben Kingsley, I remember it being extravagantly staged and thoroughly enjoyable. The translation was by Michael Frayn, who has always been partial to bringing Chekhov to life.


  1. As You Like It – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, 7th September 1978.

image(541)This delightful production directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird swept through the Aldwych on a breath of fresh air, really playing up the comic content with some cracking performances. Charles Dance was back, this time as Oliver, and matched by James Laurenson (whom I really enjoyed in the Australian TV series Boney) as his brother Orlando. Charlotte Cornwell stood out as a feisty and funny Rosalind, with Cherie Lunghi terrific as Celia. There was a great comedy partnership between Peter Clough as Silvius and the brilliant Jane Carr as Phebe. But my, perhaps unexpected, favourite performance came from Alan David as a dour but very insightful Touchstone on whom the whole thing seemed to pivot. A tremendous production that I really loved.


  1. Whose Life is it Anyway? – Savoy Theatre, London, 12th September 1978.

image(527)The first of four productions that I saw with my friend Robin, this hard-hitting, controversial, emotional yet strangely hilarious play by Brian Clark was given a terrific production by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. It was primarily notable for an amazing performance by image(528)Tom Conti as the patient Ken Harrison, confined to his hospital bed for what looks like it could be the rest of his life, and desperate to be given the chance to end it. Never offstage, if I remember rightly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him match this performance – it was immaculate. An excellent supporting cast was led by Jane Asher, and I remember a young Phoebe Nicholls also giving a great performance. One of those plays that never goes away.

  1. Lark Rise – Cottesloe Theatre, National Theatre, London, September 1978.

image(532)Ignoring an odd little show that Rob and I saw at the Cockpit Theatre, Lords of Creation, we next went back to the Cottesloe for another Promenade Performance show – and one that was very successful and regularly comes back for revivals, Keith Dewhurst’s image(533)adaptation of Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford. A charming show, very well performed, that nicely captured what you would imagine to be Oxfordshire rural life a century earlier. I enjoyed it, but for dramatic intensity it wasn’t a patch on The Passion, so I was ever so slightly disappointed. James Grant, Mary Miller, Jack Shepherd, Derek Newark, Howard Goorney and Brian Glover led the cast.


  1. The Philanderer – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 3rd October 1978.



Rob and I were both fans of Dinsdale Landen’s comic performances on TV so we booked to see this production of Shaw’s comedy directed by Christopher Morahan, with a star studded cast that also included Penelope Wilton, Basil Henson and John Standing. Can’t remember too many details about it but it was very slick and funny, and I’m sure I felt particularly erudite for choosing to see it.


  1. A Streetcar Named Desire – Oxford Playhouse, 3rd November 1978.

image(524)image(525)My first visit to the theatre during my first term at university, I was determined to make good use of the Oxford Playhouse and actually became my college rep (not that that involved any particular activity apart from putting up a few posters). I was keen to see some more Tennessee Williams having been impressed by The Glass Menagerie the previous year and this did not disappoint. Produced by Anvil Productions, who were the Oxford Playhouse’s house production team from 1974 to 1987. None of my new friends wanted to see this, so it was back to my old habits of solo theatregoing! Directed by Nicolas Kent who went on to become Artistic Director of the Tricycle Theatre, it was excellent, thoroughly riveting and with some strong central performances. Gale Gladstone played Blanche, Weston Gavin (primarily a singer but also with some Star Wars and Superman roles) played Stanley, and Nell Campbell (also known as Little Nell and best known as Columbia in Rocky Horror) played Stella.


Thanks for taking this memory stroll with me. Tomorrow it’s back to the holiday snaps and G is for Greece and a day in Athens in 2016. Stay safe!

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Germany – Munich – August 1989

G is for Germany, a country I’ve visited a few times, but the first occasion was when we had a day trip to Munich during our holiday to the Austrian Tyrol in 1989.

So what do you think of, when you think of Munich? I think of beer!


That’s not us, by the way. But that photo was taken at about 10am.

Munich is full of fairy-tale architecture. Here’s the Old Town Hall


And the New Town Hall, from above


There are some stunning churches – here’s St Peter’s Church, peeping over the top of the buildings


And the interior of St Michael’s Church



This is the Theatine Church (a tiny part of it!)


And the twin towers of the Frauenkirche – the Cathedral – surrounded by other buildings


So many churches, not sure which one this is!


Some districts make you feel like you’ve gone back 500 years



A little out of town you find the majestic Nymphenburg Palace