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.