So many memories!
- The Bed Before Yesterday – Lyric Theatre, London, 18th August 1976.
The critics raved over this new play by Ben Travers, written at the age of 89, and his first play for 23 years. They said it proved the old master hadn’t lost his touch. And there’s no doubt that it’s an extraordinary achievement. But it didn’t work for me. I found it boring and generally unfunny, with unlikeable characters. Something about the first scene – can’t remember what – really set my teeth on edge, and the play lost me from then on. None of my friends wanted to see this with me – a wise decision on their part. I also discovered for the first time how uncomfortable the Lyric Theatre can be.
Great central performances, however, from Sheila Hancock and John Moffat, with an excellent supporting cast that included Jonathan Cecil, Susie Blake, Leonard Fenton and Royce Mills.
- Baggage – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 20th August 1976.
From a play that everyone raved about except me, to a play that no one enjoyed about except me! Baggage was a bittersweet, sad/comic mix, a cut above the average West End sex comedy of the time, Ayckbournian in intent, its pleasant and amusing characters were pleasantly and amusingly played. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Una Stubbs, and Hannah Gordon was also excellent. The cast was led by Gerald Harper (TV’s Hadleigh), and also featured Prunella Gee, infamous for being the first actress to bare a full-frontal on British TV, and who gave up acting in 2003 to become a counsellor and therapist.
Written by Lee Langley, who’s primarily a novelist, this turned out to be her only play. It was admittedly patchy with some great scenes followed by weaker ones, but on the whole I thought it was a very good play – although it only lasted a few months.
- There Goes the Bride – Pier Theatre, Bournemouth, September 1976.
Missing out my first trip to the (largely amateur) Pendley Shakespeare Festival (Henry V) and missing out the first of the shows I saw on holiday with Mum in Bournemouth – the appalling Aqua Fiesta which was basically a diving revue (?!) at the local swimming baths, here’s the first proper show that we saw on our week’s holiday in Bournemouth, Ray Cooney and John Chapman’s There Goes the Bride at the now defunct Pier Theatre in Bournemouth, literally on the end of the pier. Currently the building is an activity centre.
This fun farce in typical Cooney style featured an enormously entertaining cast including Norman (Roses grow on you – Ooh) Vaughan, Bernard Bresslaw, James Hayter, Crossroads’ Janet Hargreaves and Rosie Collins who would go on to be Sister Trixie Trouble in Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques. Not a searing exposé of the human condition, just a funny little farce. I remember really enjoying this – entertaining, well performed, and the Pier Theatre was a little haven of delight.
- To Dorothy a Son – Playhouse Theatre, Bournemouth, September 1976.
Our next Bournemouth play was To Dorothy a Son, a comedy that originally ran for 18 months at the Savoy Theatre in the early 1950s. Its writer, Roger MacDougall, is probably more interesting than the play, having also written the screenplays to The Mouse That Roared and The Man in the White Suit, and who largely recovered from Multiple Sclerosis through his own special diet. The play starred, and was directed by, Leslie Phillips, always a great box-office draw. This production also starred Hilary Pritchard, whom I remember fondly playing a sexy, dizzy blonde in many early 70s TV shows. I have to confess though, I remember very little of this play – I think I found it very dated. The Playhouse is currently a church.
- The Bachelors Show – Pavilion Theatre, Bournemouth, September 1976.
If you’re lucky enough to be so young that you can’t remember The Bachelors, they were a very successful three-man group from Ireland who had massive hits in the 60s and big TV presence in the 70s. They had a messy split in the 80s, but are still variously performing today. This was one of those holiday revue shows, purely designed to spread a bit of joy to the holidaymakers, and I remember it as being great fun. Most impressive was, second on the bill, Billy Dainty, a physical comic/dancer a little in the style of Max Wall, whose routines had me in hysterics.
- Ipi Tombi – Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, 7th September 1976.
Aya! Aya! went the infectious opening tune of this unusual West End success. I saw this with my schoolfriend Wayne because his family had seen it and loved it, but he wasn’t able to join them for some reason, so he got me to go with him. He loved it. Me, not so much; today I’d probably enjoy it much more. But it was a big ask for the 16 year old me to get excited by a musical based on tribal rhythms and everything spoken (sung) in the Xhosa language. Nevertheless it was a lively, colourful, skilful and thoroughly exuberant show – and it enjoyed a long and very successful run.
- Funny Peculiar – Garrick Theatre, London, 10th September 1976.
An interesting experience, this, on many levels. It was the first time I’d seen an evening “first house” show – this was at 6pm on a Friday, before the later 8.30pm show. It was also the first time I’d seen a play with such a poor audience. There probably were no more than 30 people in the auditorium. It was also the first time I’d seen stage nudity – in the form of that much missed great comic talent Mr Richard Beckinsale, who was the star of this show.
This was a very rude play! But also extremely funny. I saw it by myself, which was probably just as well, I’d have been hugely embarrassed had I been with the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle! If I remember rightly, Mr Beckinsale played a young shopkeeper whose wife (Julie Walters) wasn’t really into sex – and so he got it elsewhere. The final scene (which I remember very well) involved Mr Beckinsale in bandages in a hospital bed, being secretly fellated by Ms Walters. That’s not the kind of thing you forget easily. The production also featured a pre-Game For a Laugh Matthew Kelly, and a young Pete Postlethwaite. Although the performance I saw had a pathetically sized audience, this was a big hit and ran for 18 months.
- Confusions – Apollo Theatre, London, 13th September 1976.
It had been a tradition that Mum would take me to see a London show on the last day of the school holidays, but, now that I was highly experienced in the art of lone theatregoing, I took myself off to see Alan Ayckbourn’s Confusions the day before Autumn Term started. Confusions is an odd entertainment – five short plays that, I suppose, illustrate various aspects of the art of confusion. I found it very patchy; two of the plays are amongst the funniest things you could ever see (Between Mouthfuls and Gosforth’s Fete) whilst the others are mildly amusing at best.
A tremendous cast though, with TV favourites Pauline Collins and John Alderton heading the line-up, plus favourite grumpy character James Cossins and Basil Brush’s Mr Derek Fowlds. The fifth member of the cast, Sheila Gish, was indisposed and her role played by Jenny Robbins.
- Jumpers – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, October 1976.
If it’s Stoppard, then it must be another School Trip. English Teacher Bruce Ritchie was particularly fond of this philosophical roller coaster, and we were virtually ordered to accompany him to see Michael Hordern (what a treat!), Julie Covington (who was definitely flavour of the month at the time) and Julian Glover put us through our intelligence paces.
I have a note from the time that Bernard Gallagher, who played Bones, wasn’t that good. No idea why, in retrospect. A very enjoyable evening though; at the time I loved everything to do with the Lyttelton and it was just a thrill to be there.
- The Earl and the Pussycat – Theatre Royal, Bath, 30th October 1976.
For a half-term treat, the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle took me to Bath for a weekend’s mini-break (remember them?) and we decided to spend the Saturday night at the Theatre Royal seeing The Earl and the Pussycat, which was expected to be on a pre-West End warm-up run (however, it never made it to the West End, make of that what you will). A comedy by Harold Brooke and Kay Bannerman, it involved a Member of the House of Lords in a sex scandal, and it starred that redoubtable old duo, Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray. Can’t remember that much about it, but I remember that I enjoyed it. The cast also included Vikki Richards and Peter Cartwright. The most memorable thing about that night was that at about 4am we all had to get out of bed and stand outside whilst the hotel dealt with a fire alarm.
Thanks for sharing these memories with me! Tomorrow, it’s back to the holiday snaps and now we’ve reached C – which is for Cambodia.