Gird your loins as we dip further into the back catalogue!
- Yahoo – Queen’s Theatre, London, November 1976.
A school trip to see a play that I thought had the potential to be boring – and boy was I right. For some reason, a lot of my schoolfriends were into studying Jonathan Swift for A Level and it was thought this would be a helpful insight into his life. If it was, all I can see is that he was a very dull man. Of course the main attraction was to see Sir Alec Guinness acting in the flesh, and he cut a very imposing figure.
It also featured Nicola Pagett, whom I never liked (sorry), Mark Kingston and To the Manor Born’s Angela Thorne. My only memory of it is Sir Alec turning to the audience at the resumption after the interval with the line “I trust you have all relieved yourself of your baser necessities”. The only laugh in the show. I hated it.
- The Frontiers of Farce – Old Vic, London, November 1976.
I saw this with my schoolfriend Robin because we both liked Leonard Rossiter on TV – I was more a Rising Damp kind of guy and Rob was more a Reggie Perrin fan, but this wasn’t exclusive! The Frontiers of Farce was a combination of two one act fin de siècle farces – The Purging by Georges Feydeau and The Singer by Frank Wedekind, adapted and directed by Peter Barnes.
I can’t remember too much about The Singer, but The Purging is a brilliant play in which Leonard Rossiter played the manufacturer of unbreakable chamber pots; with the simple plot twist that those unbreakable chamber pots broke with the slightest stress. Rob and I sat in the front row and made a collection in the interval of all the broken bits of chamber pot that had been smashed and landed on our laps. The excellent cast also included John Stride, John Phillips and Dilys Laye, and I loved it.
- Tartuffe – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 18th November 1976.
Another school trip, but this time with the French A level class, as this production of Tartuffe was performed in the original French, in a touring production by the Theatre National Populaire of Lyon in France. Don’t think I understood a damn word. The production starred, was directed by (and he probably made the tea too) the late Roger Planchon. Rather reserved and dreary in its presentation, if I remember rightly, which is a bit of a crime when you consider what a great play Tartuffe is.
- A Man for All Seasons – Young Vic, London, 17th December 1976.
First play of a very memorable Christmas holiday, this revival of Robert Bolt’s powerful play was very well performed by an excellent cast, directed by Stewart Trotter. I particularly remember the resounding performance by Michael Graham Cox as The Common Man, and the cast included Ian Gelder and Simon Chandler who would go on to have long and successful careers. As you can see, the Young Vic never invested a lot of money in their programmes!
- Jesus Christ Superstar – Palace Theatre, London, 22nd December 1976.
Looking back, this was one of the “biggest” shows I’d seen at the time, with its longstanding reputation, its massive staging, and its loyal fan base. I went by myself, as I did every show over this Christmas holiday, and remember sitting next to a young woman who, whilst waiting for the show to start, went to the front page of her souvenir brochure and attached (with some glue that she had fortuitously brought with her) her ticket stub where it joined about fifty other similar stubs – that was my first insight into true theatre fandom!
The production was stunning. I found the portrayal of Jesus (by the late, brilliant Steve Alder) absolutely mesmeric. Apart from a couple of the tunes I had no knowledge of what to expect, so the appearance of Barry James as a super camp Herod worked as the fantastic coup-de-theatre that it’s meant to be. Other top performances were from Mike Mulloy as Judas and a brilliant Caiaphas in the form of Nelson Perry. The theatrical highlight of the show for me was the hanging of Judas – it was so horrifically realistic.
This became my favourite show of all time – an accolade it held for exactly one week.
- A Chorus Line – Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 29th December 1976.
This production came towards the end of the initial six months run of this show, performed by the Toronto cast. I made a list at the time of the moments that made it for me the best show I’d seen at the time, and I still stand by that. I love this show from the bottom of my heart and it has stayed with me all my life. Here are the things I wrote down:
The mystical march away from the mirrors at the end of I Hope I Get It. The touching sorrow of At the Ballet. The dancing of I Can Do That. The sincerity of And. The mammoth Music and the Mirror. The emotional and sad speech of Paul revealing his homosexuality. The hilarity of Val’s song. The magnificence of One. The pure beauty of What I Did for Love. Val singing: Orphan at 3, orphan at 3, Momma and Dad both gone, raised by a sweet ex-con, tied up and raped at 7 – seriously, seriously, nothing too obscene, I’d better keep it clean. The sequence during Dance Ten Looks Three:
Val: You’re all looking at my tits aren’t you?
Sheila: (peering) They aren’t very big.
Val: I heard that you bitch. Anyway I didn’t want them like yours. I wanted them in proportion.
Sheila: Well you got what you paid for.
Kristine: Say, I’d give anything for just one of yours!
Sheila asking Need any women? Or Can the adults smoke? Bobby saying it was about then that I started breaking into people’s houses. Oh, I didn’t steal anything – I just rearranged the furniture. Judy’s A little brat! That’s what my sister was, a little brat, that’s why I shaved her head, I’m glad I shaved her head. Mark apparently having gonorrhoea at the age of 13. Greg getting hard on the bus. Connie tap-dancing in sneakers. Sheila’s happy-to-be-dancing smile.
I’d better stop. I ended up seeing this production seven more times over the next two and a half years, with the London cast that arrived in February 1977. I won’t include these extra visits in my theatrical memories, because that would be overkill!
- Charley’s Aunt – Young Vic, London, 3rd January 1977.
I remember this as being a delightfully funny production of this timeless play. It was the first time I had seen the late great Nicky Henson, and he was perfect for the wacky Lord Fancourt Babberley. In addition to Messrs Gelder and Chandler (who were also in A Man for All Seasons, see earlier) this also featured Janine Duvitski who has gone on to be a TV and stage favourite over several decades. Directed by Denise Coffey, with whom I always associate Mrs Black and her Horrible Handbag, from Do Not Adjust Your Set. I know, you’re too young to know what I’m talking about.
- The Circle – Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, 5th January 1977.
I saw this with the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle who, as I mentioned before, was a big Somerset Maugham fan. It was my first time to the Haymarket, and I wasn’t impressed – I thought the acoustics were poor and it was hard to hear everything on stage even from our relatively good seats. A rather stately play, slow moving to start but quite fun once it got going.
Despite all its big names, the best performance was from a young Martin Jarvis. It starred Googie Withers (whom I knew from TV’s Within These Walls), her husband John McCallum, Bill Porter, Susan Hampshire and Clive Francis.
- Irene – Adelphi Theatre, London, 10th January 1977.
I booked to see this at the end of the Christmas holidays slightly against my better judgment, as I wasn’t overly keen to see it, but I did want to see Jon Pertwee on stage again. As it turned out, it was a good show, very lively, likeable and colourful, but it never got close to being a great show. It features one fantastic song, Up There on Park Avenue, which I still regularly play today. Jon Pertwee was very amusing as the couturier Madame Lucy, and it starred Australia’s Julie Anthony, primarily known as a soprano. Unfortunately, Ms Anthony was indisposed at this performance and I saw Mary Dunne in the role, who was very good. A big show, but a lot more style than substance.
- Wild Oats – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, 7th February 1977.
This was a school trip organised by English teacher Bruce Ritchie and what a great choice it was. John O’Keeffe’s long lost 1791 play was hysterical from start to finish, with a stonkingly good cast who threw everything at it. Led by Alan Howard, one of the great names of the RSC, it also featured Norman Rodway, Joe Melia (always one of my favourite actors), Zoe Wanamaker, some young spark called Jeremy Irons, and, playing 2nd Ruffian, Ben Cross who would go on to be fantastic in Chariots of Fire amongst other roles. I’d love to see this again, but I don’t think there was a recording. I am Hamlet the Dane, said Mr Howard as the poseur Rover, swirling his cape around him like a mad villain. It brought the house down. Absolutely terrific.
Thanks for joining me for these memories. Tomorrow it’s back to the holiday snaps, C is for Croatia and some memories of Dubrovnik. Stay safe!