Another drift into the theatre programme annals of time!
- The Daughter-in-Law, Oxford Playhouse, 16th August 1978.
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.
- Coriolanus – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, 29th August 1978.
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.
- Return of The Passion – Cottesloe Theatre, National Theatre, London, 30th August 1978.
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. 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!
- American Buffalo – Cottesloe Theatre, National Theatre, London, September 1978.
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.
- The Cherry Orchard – Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, 4th September 1978.
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 superb 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.
- As You Like It – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, 7th September 1978.
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.
- Whose Life is it Anyway? – Savoy Theatre, London, 12th September 1978.
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 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.
- Lark Rise – Cottesloe Theatre, National Theatre, London, September 1978.
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 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.
- 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.
- A Streetcar Named Desire – Oxford Playhouse, 3rd November 1978.
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!