Ready Steady Go!
- The Family Reunion – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 9th July 1979
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.
- Happy Birthday – Apollo Theatre, London, 13th July 1979.
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. 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!
- Filumena – Lyric Theatre, London, 18th July 1979.
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, 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.
- Dispatches – Cottesloe Theatre, National Theatre, London, July 1979.
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.
- Can You Hear Me at the Back? – Piccadilly Theatre, London, 23rd July 1979.
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 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.
- Bodies – Ambassadors Theatre, London, 28th August 1979.
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. 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.
I hadn’t had much luck that summer picking out the best shows!
- The Gin Game – Lyric Theatre, London, 4th September 1979.
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.
- The Government Inspector – The Old Vic, London, 5th September 1979.
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.
- Close of Play – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 12th September 1979.
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.
- 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!