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- The Browning Version and Harlequinade – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London – 18th August 1980.
Terence Rattigan’s double-bill of one act plays was given a strong and emotional performance which worked really well for The Browning Version and not so well for Harlequinade, where it lacked a sense of lightness. The excellent cast was led by Alec McCowen, with Nicky Henson and Geraldine McEwan. I saw another production of this double bill a few years later which has stayed with me as being a much finer offering – more of that later!
- Rose – Duke of York’s Theatre, London – 25th August 1980.
Only one reason to see this play – the Rose in the title was played by Glenda Jackson and tickets were like hens’ teeth. But I remember the play being distinctly unimpressive, pedestrian and slow, and despite the obvious enjoyment of Ms Jackson’s performance, I went home disappointed. Jean Heywood and Stephanie Cole were also in the cast, as well as Alan Bleasdale exponent supreme, Tom Georgeson.
- Taking Steps – Lyric Theatre, London – 3rd September 1980.
Skipping past that year’s Pendley Festival production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, my next show was the newest Alan Ayckbourn; at that time the great man used to bring out a brand spanking new production every year. Three rooms on different levels, but staged all on the same level so that the actors have to mime the actions of going up and down stairs between the rooms. Although Dinsdale Landen was undoubtedly the star of the show, I particularly remember Michael Maloney’s Tristram as being a brilliant comic performance. Ayckbourn was apparently very unhappy with this production, and it probably didn’t stand out as one of his best works.
- Sacred Cow – Phoenix Theatre, London – 8th September 1980.
Australian actor, presenter and burlesque performer Reg Livermore appeared in this brief and terribly unsuccessful show that became something of a cause celebre – with members of the first night audience storming off, heckling him on the stage, demanding repatriation to Botany Bay. Just think how a post-Brexit audience would have reacted! Given that furore, I decided I had to see for myself, and I cut a pretty lonesome figure in row C of the stalls on a Monday night.
Sure, it was a bit challenging, with some of the language and coarseness, but Mr Livermore had such versatility with his various characters and a definite star quality. I rather enjoyed its anarchy! He’s never been back on a British stage since, and I don’t think I blame him.
- The Winter’s Tale – National Youth Theatre of Great Britain – Jeannetta Cochrane Theatre, London, 10th September 1980.
My university friend Mark had been a member of the National Youth Theatre and played Florizel in this production, so my friend Claire and I went to see the show – and catch up with him afterwards. Can’t remember that much about it, I’m afraid. Paul Blackman, who played Polixones, went on to become the Artistic Director of the Battersea Arts Centre. The Jeannetta Cochrane is now used for TV filming.
- The Life of Galileo – Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, 17th September 1980.
A truly majestic central performance by Michael Gambon as Galileo confirmed him as one of the country’s leading stage actors. He was outstanding, and this rangy production by John Dexter was definitely one of the theatrical highlights of the year. The massive cast also included Yvonne Bryceland, Andrew Cruickshank, Selina Cadell, Michael Beint, Simon Callow, Basil Henson and Stephen Moore. A big hit and a tremendous show.
- Stage Struck – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 23rd September 1980.
Simon Gray’s latest play was Stage Struck, and had already been running for ten months by the time I saw it, also having had a change of cast. Looking deceptively like a whodunit, it’s actually a tale of revenge and deceit, in the best Gray tradition. It starred Ian Ogilvy, and also featured one of my favourite actors at the time, James Cossins. Not too many memories of this one, but very enjoyable, I’m sure.
- Rattle of a Simple Man – Savoy Theatre, London, 26th September 1980.
The first offering in my first ever see-two-shows-on-the-same-day experience, I selected this revival of Charles Dyer’s old play for two reasons; 1) it starred Pauline Collins and John Alderton and they were both big favourites of mine and 2) Charles Dyer’s son John went to my school and I wanted to see what his dad’s work was like. Unfortunately, I remember being not very impressed, by this rather ponderous and sad tale of an inexperienced older man hooking up with a prostitute. I think it had badly dated, and was used as a rather lazy vehicle for the two stars without giving it much oomph. It also featured a pre-Only Fools and Horses John Challis.
- Duet for One – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 26th September 1980.
Fortunately, my first double-dipping day was saved by the excellent Duet for One, a two-hander inspired by the life of cellist Jacqueline du Pre, whose career (and life) was cut short by her multiple sclerosis. The play was a series of interviews between cellist Stephanie Abrahams (played exquisitely by Frances de la Tour) and her psychiatrist Dr Feldmann (played by David de Keyser). I remember how Stephanie expressed extreme hostility to the therapist but eventually he got under her skin and there’s a moment before the interval when she starts to talk with emotion about the power of music and that’s when she finally breaks down.
This is a play where you go into the interval with very wet eyes indeed! Superb performances and production of a riveting play.
- The Provok’d Wife – National Theatre Company at the New Theatre, Oxford, 16th October 1980.
I saw this excellent production of Vanbrugh’s Restoration masterpiece with my friends Mike and Lin at the beginning of our third year at university. Directed by Peter Wood, this cast to die for included John Wood, Geradline McEwan, Lindsay Duncan, Dorothy Tutin, Brenda Blethyn, Michael Kitchen and Nicky Henson. Enormous fun and a truly top-quality production.
Thanks for staying with me for this little run down of ten productions. Next blog, in a few days time, will be back on the holiday snaps, and I is for Italy, and some holiday memories of times spent in Venice. Stay safe!