Thought I’d finished with my theatre and dance memories? Think again! November 2008 to April 2009

  1. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Birmingham Hippodrome, 8th November 2008

We saw the Trocks’ 2008/9 UK tour twice – the first time at the Birmingham Hippodrome – with the classic programme of Swan Lake Act II, Le Grand Pas de Quatre and Paquita, as well as the surprise pas de deux and the Dying Swan. For Swan Lake, the wonderful Lariska Dumbchenko was our Odette, Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow our Siegfried, and Yuri Smirnov our von Rothbart. Always a joy! It was at this performance that I bought a poster that still graces my study wall!

  1. Noises Off – Milton Keynes Theatre, 15th November 2008

This touring production of Michael Frayn’s brilliant Noises Off was fantastic as always, with a terrific turn by Jonathan Coy as Lloyd and also featuring Colin Baker as Selsdon and Maggie Steed as Dotty. Never gets old.

  1. Hamlet – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Novello Theatre, London, 15th December 2008

The hugely successful and hot ticket production of Hamlet starring David Tennant as the Dane – and in which the majority of the audiences saw Edward Bennett in the role (as we did) because David Tennant injured his back. Always worth pointing out that you should never book a show purely on the strength of a star performer (but of course we always do.) The main thing that arose from this Gregory Doran production was what a star Mr Bennett is, taking over the role at very short notice and making a massive career move out it. A great show, certainly helped by Patrick Stewart playing Claudius, Oliver Ford Davies as Polonius, and John Woodvine as the Player King.

  1. Cinderella – Derngate Auditorium, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 26th December 2008

By now we had moved to Northampton, and our first taste of our local theatre was a big family Boxing Day trip to see its panto, Cinderella, starring Jimmy Osmond as Buttons. Not sure what expectations I had, but Jimmy Osmond is pure heart on stage – a true Mr Entertainer and he made the show go with an absolute swing. Superbly enjoyable.

  1. A Little Night Music – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 28th December 2008

Trevor Nunn directed this beautifully intimate production of A Little Night Music, with so many star turns among the cast that it was hard to keep up. Hannah Waddingham was terrific as Desiree, but it also had Alexander Hanson as Fredrik, Maureen Lipman as Madame Armfeld, Jessie Buckley as Anne, Kaisa Hammarlund as Petra and Gabriel Vick as Henrik. The perfect post-Christmas treat. Superb.

  1. Sleeping Beauty – The Theatre, Chipping Norton, 8th January 2009

To date our only trip to the charming little theatre at Chippy, this version of Sleeping Beauty was written by Graeme Garden. But the main reason for going was so that we could see our friend, Eurovision’s Dame Nicki French, appearing as Queen Jenny. An intimate theatre that produces a great vibe and the panto was enormous fun.

 

 

 

  1. King Lear – Young Vic, London, 28th February 2009

We bought tickets to see this on hearing about Pete Postlethwaite’s amazing performance as Lear; it’s still thought of as one of the best Lears in modern memory. To be honest, I wasn’t that keen. Rather a sparse production that I felt lacked gravitas. But I was in the minority!

  1. The New Yorkers – Lost Musicals at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, London, 5th April 2009

Passing over our second visit to the Trocks this season, this time at the Milton Keynes Theatre, with exactly the same programme, our next show was another of Ian Marshall Fisher’s wonderful resurrections of an old lost musical – Cole Porter and Herbert Fields’ The New Yorkers, a 1930 musical with one memorable song, Love for Sale. The super cast included Craige Els, Anna Francolini, Sandra Marvin, Ursula Smith and Jon Robyns. I miss those Lost Musicals shows!

 

 

  1. Boeing Boeing – Milton Keynes Theatre, 10th April 2009

Breaking my usual rule about not repeating productions here that I’d already seen, I have to include this touring version of Boeing Boeing that we had seen in London two years earlier, simply because it was just so fantastically good. Interestingly it starred the real life Marquez brothers, Martin as Bernard and John as Robert, and also included Victoria Wood As Seen On TV’s Susie Blake as the hard-nosed maid Bertha. Sheer joy.

  1. Rookery Nook – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 26th April 2009

Moving past the touring production of Cabaret at the Milton Keynes Theatre which we really loved until the end when Wayne Sleep dissed the entire audience by abruptly ending the curtain call (I ended up having words with Bill Kenwright himself about the matter!) our next show was the Menier’s revival of Ben Travers’ 1926 play Rookery Nook, one of the famous Aldwych Farces. It did feel dated, but then again, it was still funny, with a particularly excellent performance from Mark Hadfield as Harold Twine, the original Robertson Hare role. By now we were firmly in love with the Menier and rarely missed a show!

You can’t have too many old theatre and dance memories – August to October 2008

  1. Under the Blue Sky – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 9th August 2008

David Eldridge’s three-act play, performed without an interval, comprises of three conversations between six people over a period of two and a half years, and had very good reviews. We chose to see it because we were huge fans of Catherine Tate at the time and wanted to see how she’d be on stage (brilliant.) Very funny and very thought provoking.

  1. Rambert Dance Company Eternal Light Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 11th August 2008

Eternal Light was the new production by the company, choreographed by Mark Baldwin,  and was the first dance on offer in a programme that also contained Siobhan Davies’ Carnival of the Animals, Mikaela Polley and Alexander Whitley’s Two Solos as a Tribute to Norman Morrice, and Garry Stewart’s Infinity. So much talent and so enjoyable.

  1. Mary Poppins – Birmingham Hippodrome, 23rd August 2008

The big show that is still packing them out today in London, Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne’s production was a huge crowd-pleaser and I still remember with awe the amazing dance that Bert performs when he taps around the entire stage, defying gravity. Daniel Crossley was an amazing Bert, Caroline Sheen a practically perfect Mary Poppins, plus Valda Aviks as the Bird Woman. Our nieces adored it.

  1. They’re Playing Our Song – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 31st August 2008

Mrs Chrisparkle had heard the soundtrack of the original London production of They’re Playing Our Song so many times that she knew it like the back of her hand – I loved it and played it all the time – but she had never seen it, so it was perfect timing that this production should come to the Menier – the first time that we had visited the theatre that would become a firm favourite venue. Alistair McGowan and Connie Fisher were the leads. My memory is that it wasn’t a patch on the original, but still very enjoyable.

  1. Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray – Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, 6th September 2008

New Adventures’ new production of Matthew Bourne’s new vision for Oscar Wilde’s well-known character was highly anticipated but my memory is that it was a little disappointing – primarily I found it hard to follow. A great dance cast though, with Richard Winsor as Gray, Michela Meazza as Lady H, Aaron Sillis as Basil, and massive choreographer of the future Drew McOnie in the ensemble.

  1. Enjoy – Oxford Playhouse, 8th September 2008

The Theatre Royal Bath’s production of Alan Bennett’s 1980 play looked like it was going to be a smash hit, with the wonderful promotion picture of Alison Steadman doing the hoovering in a ball gown. Unfortunately none of the script came up to the promotional photos, and I remember this being extremely boring and not at all funny.

  1. Hofesh Shechter’s Uprising/In Your Rooms – Oxford Playhouse, 18th September 2008

Moving past the London Press Night of Eurobeat, which we’d already seen earlier that summer in Milton Keynes, our next show was Hofesh Shechter’s double bill of Uprising and In Your Rooms, which I remember as being very lively and talented although perhaps a little samey. Incredible dancers, though.

 

 

 

  1. Calendar Girls – Festival Theatre, Chichester, 27th September 2008

This was the first outing for what would become Tim Firth’s much loved play about the Women’s Institute group who made a nudie calendar to raise money for charity. Very funny, but full of pathos. The “taking the pictures” scene is an absolute modern classic. A great cast included Elaine C Smith, Lynda Bellingham, Patricia Hodge, Sian Philips, Gaynor Faye, Julia Hills and Brigit Forsyth.

  1. Carousel – Milton Keynes Theatre, 15th October 2008

Ignoring a third and final visit to Eurobeat (a UK Eurovision fan club outing), our next show was to see Rodgers and Hammerstein’s immortal musical Carousel. I’d never seen it before, and frankly, it didn’t come to life and felt very dated, despite choreography from Adam Cooper and direction from Lindsay Posner. Heading the cast was Lesley Garrett – except that her understudy was performing that night. She wasn’t ill or indisposed, she just had a better offer for the night, which really annoyed me!

  1. Flashdance the Musical – Milton Keynes Theatre, 31st October 2008

One of my favourite musical movies, I was keen to see how Flashdance transferred to the stage. Memories are weak, but I think it was pretty good. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt shone as the welding dancer Alex Owens, with the late Bernie Nolan as her mother Hannah.

More theatre and dance memories? You impetuous thing, you! April to July 2008

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater 1 – Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, 5th April 2008

Always a pleasure to see any of the NDT dance companies – and this was a tour by their Number One group, comprising of Jiri Kylian’s Wings of Wax, followed by Lightfoot Leon’s Signing Off, and finishing with Kylian’s Tar and Feathers. This would be the last time (to date) that we have seen NDT1 – let’s hope it’s not for ever!

  1. James Son of James – Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 11th April 2008

This was a fun and inventive show from the now defunct Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, full of anarchy and lunacy but tremendously exciting theatre from a hugely talented group of dancers. Really enjoyed it.

  1. Billy Elliot The Musical – Victoria Palace Theatre, London, 3rd May 2008

An unpopular opinion here, but I think the stage version of Billy Elliot is vastly inferior to the original film. Superbly staged and performed, of course, but for some reason we just didn’t connect with our Billy – I don’t know which actor it was who played it on our performance, (although I know it wasn’t young Layton Williams, I would have remembered him) and I just felt rather let down by the whole thing.

  1. Doctor Dolittle – Birmingham Hippodrome, 11th May 2008

We took our nieces to see this show, starring Tommy Steele and with all the old familiar Leslie Bricusse songs from the original film. One of those productions that I’m sure was perfectly good but I cannot for the life of me remember anything about it – not even going to see it in the first place. I must be getting old.

  1. The Good Soul of Szechuan – Young Vic, London, 17th May 2008

We’d heard excellent things about this new production by Richard Jones of Brecht’s Good Woman of Szechuan – and those excellent things were correct! An excellent translation by David Harrower, with a fantastic central performance by Jane Horrocks, with great support from the likes of Liza Sadovy and John Marquez. Enjoyed it enormously!

  1. The Cherry Orchard – Festival Theatre, Chichester, 7th June 2008

Philip Franks directed this new version of Chekhov’s classic by Mike Poulton, and there were fantastic performances from a plethora of brilliant actors. Diana Rigg played Ranyevskaya, with Michael Siberry as Lopakhin, Natalie Cassidy as Dunyasha, William Gaunt as Gayev, Jemma Redgrave as Varya, John Nettleton as Simeonov-Pishchik, Maureen Lipman as Charlotta Ivanovna, and Frank Finlay as Firs, in what was I believe his final stage appearance. Immaculate and superb.

  1. Hairspray – Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 28th June 2008

The original London production had already been running for a good nine months before we finally got around to seeing it – and it was a total delight from start to finish. Michael Ball was Edna and Ian Talbot was Wilbur, with the brilliant Leanne Jones as Tracy, the excellent Ben James-Ellis as Link, and the fabulous Tracie Bennett as Velma. Many great stars of the future lurk further down the cast list, including Adrian Hansel as Seaweed, Sandra Marvin as Lorraine, and Michael Vinsen as Brad. The show’s popularity has never gone away, and why would it?

  1. Sail Away – Lost Musicals at the Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London, 6th July 2008

Another of Ian Marshall Fisher’s fantastic rejuvenations of an old lost show, Noel Coward’s 1961 show is set in New York City, and this production included many of the Lost Musicals favourite performers, including James Vaughan, Stewart Permutt, Ursula Smith and Vivienne Martin.

 

 

 

 

  1. Twelfth Night – Oxford Shakespeare Company at Wadham College Gardens, Oxford, 12th July 2008

Bill Bankes-Jones’ hilarious production of Twelfth Night was perfect in the gardens of Wadham College, with brilliant performances throughout, although James Lavender’s Malvolio in particular was a superb mix of ridicule and despair.

  1. Eurobeat The Musical – Milton Keynes Theatre, 18th July 2008

The first of three times that we saw this particular version of Eurobeat – which is without question the original and best. Wonderfully funny presentation from Les Dennis and Mel Giedroyc, and ten fantastic parody songs; the winner that night (and on the third time we saw it) was the KGBoyz with Ice Queen for Russia, but the second time (which was the London Press Night) it was Ronan Corr’s La La La for Ireland, which remains my favourite song from this selection. A tremendous spoof, done with real heart and incredibly funny.

It’s been a while – here are some more theatre and dance memories! December 2007 to March 2008

  1. The Country Wife – Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, 29th December 2007

A great cast assembled to do justice to William Wycherley’s terrific Restoration Comedy, with Toby Stephens as Horner, Patricia Hodge as Lady Fidget, David Haig as Pinchwife, and Janet Brown as Old Lady Squeamish. Directed by Jonathan Kent, it provided a lot of seasonal fun!

  1. The Seagull – Royal Shakespeare Company at the New London Theatre, London, 1st January 2008

Something of a challenge to go and see Chekhov on New Year’s Day, and there’s no doubt about it, there was definitely a lethargic feel to the audience, if not the performers. In fact the most memorable thing about this show was seeing Simon Callow in the front row nodding off all the way through. Trevor Nunn’s production had a super cast, with Frances Barber as Arkadina and Ian McKellen as Sorin.

  1. King Lear – Royal Shakespeare Company at the New London Theatre, London, 12th January 2008

Largely the same company that performed The Seagull were also in King Lear, with Ian McKellen as Lear, Frances Barber as Goneril, William Gaunt as Gloucester, and Sylvester McCoy inspired casting as the Fool – and a very down-at-heel, sad fool he was too. Sir Ian went all exhibitionist, taking literally all his clothes off on the blasted heath (“every inch a King” went the reviews at the time) – the best memory of this show however was holding a door open for Joanna Lumley during the interval and she gave me the most beaming smile in gratitude.

  1. Henri Oguike Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 12th February 2008

Moving past a production of Godspell at Dunstable’s Grove Theatre, to which we took our nieces as a treat, our next show was the Spring Season show by Henri Oguike Dance Company, and for some reason it’s the only time we’ve seen this company perform. They had six different programmes for their tour – we saw Programme A, which comprised of Little Red, to the music of Vivaldi, then Touching All and All Around, Oguike’s latest pieces at the time and finally Green in Blue, a collaboration with saxophonist Iain Ballamy. All the dances were choreographed by Oguike. I remember it being very enjoyable.

 

  1. Othello – Donmar Warehouse, London, 16th February 2008

A rare trip (for us) to the Donmar, to see Michael Grandage’s production of Othello, with just about as stellar a cast as you could imagine. Chiwetel Ejiofor played Othello, with Ewan McGregor as Iago, Edward Bennett as Roderigo, Tom Hiddleston as Cassio and James Laurenson taking on both Brabantio and Gratiano. It was every bit as good as you might have hoped.

  1. Rafta, Rafta – Milton Keynes Theatre, 29th February 2008

Notable for being the first time I’d been to the theatre on a February 29th (the only other time was in 2020) – this was the National Theatre’s touring production of Ayub Khan-Din’s Rafta Rafta. Wikipedia helpfully tells us this is a comic tale of close-knit Indian family life in England; useful because I cannot remember a thing about it apart from the fact that I enjoyed it.

  1. Never Forget – Milton Keynes Theatre, 7th March 2008

This new musical based on the songs of Take That was written by Danny Brocklehurst, Guy Jones and Ed Curtis, and had four very talented performers playing the four lads whose group echoes Take That without being Take That. I remember it having an absolutely woeful book, which was a shame because this could have worked well – but it really didn’t, despite the efforts of Dean Chisnall, Craige Els, Tim Driesen and Eaton James. It only came to life at the finale when they abandoned all pretence and did a fifteen-minute medley of Take That songs. If they had done that for the rest of the show it would have been brilliant.

  1. I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change – Westside Theatre Upstairs, New York City, 25th March 2008

We went to New York to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary, and whilst there we saw three shows. The first was this brilliant revue that has been playing off-Broadway for yonks. Extremely funny and insightful, full of great tunes and superb performances.

  1. A Chorus Line – Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, New York City, 26th March 2008

Targeted specifically for the exact date of our twentieth anniversary, I had always wanted to see A Chorus Line on Broadway, because it’s my favourite show and where could there be a more perfect place to see it? This was the same revitalised production that would come to the London Palladium five years later. At the end of the show I bought as much merchandise as I could, including a signed poster which hangs on my wall above my computer! And how was the show? Absolutely perfect.

  1. Curtains – Al Hirschfeld Theatre, New York City, 28th March 2008

For our final Broadway show, we followed the local recommendations and saw Kander and Ebb’s Curtains, which had never been seen in the UK (indeed, not until a few years ago). It starred Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce as the detective, Lieutenant Cioffi, and Debra Monk as Carmen. It was alright, but we just couldn’t really get on with it; and Mr Hyde Pierce just phoned it in. On reflection, the UK production with Jason Manford as Cioffi was quite a lot better.

Another bunch of theatre and dance memories? Who knew! August to December 2007

  1. Pygmalion – Oxford Playhouse, 31st August 2007

One of those calamitous occasions when you arrive at the theatre in good time for a Friday night performance and they’ve already run out of programmes for the entire week’s run – sigh. It makes it very hard to remember the finer details. But the photocopied cast list does remind me that this production performed Shaw’s original concise text, first published in 1916, excluding the extra scene he wrote for a film made in 1938. The late Tim Pigott-Smith was an excellent Henry Higgins, with Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery as Eliza, Tony Haygarth as Doolittle, grandes dames Barbara Jefford as Mrs Higgins and Una Stubbs as Mrs Pearce, and the excellent and up-and-coming Edward Bennett as Freddy. Directed by Peter Hall.

  1. Forgotten Voices – Oxford Playhouse, 7th September 2007

Based on the oral testimonies of First World War veterans and collected by the Sound Archive of the Imperial War Museum, this play by Malcolm McKay tells the story of five survivors – four men and one woman – whose memories provide a vivid and moving first and account of the Great War. An excellent endeavour, to capture these memories in a play so that they need never be forgotten. The superb cast included Rupert Frazer, Belinda Lang and Matthew Kelly.

  1. BBC Proms in the Park – Hyde Park, London, 8th September 2007

Another of those blissful assemblies in Hyde Park, and an excuse for picnics and champagne, whilst being entertained by the likes of Lesley Garrett, Dick and Dom, Chico, T-Rextasy (who are ace), opera star Juan Diego Florez and top of the bill, Will Young. All presented by Sir Terry Wogan. A great fun night.

  1. Donkeys’ Years – Milton Keynes Theatre, 28th September 2007

It’s always fun to see another production of Michael Frayn’s delightful Donkeys Years, a show that relies on the camaraderie of its actors playing the parts of old ex-students returning for their college Gaudy. But this production didn’t work that well because I thought it wasn’t very well cast – even though individually it was full of excellent actors. Ian Lavender came across as too young to play Birkett, the old porter, as did Mark Hadfield as Headingley. Snell is meant to be a wretched no-hoper but Norman Pace gave him too much smartness; and Sara Crowe just felt wrong as Lady Driver! Never mind!

 

  1. Visiting Mr Green – Oxford Playhouse, 5th October 2007

One of those nights at the theatre when you know you’re in the presence of a masterclass of perfection acting.  Warren Mitchell was absolutely stupendous as the old man in Jeff Baron’s brilliant play about the developing relationship between the young executive who nearly kills Mr Green in a car accident and then has to spend six months visiting him as a form of restorative justice. Every bit as good as you would imagine it was.