How about some more theatre memories? April 1984 – February 1985

Another plunge into history…

  1. Poppie Nongena – Riverside Studios, London, April 1984

Poppie NongenaThis arrived at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith with much expectation, and, although I can’t remember too many details about the show, I know I really enjoyed it and so did my friend Dave who came with me. Based on Elsa Joubert’s acclaimed novel, which has only recently also been made into a film, it tells the story of a South African woman born in the 1930s and the journey of her life. Poppie was played by Thuli Dumakude who won the Laurence Olivier Award for Actress of the Year in a New Play for this performance. The cast and crew had all come to London following the successful original production of the play in South Africa.

  1. Mr Cinders – Fortune Theatre, London, 14th May 1984

This hugely successful little production had already been playing for over a year when I finally saw it.  Written in 1928 by Clifford Grey and Greatrex Newman, with music by Vivian Ellis and Richard Myers, this is a Cinderella story with the roles reversed – Mr Cinders is the downtrodden menial help and the Prince Charming role is a young, forceful woman. This production started at the King’s Head theatre then quickly transferred to the Fortune, originally with Denis Lawson in the main role, but I saw it shortly after a cast change and Jim was played by Lionel Blair, and Jill by Carole Brooke. I remember it being absolutely charming, beautifully played, very funny and a completely winning little show. Looking back, I wonder how on earth they crammed a cast of twenty on the tiny Fortune stage. But they must have somehow!

  1. 42nd Street – Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 28th July 1984

I’m always keen to see the big names of musical theatre history, so I was really looking forward to seeing this giant of a show, staged at my favourite London theatre, with my friends Mike and Lin and Lin’s mum Barbara. I was so disappointed – in fact, I was really bored by it and pretty much hated it. Despite a fantastic cast led by Georgia Brown, it commits the cardinal sin that only a musical can: it tells a bit of story, then everything stops for a song. Then it picks up the story, then it stops again. There’s no flowing movement. It’s all façade and no sincerity. Happy never to see this show again!

  1. The Ratepayers’ Iolanthe – Phoenix Theatre, London, 1st September 1984

Ned Sherrin and Alistair Beaton adapted Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe to reflect the current political wranglings between Tory PM Margaret Thatcher and the London GLC’s leadership by Labour Ken Livingstone. The result was a very clever and witty political parody and I enjoyed it a lot. Looking back, it was a tremendous cast of West End stalwarts: Gaye Brown, Lorna Dallas, David Firth, Doug Fisher, David Kernan, Michael Robbins, Gay Soper, Dudley Stevens, Sally Bradshaw, Myra Sands and Jenny Wren. Very much a thing of its time, there’s no way this would ever be revived!

  1. Little Shop of Horrors – Comedy Theatre, London, 24th November 1984

Moving over a production of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap at the Bournemouth Playhouse starring Gareth Hunt as Sidney Bruhl (only because I’ve already mentioned the original West End production) my next show was the original London production of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s Little Shop of Horrors, the cult classic ridiculously funny musical with an out of control man-eating plant. This had already been running for a year when I saw it, and had undergone a change of cast with Ellen Greene leaving the role of Audrey, and now being performed by Claire Moore; and on the matinee that I saw, Audrey was performed by her understudy Susie Fenwick. The cast also included some other great performers, including Barry James, Harry Towb, David Burt and Dawn Hope. Huge fun, brilliant staging – including at the end when plant tentacles dropped down from the ceiling and brushed the heads of everyone in the stalls, much to our combined surprised horror!

  1. Stepping Out – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 24th November 1984

Richard Harris’ delightful and successful play about a group of women who learn to tap dance together won the Evening Standard Play of the Year award before being made into a film. Thoroughly enjoyable play, given a very good production directed by Julia McKenzie. Barbara Ferris and Diane Langton led the cast. Not much more to say, really!

  1. Trumpets and Raspberries – Phoenix Theatre, London, 15th December 1984

After Accidental Death of an Anarchist I was a huge fan of Dario Fo and this production of his 1981 play was a must-see. Another of his left-wing farces, it starred Griff Rhys-Jones playing the dual roles of Agnelli, the head of Fiat Motors, and Antonio, who rescues Agnelli from a kidnap attempt. When Agnelli’s face is reconstructed to look like Antonio – typical farce ensues. Very funny and thoroughly enjoyable, with a great supporting cast including Gwen Taylor and Gavin Muir.

  1. The Hired Man – Astoria Theatre, London, 2nd February 1985

Passing over a concert by Jacques Loussier at the Royal Festival Hall that I saw in January 1985 with my friends John and Paul, the next show I saw was the brilliant – and still frequently performed (I’m pleased to say) The Hired Man, Melvyn Bragg and Howard Goodall’s adaptation of Bragg’s own original book, charting the life of John and Emily, high up on some fell, Jackson, who betrayed John’s friendship by a dalliance with Emily; and, as time goes by, the adventures of May and Harry their children, culminating in Emily’s death and John’s return to working on the land. A production whose strength came from, not only the brilliance of the material but the simplicity of its staging; and I remember being completely blown away by a mesmerising performance by Paul Clarkson as John, who I always thought would go on to be the biggest thing in the West End – but it didn’t quite work out that way. Oh – and the music is sensational. One of the best shows ever.

  1. She Stoops to Conquer – National Theatre, Lyttelton Theatre, London, February 1985.

Giles Block’s wonderful production of Oliver Goldsmith’s classic, this was a riot starring Tom Baker and Dora Bryan, Tony Haygarth and Hywel Bennett. This had enjoyed a lengthy and successful tour and would go on to appear in some more regional theatres before finally closing. Great fun!

  1. Me and My Girl – Adelphi Theatre, London, 25th February 1985

The Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle was always a sucker for anything nostalgic about the good old days of London, so a show featuring The Lambeth Walk would always be high on her priority list. We both really enjoyed this fantastic production, which breathed new life into an old show and has kept it in the public’s wish list ever since. A great cast album too!

Heading the cast was the amazing Robert Lindsay who revealed song and dance abilities I had no idea he had, and he continues to give great performances to this day. Emma Thompson was a delightful Sally, and with a supporting cast including names like Frank Thornton, Ursula Smith, Robert Longden and Richard Caldicot, this was always going to be a great production. Low down the cast list was Rosemarie Ford, who would become better known as Bruce Forsyth’s assistant on the Generation Game (what’s on the board, Miss Ford) and who would also become known as Mrs Robert Lindsay.

Yet Another Bunch of Theatre Memories – April 1983 to March 1984

It’s been a while since I checked out the old shows, so try these for size!

  1. Key for Two – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 20th April 1983

Key For TwoJohn Chapman and Dave Freeman’s farce had already been running for about eight months when I finally saw it. A fantastic cast headed by Moira Lister and Patrick Cargill, this was a typical 80s sex comedy, the like of which you rarely see today. I don’t have very strong memories of it, but I’m sure it was thoroughly entertaining!

  1. Fiddler on the Roof – Apollo Victoria Theatre, London, 19th July 1983

It was still traditional that I would go and see a summer show with the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle, and she was very keen to see this production, as it starred the one and only original Tevye, Topol. And it would indeed be an incredibly privileged experience to see this star in the role for which he was synonymous. The production followed the original 1960s direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins. Very enjoyable, as you would expect. Thelma Ruby was an excellent Golde, and Maria Charles a memorable Yente.

  1. Underground – Prince of Wales Theatre, London, 27th July 1983

I don’t think this thriller by Michael Sloan, directed by Simon Williams, got great reviews, but I really enjoyed it – it definitely raised a respectful cap to Murder on the Orient Express, if you get my drift. Set on a tube train in London that slowly grinds to a halt and goes no further, it was also a chance to see some famous and well-regarded TV stars. The cast was headed by Raymond Burr – yes A Man called Ironside – and Peter Wyngarde – yes Jason King – as well as Alfred Marks, Gerald Flood, Elspeth March and Freewheelers’ Ronald Leigh-Hunt. I’m pretty sure this didn’t last long but I have very fond memories of it.

  1. Happy Family – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 9th September 1983

Giles Cooper’s final play, originally produced in 1966, had a strong cast of four – Stephanie Beacham, Ian Ogilvy, Angela Thorne and James Laurenson; and was directed by Maria Aitken. Based on the contradictory motivations of a dysfunctional family, I can’t remember much about it, but I think it was pretty good. According to my ticket stubs, I saw this with three other people, but I haven’t a clue who they were!o

  1. May Days – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Theatre, London, October 1983.

David Edgar’s political reflections from England 1945 to England and Russia 1981, this follows the allegedly typical swing from left-wing young people becoming right-wing older people; not sure how accurate that is today. One of Edgar’s grandly sweeping plays, I remember feeling that it was outstanding at the time but, on reflection, the memories of it have faded. John Shrapnel, Antony Sher, Alison Steadman, Lesley Sharp and the late Bob Peck made it an outstanding cast.

  1. An Evening for El Salvador – Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London, 4th December 1983

I went to see this fundraising revue for the El Salvador Solidarity Campaign with my friends Mike, Lin and Dave. An amazing line-up included favourite comedy group at the time The Joeys, Emma Thompson, Julie Christie, The Flying Pickets, and Peggy Seeger and Ewan McColl. Oh, for the days of being a lefty activist.

  1. Tchaikovsky Evening with the London Symphony Orchestra, 26th February 1984

Missing out my second trip to see the brilliant Poppy once it had transferred to the Adelphi, my next show was a classical night at the Barbican, with the London Symphony Orchestra under the impressive baton of Claudio Abbado, and the Band of the Irish Guards. This programme of Tchaikovsky music included extracts from Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Nutcracker, but concentrated on the Piano Concerto No 1 with soloist Anthony Goldstone, and culminated with the 1812 Overture. I remember it being thoroughly entertaining!

  1. Ballet Rambert – A Programme at Sadler’s Wells, London, 15th March 1984

I saw this performance by Ballet Rambert with my friends Mike and Lin. The programme consisted of Frederick Ashton’s Capriol Suite and Five Brahms Waltzes in the manner of Isadora Duncan, Christopher Bruce’s Concertino, and Robert North’s Entre dos Aguas. At the time Rambert was under the direction of Robert North, who also danced in the programme – as did current director Mark Baldwin, plus great names such as Catherine Becque, Lucy Bethune, Frances Carty and Ikky Maas. It was thrilling!

  1. Blondel – Aldwych Theatre, London, 23rd March 1984

Tim Rice and Stephen Oliver’s brilliant musical about the 12th century minstrel Blondel, and Richard the Lionheart’s European escapades. Paul Nicholas took the main role, and excellent he was too; Stephen Tate was a very kingly Richard I, and the now disgraced Chris Langham as the Assassin. I quickly bought the soundtrack album because it has some great comedy songs. Tim Rice has continued to fiddle with this show and it’s now called Lute! although it’s somewhat gone to ground. I really enjoyed it.

  1. Snoopy the Musical – Duchess Theatre, London, 29th March 1984

Larry Grossman and Hal Hackady’s delightful musical was great fun, totally charming, and pure escapism. In a very intimate and simple setting, it was one of those delicate theatre moments that was fun and didn’t pretend to be anything it wasn’t. A brilliant cast who would go on to do even better things included Mark Hadfield as Linus, Teddy Kempner as Snoopy and the late great Robert Locke as Charlie Brown.

Review – Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic Online, 23rd September 2020

Romantics AnonymousIn another of these inventive and innovative stage moves, this week the Bristol Old Vic are performing Wise Children’s production of Romantics Anonymous, to an empty auditorium but streamed through the magic of the Internet to your home – and it’s about as close to the sense of a real theatrical experience as most of us are going to get during these Covid times. Mrs Chrisparkle and I tuned in on Wednesday as that was the broadcast that was specifically geared to the Midlands, with proceeds benefiting not only the Bristol Old Vic but some Midland theatres including our very own Royal and Derngate here in Northampton. At £15 a ticket (we played fair and bought two) it’s a very reasonable price for what could – hopefully – be a tremendous theatrical experience.

 

AngeliqueAnd it is! Romantics Anonymous – a musical by Michael Kooman, Christopher Dimond and Emma Rice – is based on the French 2010 film Les Emotifs Anonymes, and is the story of Angélique, hopeless in relationships, devoid of confidence, but an absolute whizz at creating the perfect chocolate. When her boss M. Mercier, chocolate provider to the French cognoscenti, dies, Angélique applies for a job at The Chocolate Factory, where owner Jean-René is as awkward and hopeless as she is. However, the company is going under because they haven’t kept up with the times. Can Angélique turn around the company’s ailing fortunes – indeed, will she confess that she is the famous Mercier chocolatière – and can she and Jean-René scrape together enough self-confidence to win each other’s hearts? You’ll have to watch to find out!

 

Angelique and Jean-Rene at dinnerRomantics Anonymous originally played at the Globe in 2017, and this production opened at the Bristol Old Vic in January 2020, to great reviews, shortly before the world fell apart. This streamed production features largely the same cast, although with a little shifting of roles. With a compact but fantasy-glamorous set by the one and only Lez Brotherston, amusing and charming choreography by New Adventures’ Etta Murfitt, a classy and witty band performance led by Nigel Lilley and crackingly quirky direction by Emma Rice, this is a delightful exploration of love and social terror that warms the cockles of your heart and makes you cheer on the characters as you encourage them to find happiness. I’m sure it was splendid to watch in the flesh, but catching it through the Internet is definitely the next best thing, and I hope that at least one of the broadcasts will be recorded for future entertainment over the years.

 

Les Emotifs AnonymesThere are so many amusing and winning aspects to the show as a whole – here are a few of my own favourite moments. I loved how it abruptly changes from French to English; Jean-René’s hopeless attempts at self-improvement home yoga; the running gag about the Mumbler and how he unexpectedly comes to Angélique’s rescue; and the Health and Safety Advisory song at the Interval. The songs are either charming, delicate and heartfelt, or incredibly funny; two songs called (I think – difficult to identify without a proper programme) Je suis émotif, and Savoir faire specifically come to mind.

 

 Les Emotifs AnonymesAs you might expect in a production led by Emma Rice, the cast work together seamlessly as a beautiful ensemble, but with everyone’s individual talents flashing out from the stage like a series of twinkling lights. Angélique is played by the fantastic Carly Bawden, who was stunning in Sheffield’s My Fair Lady a few years back, with her gloriously pure voice and terrific stage presence. You can absolutely believe that she is a chocolate maker supreme (indeed, she proves it in the first few minutes of the show!) and she gets you on her side to will her on to greater self-confidence as the evening progresses. Angelique and Jean-ReneShe is matched by the brilliant Marc Antolin, whom we loved in Emma Rice’s Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, as the tetchily awkward Jean-René. Employing all his expert clowning skills, Mr Antolin gives a superb physical performance conveying all the character’s social anxieties, but delightfully understated so that less is more. Simple effects like his deliberate flatfoot walk to and from the restaurant toilet, or his restrained facial expressions allowing his body to reveal the character’s thoughts, are just wonderful to watch.

 

RestaurantI also really enjoyed the wide range of characterisations by Me’sha Bryan, including her wonderfully Brummie HR lady Suzanne, and Mimi in the Emotifs Anonymes self-help group. Sandra Marvin is as glorious as usual as the anxious dermatologist and Angélique’s dominating mother, and Harry Hepple’s constantly chirpy presence brings a lightness of touch to his roles as Ludo and Remi. Gareth Snook gives a great all-round performance as the magnanimous Mercier, the outrageous Marini and the hilarious Mumbler. But every member of the cast pulls out all the stops and delivers a fine and thoroughly enjoyable performance. I should also point out that the camera work that delivers these fine performances to your living room is absolutely spot on, framing scenes so that you get an overall impression of how the cast and set are interacting, and even encouraging a couple of slightly fourth-wall-breaking moments.

 

TogetherIf Angélique creates the Jesus Christ of French Desserts, then (forgive my blasphemy) Romantics Anonymous delivers a whole gospel’s worth of positivity and love. There are still tickets available for the rest of the week here – not only do you get to see a great show, you get to support the theatre community and keep the arts alive in these perilous times. A Montelimar of magic, a Fondant of fun, a Noisette of… I dunno…. niceness. Do your heart a favour and see this show!

 

Production photos by Steve Tanner

How about another bunch of theatre memories – November 1982 to April 1983

Some severe memory loss here, but let’s give it a go!

  1. Andy Capp – Aldwych Theatre, London, 4th November 1982

image(1285)image(1286)image(1290)Billed as The New Musical, which was always going to get old eventually, Andy Capp was inspired by the Daily Mirror cartoon of the same name that first appeared in 1957 and is still going today, despite original artist Reg Smythe having died in 1998. Book and lyrics were by Trevor Peacock – whom I’d recently seen in Hobson’s Choice – and music and lyrics were by Newcastle’s very own Alan Price. Mr Price also appeared in it, as a kind of Everyman narrator – a bit of a forerunner to Blood Brothers’ narrator character – and Andy was played by the inimitable Tom Courtenay with huge bravado and unswerving cheek. I can’t remember much about the show itself, nor the music; but I do remember enjoying it hugely and also thinking that the performance by Val McLane as the long suffering Florrie was worth the ticket price alone.

  1. The Real Thing – Strand Theatre, London, 9th November 1982

image(1296)image(1297)image(1300)Tom Stoppard’s newest play had an engaging star cast led by Felicity Kendal and Roger Rees, as well as Polly Adams and Jeremy Clyde, a direct descendant of the Duke of Wellington. A clever examination of the balance between reality and fiction, it’s one of Stoppard’s best works and was hugely successful. I enjoyed it a lot!

 

  1. Windy City – Victoria Palace, London, 19th November 1982

image(1304)Tony Macaulay and Dick Vosburgh’s musical adaptation of the old newspaper hacks’ play The Front Page, was given a glamorous, no-holds-barred production by Peter Wood, and starred Dennis Waterman as Hildy Johnson and Anton Rodgers as newspaper editor Walter Burns. An officially fabulous cast included Jeff Shankley, Matt Zimmermann, Neil McCaul, Victor Spinetti, Diane Langton, Shaun Curry and Amanda Redman, which is where she and Mr Waterman first met and got to know each other quite well.

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It spawned an excellent cast album that I still play occasionally, my favourite songs being the opening number Hey Hallelujah and a wistful ballad that closes the show, Water under the Bridge. I note that my Front Stalls ticket cost £10 which was the most I’d ever paid to see a show – the equivalent of £10 today is £25. That just goes to show how the cost of theatre tickets has rocketed. Terrific show – many happy memories of it (and of enjoying the songs over the last forty years).

  1. The Witch of Edmonton – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Pit, Barbican Centre, London, December 1982

image(1301)image(1303)I went with my friends Mike and Lin to see two shows performed by the RSC in The Pit – the only two occasions I’ve been to that theatre. I have very fleeting memories of the two productions. The first, The Witch of Edmonton, by Dekker, Ford and Rowley, is a savage tragicomedy dating from 1621 about pauper Elizabeth Sawyer, accused of witchcraft. My programme includes a piece of straw which I think I collected off the floor at the end of the show. Don’t ask me for any more details about what happened! Shame I can’t remember more, as the cast included Harriet Walter, Robert Eddison, Juliet Stevenson, Miriam Karlin and James Fleet.

 

  1. The Twin Rivals – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Pit, Barbican Centre, London, 4th December 1982.

image(1302)The second RSC show we saw in The Pit was George Farquhar’s less well-known Restoration Comedy The Twin Rivals, which I remember as being a joyously funny, and a complete triumph – but, again, I’m short on details. A very similar cast to the Witch of Edmonton, plus Mike Gwilym and Dexter Fletcher, Roger Allam and Jane Carr.

 

 

  1. Opera Gala Night – London Concert Orchestra at the Barbican Hall, London, 29th January 1983.

image(1314)image(1315)image(1316)I must have been swayed by promotional material I had picked up at the Pit to buy a ticket for this concert, which I think was probably only the second classical concert I had ever attended. The London Concert Orchestra was conducted by Alexander Faris, who I would have known then as being the composer of the Upstairs Downstairs theme. Valerie Masterson was the soprano soloist, and I can see that it was a wonderful programme of Opera’s Greatest Hits. However, I regret that I can barely remember the occasion at all!

 

  1. 84 Charing Cross Road – Ambassadors Theatre, London, 1st February 1983.

image(1309)image(1310)image(1313)James Roose-Evans’ stage adaptation of Helene Hanff’s highly popular book of the time was a charming, gentle comedy but it sure packed an emotional punch. Doreen Mantle was excellent as Helene, and Ronnie Stevens also gave a brilliant performance as Frank, the antiquarian bookseller with whom she struck up a singularly fascinating penfriendship, but who sadly died before she was able to meet him. I think this was already on at least its second cast by the time I saw it. Very enjoyable, and surprisingly teary.

  1. Trafford Tanzi – Mermaid Theatre, London, March 1983

image(1320)image(1321)I remember the Mermaid being transformed into a wrestling ring for this knockabout, battle-of-the-sexes play about the fearless Tanzi pitted against arch-rival Dean Rebel. Shamelessly feminist (all the promotional material described it as such), it was an exciting and engrossing play that made you think hard about the subject matter and was probably a little uncomfortable for a 22 year old chap who probably hadn’t analysed his feelings about sexual inequality much before. Very enjoyable. Toyah Willcox later joined the cast – but I saw Noreen Kershaw in the role.

  1. Poppy – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Theatre, London, 7th March 1983.

image(1318)image(1319)Definitely a contender to be among my top ten shows of all time, this brilliant musical, by Peter Nichols and James Bond’s Monty Norman, takes the Opium Trade Wars of the 19th century and sets it against a traditional pantomime setting to blistering effect. Hilarious but savage pantomime stereotypes, cunning lyrics to devastatingly clever songs, and audience participation to die for. I saw this by myself but later went again with my friends Mike and Lin, ensuring I sat on the “Ker-pow, splatt” side of the audience rather than the “rat-a-tat-tat” side. An amazing cast was led by Stephen Moore, with Jane Carr, Julia Hills, Geoffrey Hutchings, Geraldine Gardner, Bernard Lloyd and Roger Allam. Even though Mrs Chrisparkle has never seen this show, she knows all the words to The Blessed Trinity (Civilisation, commerce and Christianity all go together, and all begin with C) and if ever there as a show that is crying out for a revival once things get back to normal, this is it.

 

  1. Run for Your Wife – Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 20th April 1983.

image(1288)image(1289)The next show I saw, with my friends Mike, Lin, and Dave was called Viva ’83 and was a Dance benefit show at Sadler’s Wells in aid of the Chilean Solidarity Committee (ah, those were the days, comrades) but unfortunately the programme has been misfiled, so I can’t bring you all the details. I’ll have to fire the admin clerk for this. If and when it shows itself, I’ll add it in to the lists. Meanwhile the show I saw after that was Ray Cooney’s Run for your Wife, presented at the Shaftesbury as part of his Theatre of Laughter Company. Massively successful, running in various theatres for the next seven years, it was a typical Cooney farce with Richard Briers playing a bigamist taxi driver; when he sustains an accident the truth of his two wives becomes revealed, a little like a less glamorous version of Boeing Boeing. Mr Briers was on top form, and the supporting cast had such luminaries as Bernard Cribbins, Peter Blake, Carol Hawkins, Royce Mills and Bill Pertwee. Everything you could want from a modern farce.

And that’s it for now. Who knows what the next blog will be?!

Have some more theatre memories – May to October 1982

Why not try some, they’re delicious!

  1. Hobson’s Choice – Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, 12th May 1982

image(1228)image(1229)image(1220)Harold Brighouse’s timeless masterpiece was given a charming and truly Haymarket-ian production, directed by Ronald Eyre and starring Penelope Keith affecting a not entirely credible Yorkshire accent in the main role of Maggie. Anthony Quayle (yes, THE Anthony Quayle) was Hobson, and with West End stalwarts such as Belinda Lang, Jonathan Coy, Trevor Peacock, John Grieve, and Bergerac’s Charlotte, Annette Badland, you’d have to be hard-hearted not to have enjoyed it – and I did, thoroughly. Lower down the pecking order of the cast you’ll find Carmen Silvera and Gorden Kaye, working together a few months before Allo Allo hit our TV screens.

  1. Season’s Greetings – Apollo Theatre, London, 25th May 1982

image(1233)image(1234)image(1239)I guess it was part of the fun of Alan Ayckbourn’s newest hit play that it was set during Christmas but presented on the West End Stage just as summer was hitting the streets. A classic Ayckbourn, with a bunch of misfits thrown together over the Festive period, featuring an ostentatiously repulsive old man who gets his kicks from TV violence and a meek and useless doctor obsessed with hosting puppet shows for the kids. A very funny and at the same time cringingly dreadful play, which had a sterling cast, led by Colditz’s Bernard Hepton and Porridge’s Peter Vaughan. Brilliant production of a brilliant play.

  1. Not Quite Jerusalem – Royal Court Theatre, London, 11th June 1982.

image(1248)The one and only time (so far) that I’ve been to the Royal Court, which is a pretty poor state of affairs in itself. Paul Kember’s searing examination of loutish Brits living on a kibbutz is full of brilliant lines and cringeworthy moments – and much better than the disappointing film version that came out a few years later. Fantastic performances from David Threlfall, Selina Cadell and Kevin McNally. This play should be much better known than it is.

  1. All’s Well that Ends Well – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Theatre, London, 23rd June 1982

image(1245)image(1246)image(1247)Trevor Nunn’s magnificent production of this Shakespearean Problem Play, brought forward to the nineteenth century I believe, was a true delight and had a cast to die for. The Countess of Rossillion was played by Peggy Ashcroft, and it was superb to see her perform live. Philip Franks, Harriet Walter, Stephen Moore, Geoffrey Hutchings, Robert Eddison, John Franklyn-Robbins, Cheryl Campbell; an extraordinary assembly of talents. Amongst the minor roles you find great actors like Roger Allam and Julia Hills. It swept you up in its magic and shook you to the core. Amazing stuff.

  1. Henry IV, Parts One and Two – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Theatre, London, 10th July 1982

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Part One in the afternoon, Part Two in the evening. Trevor Nunn was having an annus mirabilis with this grandiose and vivid production of both parts of Henry IV. Many of the cast of All’s Well reunited for this production, but with some great additions: Patrick Stewart as the King, Joss Ackland as Falstaff, Miriam Karlin as Mistress Quickly, Timothy Dalton as Hotspur, plus Gemma Jones, Mike Gwilym, James Fleet, Dexter Fletcher and many other great performers. Eight and a half hours of Shakespeare in a day – and I loved it.

  1. Captain Brassbound’s Conversion – Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, 26th July 1982.

image(1262)image(1263)image(1251)The Haymarket had created a mini-repertory company in the summer of 1982 – having seen Hobson’s Choice a couple of months earlier, many members of the same cast now appeared in Frank Hauser’s production of Shaw’s strange play inspired by the life of explorer Mary Kingsley, where a smuggler sea captain has to forego revenge. I have to confess that I have very little memory of this production, and I expect I was probably underwhelmed by the play, but there’s no denying the strength of the cast!

  1. Ballet Rambert at the Battersea Park Big Top, London, 31st July 1982.

image(1259)I went with my friends Mike, Lin and Ros to see an officially fabulous programme of dance from the Ballet Rambert. First up was Robert North’s Pribaoutki (A Telling), set to Stravinsky’s Songs and Three pieces for String Quartet, and with design inspired by Picasso. Next was Richard Alston’s Night Music, with music by Mozart (Notturni for Voices and Basset Horns, Divertimenti for Basset Horns). Finally, the showpiece Ghost Dances – which has long remained probably my favourite dance work of all time – choreographed by Christopher Bruce to a score of South American folk songs – performed by musicians who would go on to form the very successful group Incantation.

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The dancers were something of a dream team that included Cathrine Price, Catherine Becque, Ikky Maas, Lucy Burge, Lucy Bethune, Frances Carty, and lead man Robert North himself. A magical night indeed!

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  1. Find the Lady – Opera House, Jersey, 13th August 1982

image(1271)image(1258)For my summer holidays in 1982, I accompanied the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle for two weeks in the sun of St Brelade in Jersey – and it was a very enjoyable holiday. Whilst there, we caught a few shows, that were all considerably better than they had any right to be. Firstly, we saw Chas ‘n’ Dave with guest comic Roger Kitter (remember him? His song Chalkdust, by the Brat, had just come out and was doing well in the charts). But the first of the two plays we saw was Michael Pertwee’s comedy thriller Find the Lady, starring the redoubtable (and excellent on stage) Mollie Sugden as a self-appointed sleuth trying to find the dead body of a hotel guest that has disappeared. It also starred Crossroads’ Tony Adams, Clare Richards, and Patricia Samuels. Ms Sugden camped the whole thing up rotten and it was great fun.

  1. Big Bad Mouse – Lido de France, Jersey, 18th August 1982

image(1267)image(1268)I had always wanted to see this West End success, but I never expected to discover it at a little theatre attached to a hotel in Jersey. Philip King and Falkland Cary’s Big Bad Mouse ran for three years at the Shaftesbury Theatre in the late 60s and was notable for the fact that its two stars, Eric Sykes and Jimmy Edwards, ad-libbed their way through the play, constantly breaking the fourth wall, and definitely showing Mrs Brown’s Boys how to do it properly. To be fair, the subject matter of this play has dated badly, with women getting turned on by the thought that one of their colleagues, the mousey Mr Bloom (Eric Sykes), might in fact be a sexual predator. What can I say, it was a different era! A theatrical performance like no other really – it was an absolute hoot and I loved it.

  1. Rocket to the Moon – Apollo Theatre, London, 29th October 1982

image(1273)image(1274)image(1279)Clifford Odets’ 1938 play about a dentist’s marital infidelities had arrived from the Hampstead Theatre with great reviews and a great cast, including New Scotland Yard’s John Woodvine, Hair’s Annabel Leventon, David Burke, Mary Maddox and even Skippy’s Ed Devereaux. However, I found it an appallingly dull and dated play and if I remember rightly, I pretty much hated every minute!

Thanks for accompanying me on this jaunt through theatrical history. Next regular blog will be back to the holiday snaps and L is for Laos, an amazing country. Stay safe!

Carrying on with the theatre memories – October 1981 to April 1982

Come on in, the water’s lovely!

  1. The Killing Game – Apollo Theatre, London, 29th October 1981

image(1193)image(1194)image(1199)Thomas Muschamp’s The Killing Game was an intriguing thriller with a military air; it had something of the Conduct Unbecoming to it, if you remember that old play. Given the fact that he apparently wrote dozens of plays, Mr Muschamp’s oeuvre seems to be largely forgotten today. I remember this as being a riveting and exciting drama that kept me guessing throughout. An excellent cast but I particularly remember Hannah Gordon being superb.

  1. The Mitford Girls – Globe Theatre, London, 4th November 1981

image(1185)image(1186)image(1178)Another two-show day, this started off with Ned Sherrin and Caryl Brahms’ musical about the six Mitford sisters, the socialite, not socialist, family who got in with the Mosleys and the Hitlers and suchlike in the first half of the twentieth century. Nicely done, but it left me a bit cold – although, maybe that was the point? A great cast starred Patricia Hodge, with terrific stalwarts including Gay Soper and Julia Sutton – not to mention Oz Clarke. It even had “dances supervised” (whatever that means) by Anton Dolin. I remember feeling grateful that I had another show to go on to; and, indeed, it didn’t last long in the West End.

  1. Anyone for Denis – Whitehall Theatre, London, 4th November 1981

image(1181)John Wells’ Chequers-based farce was a complete hoot, with a fantastic central performance by Angela Thorne as Maggie Thatcher, although I always found John Wells’ own impersonation of Denis as rather over the top.

image(1182)I still cringe when I think of the publicity photo with Ms Thorne and Mr Wells and the real Thatchers – Denis obviously found it hilarious, but The Iron Lady had a smile full of individually gritted teeth.

A fascinating example of political satire that could never have been allowed whilst Theatre Censorship was in action. Creatively different programme, too!

  1. Children of a Lesser God – Albery Theatre, London, 5th November 1981

image(1171)image(1172)image(1175)On a second two-show day, I first saw Mark Medoff’s stunning play about a relationship between two members of staff at a school for the deaf, which garnered several awards on both sides of the Atlantic. The main roles were taken by the deaf actor Elizabeth Quinn and the hearing actor – and Shoestring himself – Trevor Eve. I remember it as a gripping and riveting watch, chock-full of terrific performances, and indeed it was later made into a very successful film.

  1. Roll on 4 O’clock – Palace Theatre, London, 5th November 1981

image(1162)image(1163)image(1168)The Palace Theatre is an awfully big place when there aren’t that many people in the audience so this third night performance of Colin Welland’s amusing but overwhelmingly alarming play about teachers coping with life as teachers and homophobic bullying amongst the boys felt a bit surreal. Primarily I went to see it because I wanted to see what Windsor Davies was like on stage – and he was brilliant. I remember him rousing up the first few rows of the stalls so that we all stood up to sing a hymn just before the curtain fell for the interval. Enjoyable, but I was expecting more. Also appearing as members of staff were Shaun Curry, Bernard Gallagher and Clive Swift, and amongst the boys, Nick Conway went on to have a very successful acting (and teaching) career.

  1. Pass the Butler – Globe Theatre, London, 6th February 1982

image(1156)image(1157)image(1149)A farce by Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle, and with a massive cast headed by William Rushton, John Fortune and Peter Jones, directed by Jonathan Lynn, should have been a thing of joy. But I remember it as being sadly shallow and full of horribly easy laughs, and, whilst it was certainly superficially funny at times, it didn’t have anything like enough oomph to become memorable. Can’t win them all – my next four shows were all sensational.