Theatre Memories – Another Ten Shows – February to August 1976

Some more insights into my theatrically formative years!

  1. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – Criterion Theatre, London, February 1976.

image(226)Not the original production, obviously – that was way back in 1966. This revival, produced by the Young Vic, starred Christopher Timothy and Richard O’Callaghan as Hamlet’s chums, and absolutely superb they were too. It was played very much for laughs, so it was a very funny production, but probably missed out on some of the play’s darker aspects. I note with pleasure that they observed the three-act structure, and that this had two intervals of twelve minutes each – wouldn’t happen today.  This was a school trip, led by my Stoppard-mad English teacher, Bruce Ritchie. He was influential on us all becoming Stoppard fans, something that I’ve only had to question with his more recent output!

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  1. Sacha Distel at the London Palladium, 19th April 1976.

I always liked Sacha Distel, and it’s impossible to sing Raindrops Keep Falling on my ‘Ead without adopting a faux-French accent. But the reason I jumped at the chance to attend this revue, scheduled for just one week, was the participation of the love of my life, Lynsey de Paul. It was a very good show, with great comedy compering from Kerry Jewel, a brilliant comedy music act from Marti Caine, and Sacha Distel doing his thing as only Sacha Distel could. But I was thrilled to see Lynsey, who sang about six or seven of her best songs, accompanying herself on the piano, and also joining M. Distel for a duet during his act. One of my most memorable nights in a theatre!

 

  1. Equus – Albery Theatre (now the Noel Coward, still hate theatre name changes!), London, May 1976.

equusOne of the last occasions where I lost my programme – and what a shame to have lost this one! By this time, Peter Shaffer’s evergreen play had undergone several cast changes, and I saw Colin Blakely as Dysart and Gerry Sundquist as Strang. This was another school trip – quite a bold choice by our English teachers but they knew we’d take it seriously. The staging of this original production included having some of the audience seated on the stage, on steep (and uncomfortable) racks at the back, looking down on to the action from behind – cheap seats, so they put us there, and I found it mesmerising. The fame and success of Equus continues to this day, and I’m grateful to have had the experience of seeing this ground-breaking production.

 

  1. Hamlet – Lyttelton Theatre, National, London, June 1976.

image(216)This was the inaugural production at the new National Theatre, which had only opened on the South Bank in March 1976. This full, uncut Hamlet lasted almost four and a half hours – quite a feat for a school night (finishing just in time for me to get the midnight train home, but not getting to bed till 1.30 am) but as it was yet another school trip, I had the perfect excuse. The dual pleasure of seeing something that you already knew was going to be a master-achievement, together with one’s first time in the Lyttelton made this another unforgettable experience.

 

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The extraordinary cast included Albert Finney as Hamlet, Denis Quilley as Claudius and the Ghost, Barbara Jefford as Gertrude, Susan Fleetwood as Ophelia, Simon Ward as Laertes, Philip Locke as Horatio and Roland Culver as Polonius. From then on, I wanted to see everything I could at the National – but there’s always been so much on offer that’s an impossible task! A magnificent, austere and awe-inspiring production.

 

  1. Tom Stoppard’s Dirty Linen and New-Found-Land – Arts Theatre, 28th June 1976.

image(218)Another Stoppard, another school trip, another school night. As a theatregoer, one particular breakthrough moment for me was having the sense to tuck my ticket stub in the spine of my programme, so that I would always know when I saw a show, where I sat and how much it cost. Stalls N1, the grand sum of £1. I didn’t always remember to do it from then on, but it became second nature before long.

Dirty Linen is a curious but funny play, 85 minutes long and split into two halves with the play within the play, New-Found-Land, being the cleverer and funnier of the two. I did, however, enormously enjoy the sense of occasion, the Arts Theatre at the time being delightfully seedy and clubby – you couldn’t get further from the National if you tried.

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We were taken by two of our teachers – Bruce Ritchie, naturally, as it was a Stoppard, and Andy Wilson, who the world knows better as A. N. Wilson, writer, thinker, commentator and young fogey, who was my erudite and entertaining companion in seat N2. Excellent performances from Edward de Souza, Peter Bowles and especially Stephen Moore.

 

  1. Liza of Lambeth – Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 5th July 1976.

image(220)Mum really wanted to see this show as she was a big Somerset Maugham fan, and we went for her birthday, even though it was a school night. It was a bright-hearted, warm fun musical, with some great songs (several of which I still sing to myself) and a great cast. I didn’t know the story and wasn’t prepared for the hugely sad ending – Liza’s kicked to death by the wife of the man who made her pregnant – and I’d fallen in love with Angela Richards, who played Liza!

 

Patricia Hayes, Michael Robbins, Kate Williams, Tina Martin, Brian Hall and Christopher Neil also all gave sterling performances, and I for one would queue up to see a revival.

 

  1. Troilus and Cressida – Young Vic, London, 19th July 1976.

image(207)First theatre trip out during the school summer holidays, and the first show I saw on my own since the Sacha Distel Show. This production had originally been intended to open the new Cottesloe Theatre in the National Theatre development, but the theatre wasn’t ready yet, so it had to move to the Young Vic.

On paper it’s a great cast, but I didn’t like it much – primarily because I didn’t understand it. The direction made it hard to follow, and it was only Robert Eddison’s Pandarus that made the whole thing watchable. Maybe they just couldn’t get on with the last-minute switch of venue.

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  1. Donkeys’ Years – Globe Theatre (now the Gielgud), London, 22nd July 1976.

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I saw this with my schoolfriend Robin on a Thursday matinee, because we were both big fans of TV’s The Good Life and really wanted to see Penelope Keith perform in person. One of Michael Frayn’s early plays, it’s about a college Gaudy reunion that goes disastrously wrong in many ways. Slow to start, but then it gets pretty funny for Acts Two and Three. We enjoyed it very much, despite the fact that it was a very poor audience. But you’ll remember, gentle reader, how lovely the summer of 1976 was – only theatre nerds were attending matinees and not enjoying the sunshine.

The actors were all excellent. In addition to Penelope Keith, it starred Peter Barkworth, Peter Jeffrey, Julian Curry (Rumpole’s Claude Erskine-Brown) and Jeffry Wickham. Because we wanted to meet Penelope Keith, Robin and I went to the stage door after the show to collect autographs. Everyone who came out was very kind and chatty – but Miss Keith did not appear. The Stage Door Keeper very kindly offered to phone down to her and he reported that she could not come up (can’t remember why) but he would take our autograph books down to her and she would sign them. And so she did.

  1. Three Sisters – Cambridge Theatre, London, 29th July 1976.

image(200)One week later, another matinee, this time on my own. I knew of Chekhov and had already read most of his plays but had never seen one, so I thought I’d be intellectual and give this a try. It was fantastic. An amazing cast featured Janet Suzman as Masha and Nigel Davenport as Vershinin, with Peter Bayliss as a foolish, unpleasant Soliony, Peter Eyre as Toozenbach, John Shrapnel as Prozorov and June Ritchie as his awful wife. The other sisters were a wide-eyed innocent Angela Down as Irena and a mature and sensible Susan Engel as Olga.

Directed in a clear, pared-back and emotional style by Jonathan Miller, who was in the audience – I actually saw him in the Dress Circle bar during the interval but I didn’t speak to him because he looked like he wasn’t enjoying it much. He was the only one who wasn’t. From where I sat in the stalls, for the opening 90 seconds of the play Ms Down was looking directly into my eyes without moving an inch. I stared back. I’m sure that, 45 years later, she remembers that shared moment just as vividly as I do. (joke)

The production had transferred from the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford but only lasted about two months in the West End. Maybe that’s why Jonathan Miller wasn’t very happy.

 

  1. Banana Ridge – Savoy Theatre, London, 5th August 1976.

For some summer comedy, here was a revival of an old Ben Travers farce (old Ben Travers was the flavour of the month as his Bed Before Yesterday was in town – more of that soon) with a pleasing collection of comedy actors including Robert Morley, George Cole (pre-Minder), Joan Sanderson (post-Please Sir), Jan Holden and Vivienne Martin, who had been one of the prankish young ladies of the St Trinians’ films where Mr Cole had been Flash Harry. It was a very successful revival, running for a year.

I remember enjoying it very much; Robert Morley’s character was a hilariously bumbling old man and it was a brilliant portrayal. I also had a very enjoyable time at the stage door, meeting the cast and getting autographs. Mr Morley was gracious, Miss Sanderson was kind; Geoffrey Burridge mis-spelt my name and we had a good laugh about that. Vivienne Martin was very chatty and said that the naughty Mr Morley had spent the entire show trying to make the other cast members corpse – and had I noticed? I said it explained why Mr Cole got flummoxed, and was embarrassed about forgetting his lines.

It was an interesting insight into how a star like Robert Morley would get a bit of fun out of an otherwise dull matinee on a sunny afternoon.

 

That’s another ten shows in the bag! On Monday it’ll be another holiday snaps blog. B is also for Brazil, and some memories from our trip to Rio in 2011.

Theatre Reminiscences – the next ten shows – 1972 to 1976

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

  1. Sleuth – St Martin’s Theatre, London, September 1972.

image(110)An immensely entertaining and successful thriller, where nothing is as it seems, and even the programme lies to you. Mum took me to see this on the last day of the school summer holidays. It ran for about five years, with many changes of cast. To a 12-year-old, this was quite a scary play! Our cast had Marius Goring, best known as TV’s The Expert, and Anthony Valentine, who would become most famous for playing Raffles on TV. I think the only lesson as such that I learned from this show was not to use the programme as a coaster – there’s a tea/coffee ring stain on the cover that irks me to this day!

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I didn’t get any autographs; not sure why. But obviously, that broke a chain, as I didn’t get any more autographs at stage doors until 1976.

 

  1. Lloyd George Knew My Father – Savoy Theatre, London, October 1972.

image(105)I’m pretty sure we went to see this during half-term. Mother was very keen on seeing it – I had no particular expectations apart from the fact that I knew Ralph Richardson and Celia Johnson were big names and that it was written by William Douglas Home, who also had a great reputation. I found this play quite boring. It was moving – at times – but I still found comedy involving death in rather poor taste (as my Dad had died at the beginning of the year). In particular, I remember not enjoying the lead character choosing the shade of wood for his own coffin. Slow, morbid, and drab. Somehow it had a quite a nifty run, which went beyond my understanding at the time.

Other notable cast members included James Grout, who would most famously become Inspector Morse’s boss Superintendent Strange, and Simon Cadell, who went on to lead the cast of Hi De Hi.

  1. No Sex Please, We’re British – Strand Theatre (now the Novello), London, February 1973.

image(181)One thing that you can’t fault Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot for – they knew how to construct a great title! This play had opened in 1971 and ran for sixteen years, becoming the longest running comedy in the English Language – in fact, if you look at the list of most successful UK Theatre productions, as far as longevity is concerned, it’s the only comedy play in the Top Twenty.

I remember it as being absolutely hilarious – a classic sex comedy based on misunderstandings and bungling – and it was the first time I saw David Jason, who completely took control of the play and would have deserved every comedy acting award under the sun for this performance. The cast also included the rather grand Evelyn Laye, plus TV favourite Simon Williams and the voice of Captain Povey from The Navy Lark, Richard Caldicot. Sadly Alistair Foot died during rehearsals for No Sex Please at the age of 40 and never knew its success.

And the lesson learned from this production? Don’t leave the programme on the living room floor for the dog to chew. Hence the rather grotty corners in the photograph!

 

  1. The Tommy Steele Show – London Palladium, April 1973.

image(179)My mother was a massive Tommy Steele fan and she was determined to take me to see this show as an Easter holidays treat. I’m not sure that a 13-year-old boy was his target audience; I quite enjoyed it, but didn’t go over the top about it in the way she did. The show was structured so that various support acts were on first, and then an interval followed by an hour of Mr Steele doing his thing. June Bronhill, the coloratura soprano, was the big support act; thinking back I expect I was bored rigid.

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  1. Carry on London – Victoria Palace, London, December 1973.

image(177)Clearly, I hadn’t learned my lesson from seeing The Comedians at the Palladium the previous year – in that what’s successful in one format doesn’t necessarily translate that well to another. Carry On London was a revue starring six of the Carry On team from the famous films – Sid James, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Connor, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth and Jack Douglas. (Jack Douglas in Carry On films? Apparently.) I do recollect that Barbara Windsor didn’t appear and we had her understudy, whose name I’m afraid I cannot recall.

image(178)It was very lame, very crude, and very lazy. Sid James just phoned it in. Peter Butterworth played a character in Cleopatra’s boudoir named Grabatiti – I think that says it all. Also in the cast was Trudi van Doorn, a bright and sparkling stage presence who later changed her name to Geraldine Gardner, and became the toast of A Chorus Line as a brilliant Sheila, and also Dick Whittington in Peter Nichols’ Poppy. But this show was a big disappointment.

 

  1. Birds of Paradise – Garrick Theatre, London, September 1974.

image(167)Some time elapsed before my next theatre trip – but it was well worth the wait. Mother booked it because she really liked Moira Lister, who headed the cast – she always saw herself (rightly or wrongly) as The Very Merry Widow, which was Ms Lister’s successful TV show. When we collected our tickets at the box office, a sign read “not suitable for Under 16s”. I was 14. Mother said it was up to her what was suitable for me and we were going to see it. So if I take any lesson from this show, it’s that any age restrictions in the theatre are merely serving suggestions.

Birds of Paradise was written by French actress Gaby Bruyère, under the title La Maison de Zaza, and adapted into English by Michael Pertwee. Another of these sex comedies based on misunderstandings and misadventure, a posh household and a brothel get mixed up, and the main thrust (if I may be so bold) of the play was trying to keep the brothel girls away from the posh visitors. I primarily remember this play because the five young actresses playing the brothel girls all got their tops off during the course of the show. But it was, as Kenny Everett might have said, all done in the best possible taste. There was one scene where a retired colonel sat down on a chaise longue on castors, and as his seat moved away from him, because of weight on said castors, a topless young lady who had been hiding underneath was revealed, face up, before his (and my) goggling eyes. At precisely the same time, his posh wife was looking out of the window at the trees in the garden and excitedly cries out, “oh look! Tits!” On the page it looks hackneyed, but the split-second comic timing and the sheer joie de vivre of the whole thing was a complete delight.

An interesting side note; it had a totally unnecessary pianist to play the show in and to entertain during the interval; the redoubtable Hero de Rance, born 1900, died 1999, composer, entertainer, and TV announcer. I remember her smiling at me whilst she played (we had front row seats) – she probably thought I was enjoying the eyefuls on stage more than her playing. And she’d be right.

As well as Moira Lister, it starred Geoffrey Lumsden, Graham Armitage, Sam Kelly and Elspeth March. Terrifically funny!

 

  1. Grayson’s Scandals – London Palladium, November 1974.

image(164)One subject on which I was kind of out of kilter with almost all my schoolfriends – I used to find Larry Grayson absolutely, and unfashionably, hilarious. If you remember, he used weave a magical mesh of made up stories with his pretend characters Slack Alice and Apricot Lil, Postman Pop-it-in Pete and of course Everard. At the age of 14, I don’t think I really understood the gay sub-culture at the heart of what he was talking about – to me, he was just a funny, quirky, chatty, weird kind of guy. Grayson’s Scandals was a typical Palladium revue of its day, with supporting guests, including his friend Noele Gordon (of Crossroads – she was a great singer, I remember her performing “The Hostess with the Mostest” in this show) – and mime/clown artiste George Carl from the Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris.

image(166)A lot of fun – although I have a note that suggested there were many microphone issues. Not the first time that’s happened at the Palladium – Cinderella back in 1972 was also blighted with those technical problems.

 

  1. La Bohème – English National Opera at the London Coliseum, 4th November 1975.

image(162)My first ever opera; I’d been keen to see an opera for a few years as we had some great opera records at home, and it piqued my interest. Mother was very happy to see this with me as she thought it would be “mentally, morally and artistically improving” for me! I can’t remember much about it, apart from the fact that I found the sets particularly stunning. Mother was very annoyed at the people sat next to her because they complained at how pathetic the story line was. “You don’t go to the opera for the story!” she affirmed loudly to me, so that they could hear her. I still haven’t been to many operas over the years, but when I do, I tend to enjoy it. This was on a school night. I think I ended up a great sleepy-head the next day in school – but I did feel very sophisticated.

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  1. Absent Friends – Garrick Theatre, London, 5th January 1976.

image(155)So this is where it really all took off. After some not insubstantial negotiation with the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle, she agreed that I could go into London by myself, at the age of 15, from where we lived in Wendover, Bucks, to see a matinee, provided I was home by the 7 o’clock train. Agreed! And this was my first foray into what I considered to be “grown up” theatregoing by myself. I chose Absent Friends because I knew that Alan Ayckbourn was a great comic writer, even though I hadn’t seen any of his work, and also I knew the Garrick, having been there a couple of times already, so it felt especially safe.

To be honest, I wasn’t overstruck with the play. It’s about a man whose wife/girl friend (can’t remember which) suddenly dies, and his friends all gather round to cheer him up. But when they meet him, rather than the despondent character they expect him to be, he’s actually bright and cheerful because he had been in love with this wonderful woman and no one could take that away from him – and it exposes the friends’ insecurities much more than his. Today, I realise that it’s a very clever construct, but then it struck me as just a little dull. A great cast starred Richard Briers, Peter Bowles, Cheryl Kennedy and Ray Brooks.

Although I didn’t rate the play much, I rated the experience of going to the West End theatre by myself at the age of 15 at about 100 out of 10.

 

  1. Otherwise Engaged – Queen’s Theatre (now the Sondheim, how I hate theatres being renamed!), 8th January 1976.

image(151)The glory of midweek matinees. Having seen Absent Friends on the Wednesday matinee, I was back in the West End the next day to see Otherwise Engaged on the Thursday matinee. I enjoyed this play much more, as it felt more intelligent, more erudite (and presumably more attractive to a pompous little kid). Actually, it’s quite an unpleasant play, revolving around a selfish central character who just wants to lose himself listening to the new recording of Parsifal that he’s just bought, but the outside world keeps on coming in to upset and irritate him. As a result, he does cruel and irreperable damage to the friends and family (and others) who drift into his orbit.

image(152)It starred Alan Bates, who I knew was a great name, and I have to say it was a fantastic performance. Also in the cast were Nigel Hawthorne, who would go on to have amazing success as Yes Prime Minister’s Sir Humphrey, Julian Glover, who is still going strong as a much respected actor, and the hugely talented Ian Charleson, in what was I think his West End debut (apart from his Young Vic School training) and whom we lost far too young.

I had a great time seeing these two plays back to back, and, to be honest, life was never going to be the same….

 

Thanks for sticking with me on this retrospective! Back tomorrow with some more holiday pics. B is for… Bolivia!

Theatre Reminiscences – What I learned from my next ten shows – 1971-1972

And now another plunge into my early days of theatregoing. Hold tight!

image(143) 11. To See Such Fun – London Palladium, 25th April 1971.
The first proper revue show I ever saw, I went with my Dad because we were both great fans of the legendary Tommy Cooper, who topped the bill, but the show also starred the great names Clive Dunn, Anita Harris and Russ Conway. What I learned from this show is that it’s acceptable to laugh hysterically – as I remember doing, from Tommy Cooper’s very first appearance to his final trick. I was so thrilled by this show – it probably remained my favourite show (I reserve the right to change my mind on that statement) until A Chorus Line came along and blew everything away for me five years later.

I only got one autograph – but that too was a memorable experience. Standing outside the Stage Door about an hour before the show started, some guy came up to us and said that if we wanted to see Tommy Cooper, he was just finishing his dinner over there – and he pointed towards a greasy spoon that is now the swish O’Neills pub on the corner of Carnaby Street and Great Marlborough Street. So we went over there, and there was the great man, sitting in front of an empty plate that had obviously contained fried eggs, baked beans and chips, signing autographs for a queue of people. I joined the queue, and he kindly signed.

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12. Boeing-Boeing – Lido Theatre, Cliftonville, July 1971.
Our week’s summer holiday in 1971 was to Ramsgate – we always went to the best places. One of the shows we saw that week was Boeing-Boeing, Marc Camoletti’s 1962 comedy that refuses to go away, even though the recently planned tour was cancelled due to poor advance sales – pity, as it’s one of the finest modern farces, superbly structured and a wonderful example of bringing a lovable louse to justice. I guess it is a little dated now. But I remember this fondly. This is another example of the lesson Look After Your Programme – it rained that day and the programme got soggy so we chucked it. Nowadays I’d know to keep it under my coat! The cast featured Kenneth Connor (of the Carry On films), McDonald Hobley, who was primarily a TV presenter and continuity announcer, and Yutte Stensgaard, who I remember as being one of the hostesses on TV’s The Golden Shot and appeared in some racy horror movies in the 1970s.

13. The Toast of the Town – The Granville Ballroom, Ramsgate, July 1971.
Not the Talk of the Town – that was something far more glamorous! Sadly the Granville Ballroom was demolished in the 1980s – proof that we have to protect our live venues. I remember clearly that this little show delivered more than it promised; a hilarious cast with some great sketches, including “The Jumble Sale”, a variation of which you see frequently at pantos today – “If I were not upon the stage something else I’d rather be…” to which various performers with silly moves add their lines and end up in a deliberately choreographic mess. I remember it featured a vicar singing “nylon panties, nylon panties, look at them stretch”, a robust young lady shouting “crumpet, crumpet, come and have a nibble” and an effete young man with the lines “pansies, pansies, don’t you think they’re Oh so gay”. Not that acceptable today, but done with huge panache.

The cast were “yodelling cowboy” Ronnie Winters, Colin Beach, Sonny Day and Nola Collins, and many of them signed my programme. A little research shows that Ronnie and Nola were married, and their daughter Mandy still performs in the family tradition.

14. John Mann’s Show – Granville Theatre, Ramsgate, July 1971.
I completely draw a blank on this show I’m afraid – I have no memories of it whatsoever! No autographs either, so perhaps I wasn’t in the zone. John Mann (who retired in 2018) was on the organ, and the show also featured Roy Greenslade, Roger Smith, Ricky and Shirlie Young, and Myra Sands, whom we only saw last year in one of the Lost Musicals.

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15. Moscow State Circus – Wembley Empire Pool, August 1971.
image(135)It may be odd to include this show in theatre reminiscences, but I still have the programme and also the memory of an enormously entertaining show. I’m one of those weird people who actually enjoy clowns, and Oleg Popov was the Master of the genre and I loved watching him. My other main memory of this show is that it was a matinee, due to start at 3pm, when the orchestra started the show with three musical strikes (to suggest the clock striking 3). However… for whatever reason, the show was delayed and didn’t start until about 3.20pm – nevertheless the orchestra still had to start with the three musical notes. I learned from that experience that it’s not always wise to tie down a start time that firmly!

16. Cinderella – London Palladium, 3rd January 1972.
image(134)Theatre is never an island; your own experiences and those in the theatre are inextricably linked. I say this because three days before Mum took me to see Cinderella at the Palladium, my dad died. I was 11; she was widowed at 50. In retrospect, I still don’t know whether the decision to go ahead with going to the panto was a wise one or not. It probably was, as I remember enjoying it – it provided a couple of hours of light relief at an otherwise very sad time. Much harder for my mother though, who put on her stiff upper lip throughout, but I remember looking at her from time to time and thinking she’d never looked so sad; and wondering whether it was fair of me to still ask to go to the panto despite everything.

But we did; and it was a typically glamorous and showbizzy affair. Ronnie Corbett as Buttons, Clodagh Rodgers (who’d just represented the UK at Eurovision) as Cinderella, and Terry Scott and Julian Orchard were the Ugly Sisters. Malcolm (May I Have the Next Dream with You) Roberts was Prince Charming. I got a few autographs, including David Kossoff and 1960s favourite Dorothy Dampier, but I remember the whole event being tinged with sadness.

17. Give a Dog a Bone – Westminster Theatre, January 1972.

image(148)This Christmas Show came back every year from 1964 to 1975 and the Saturday Morning Drama School that I attended had a school visit to see the show. It was written by Peter Howard, head of the Moral Re-Armament movement, and I expect it was the heavy Moral/Christian element of the story that made it feel very worthy but not very sophisticated. What I learned from this show was an ability to start honing my critical faculties where it came to theatre, because, in comparison with all the other shows I’d seen, this was deathly dull. Too childish and patronising for my taste. I hated it!

Although I have to confess, I do still sing “I Dream of Ice Cream” to myself at regular intervals. “I Dream of Ice Cream, sausages and cake. Things that you chew, things that you bake. It’s such a nice dream, I’m afraid to wake, when I dream of ice cream, sausages and cake.” Music by Ivor Novello, lyrics by Sir Noel Coward, as the late Terry Wogan would have said.

18. Move Over Mrs Markham – Vaudeville Theatre, July 1972.

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This is more like it! A very funny, Ray Cooney and John Chapman farcical comedy, where a one-bedroomed flat is the target for three sets of illicit lovers, none of whom know that the others have the same intent. Cue a couple of hours of trendy early 70s stage naughtiness. I remember that I absolutely loved it – and my mother did too, so it was nice to see her enjoying theatre again (although all that was to change when you see the next entry!)

It had a terrific cast, many of whom I met at the stage door afterwards and were generous with their time and their autographs. Dinah Sheridan, Tony Britton, Diane Hart, Terence Alexander and even Dame Cicely Courtneidge were all lovely. And the programme features loads of photographs from the production, which brings it all back in glorious monochrome!

19. The Comedians – London Palladium, July 1972.
image(117)What I learned from this show is that a successful product in one format does not necessarily translate into a successful product in another format! Granada TV’s The Comedians was a big hit at the time and made stars of the likes of Bernard Manning, Charlie Williams and Ken Goodwin, with its innovative editing and nightclub style presentation. On the vast stage of the Palladium, most of these comics looked and felt very sad indeed. I had particularly wanted to see this show, but Mother was not keen, feeling that their acts were an unfortunate cross between coarse and Northern, not sure which was the more offensive to her! As it was, my memory of it was that their material was very disappointing and not very funny.

The six comics who presented this show were Mike Reid, Dave Butler, Jos White, Jimmy Marshall, Charlie Williams and Ken Goodwin. When I was hunting autographs at the Stage Door Jimmy Marshall didn’t endear himself to my mother by bumping into her as he wasn’t looking where he was going, and she put on her affronted look. And Ken Goodwin ended his act with a very schmaltzy and sentimental number, and as soon as he sang the words “absence makes the heart grow fonder they say” all her inner griefs exploded and she burst into loud uncontrollable tears in the middle of the stalls, much to the embarrassment of those around, including myself. So another lesson I learned was to make sure of the material on offer in a show when you have a volatile parent!

20. The Mating Game – Apollo Theatre, London, August 1972.
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I got on much better with this fast, funny and sexy farce (yes, I know I was just 12) with a brilliant cast and a show full of laughter. Terry Scott led the cast, with Aimi Macdonald, Clive Francis, Avril Angers and Julia Lockwood. I remember the first scene very clearly, where Mr Francis is luring Miss Macdonald back to his bed for a night of shenanigans only to find Mr Scott already in it.

Written by Robin Hawdon, and directed by Ray Cooney, this had a long run and enjoyed very many successful international transfers. Julia Lockwood was the daughter of Margaret Lockwood and retired from acting a few years later. Clive Francis is the father of Harry Francis, one of the best young actor/dancers on stage today. All the cast were charming when I met them at the stage door afterwards.

And there you have it for today’s reminiscences. My next blog post, probably on Tuesday, will be back on the holiday snaps and we’ll be in Austria in 1989.

Theatre Memories – What I Learned from my First Ten Shows – 1967 to 1971

Greetings gentle reader, and welcome to what could be an enormously entertaining retro odyssey of all the shows I’ve seen over the years, or it could turn out to be some self-indulgent nonsense to pass the lockdown months – only time will tell. So here’s a reminiscence of the first ten professional shows that I’ve seen.

  1. Showtime – Pavilion Theatre, Bournemouth, June 1967.

imageimage(2)Whilst on our annual family week-long summer holiday, which in 1967 was in Bournemouth, my parents took me to see Showtime which starred Des O’Connor and Kenneth McKellar. As a 7-year-old, I have very few memories of the show, but I do remember a sequence where Des O’Connor asked us all if anyone from the audience wanted to join him on stage – there was a brief silence and I remember him saying “come on, speak to Desmond” and just as I was wondering whether I could pluck up the courage to stand up, Jack Douglas emerged from the audience in his character as Alf Ippitittimus (how do you spell that? Two Ips, a Pippi and a Tittimus, which isn’t actually correct but was his catchphrase) and I realised that it was a set-up. That was my first lesson of theatre – things are not always as they seem. It took until One Man Two Guvnors for that art to be perfected!

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I also learned that sitting at the back of a theatre isn’t as much fun as sitting at the front. We sat at the back because my dad wanted to keep drinking pints through the show, much to my mother’s fury. If you drank, you had to sit at the back. If you were pure in mind and spirit, you could sit at the front. Funny old rules.

Some great other shows on that summer in Bournemouth by the way, according to the adverts in the programme.

  1. Jack and The Beanstalk – London Palladium, January 1 1969

image(6)Not 100% certain of the date but it’s near enough. My first London show, my first pantomime, and my first real sense of the excitement and buzz that theatre can offer – that’s what I learned from this show. I went with my mother because, as I was to discover over the coming decades, the London Palladium was probably her favourite place on Earth and she wanted me to start at the top! Jimmy Tarbuck as Jack, Arthur Askey as the Dame (mother couldn’t stand him), and also the brilliant Charlie Cairoli as the leader of the Strolling Clowns.

My main memory of this show is actually standing outside the Palladium amongst the throngs of excited people who knew they were in for a treat – or had just experienced a treat, because I can’t remember if it was before or after the show. I was only 8, after all. But I also remember Jimmy Tarbuck’s first entrance on stage, halfway through the boys and girls of the Pamela Devis Dancers doing the opening number, which was their version of Manfred Mann’s My Name is Jack – pantos always have played with the pop songs of the day. I think I was just tingling with excitement.

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  1. Oh! Clarence! – Lyric Theatre, London, January 8 1969.

image(39)A week after Jack and the Beanstalk, Mum took me back into London to see a matinee of Oh! Clarence!, a comedy by John Chapman based on Blandings Castle and other Lord Emsworth stories by P G Wodehouse. What I learned from this production is Look After Your Programme. I left it on the train coming home and was UTTERLY FURIOUS WITH MYSELF for doing so. And in fact, I STILL AM! Fortunately I tracked down a copy of the text which had the full cast details and even a couple of photos, so all is not lost.

image(40)This had, for 1969, a stunning cast. Jon Pertwee, Peggy Mount, Ealing comedy hero Naunton Wayne and stage farceur par excellence, Robertson Hare, plus some great supporting names. My only vague memories of the play are that Jon Pertwee spent the whole time in great pain (acting, obviously) and that Peggy Mount played her usual “dragon” character. I made a note at the time that there was a hilarious bedroom scene, although I’m sure the 8-year-old me didn’t understand all the jokes.

image(41)The other major significance this production has for me was that it was the first time that I took my autograph book to the stage door after the show came down. With the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle to watch out for me, I got the autographs of Jon Pertwee (who spent the whole time when he was writing in my book talking to someone else); Austin Trevor – the first actor to play Hercule Poirot on film in the 1930s – who was a very kindly and courteous gentleman to us both; and Harry Roy, the famous bandleader, because, for some strange reason, this production had a totally unnecessary band in the orchestra pit. Just because they could, I guess. It was so exciting meeting these famous people that I became fairly hooked on autograph collecting, as you’ll see over the next few blog posts!

  1. Charlie Girl – Adelphi Theatre, London, August 1969.

My first musical, this production taught me four things. 1) with clever scenery, you can make it look as though the theatre has been built in order to accommodate the production – as I did, until my mother put me right. More importantly, 2) I learned how going to the theatre can be a social experience, as there were five of us at this performance: me, my parents, and my Nan and Grandad. I have vague recollections of a meal before the show, maybe coffee afterwards (no drinks, as kids were not allowed in pubs in 1969!)

Thirdly, that there is such a thing as the London Cast Album. We didn’t buy it, but we did buy a 45 rpm single (remember them?) with two of the main songs – Liverpool, and the title track Charlie Girl. So you could have a memory of the music at home after the show. What a discovery! And finally, that there was also an entity called the Souvenir Brochure that you could buy in addition to the programme. Looking back on it now, the Charlie Girl Picture Book is very amateurishly presented and photographed – but it offers some unique pictorial memories of the show. I even got a badge, so they were pretty well mastering the art of merchandise!

Another stunningly good cast: Dame Anna Neagle, Gerry Marsden, Derek Nimmo, plus some brilliant supporting cast. The story wasn’t up to much – would Charlie marry Joe or Jack? That’s about it. The only moment of dialogue I remember clearly was when Derek Nimmo, as the Man from the Football Pools, came to tell Gerry Marsden as Joe that he’d won a fortune. He came on stage with a fistful of celebratory balloons. Gerry Marsden loudly deflated them, to which Derek Nimmo, in that uniquely posh hurt accent of his, moaned You’ve Burst My Balloons! Funny what you remember. It was a great show.

Autograph collecting was fun. We waited ages for Derek Nimmo to come out, and eventually the stage door keeper had to ring down to ask him to come up. He was dressed in Dressing Gown and Wellington Boots, apologising that he was rehearsing a scene from Oh Brother, his TV show of the time. Anna Neagle came out looking very glamorous, and was met in a taxi by her husband, the film producer Herbert Wilcox. Mum told me to get his autograph too because he was equally famous, but being a purist, and as he wasn’t in the show, I didn’t.

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  1. There’s A Girl in my Soup – Comedy Theatre, London, December 1969.

image(52)This long-running comedy was my next show – it was already in its fourth year and had a great reputation – it became London’s longest running comedy until its run was surpassed by No Sex Please We’re British. Basically, a TV chef fancies himself as a lady-killer (this was the Swinging Sixties after all) but he meets his match in the character of Marion and they both tame each other down. I didn’t see a panto this Christmas season, but I think this was meant to replace it. Again, I went with Mum, Dad, Nan and Grandad.

image(53)What this production taught me was something that’s only recently started to become untrue, but for many years was undeniable. I remember a moment when I laughed a lot at a very funny scene, and I glanced at my watch – and it said 10.15pm. And I remember thinking that every day (apart from Sundays), at 10.15pm, other audiences would be enjoying that very same hilarious moment. It was like a realisation that I would have something in common with future audiences. Furthermore, it led to a sadder thought; which was that when the show finally closed, as it inevitably would, no one would ever share that funny moment at 10.15 ever again. Unlike a film, once a show closes, it closes – and you can never get it back again. Not quite the same today with the filmed versions of NT and RSC shows appearing regularly at your local cinema. But at the time, that sadness that you can’t recapture a live performance really rather upset me! Sensitive little child!

The cast was headed by Peter Byrne, famous at the time for his work on Dixon of Dock Green, and Australian actress Karen Kessey, who was lovely at the Stage Door. Also in the cast was Janet Hargreaves, who would later go on to infamous success as Rosemary Hunter in Crossroads, and that amazing TV blooper where she tries to shoot her husband but the gun clicks off too early. I enjoyed the show a lot; so much so that when a revival came around in 1996 I insisted that we went to see it – and it had dated so badly that it was excruciating.

  1. She’s Done it Again – Garrick Theatre, London, January 14 1970

image(62)Bookending the other end of school Christmas holidays, I went with Mum to see this Brian Rix farce set in a hotel overrun with babies. An excellent cast, that also starred Leo Franklyn, Robert Dorning, Derek Royle and Michael Kilgarriff. It was a classic Rix affair, with a couple of getting caught with his trousers down moments; you can see a wonderful scene below where the Bishop of Upton (a very unhappy looking Anthony Sharp) discovered the Revd Hubert (Mr Rix) in such an embarrassing position with Sylvia, played by the beautiful Margaret Nolan.

image(56)I learned two things from this production. One was that a play can be part of a long tradition of similar productions, as the Souvenir Brochure for his play showed photos and details of all the Brian Rix farces going right back to Reluctant Heroes in 1950. It made me really want to see all the earlier productions, which, of course, was impossible – although I do think there was a TV production of Let Sleeping Wives Lie, which would be enormous fun to track down.

The other thing I learned was how lucky I was. We saw a matinee (I was 9 by this stage) and I think the next day was the first day of the new term, so I couldn’t be late to bed. After the show we went to the Stage Door to get autographs – in those days you could walk all the way down the alleyway to the side of the Garrick to get to the Stage Door; today it’s boarded off at street level. We met a lot of the cast coming out of the theatre – Margaret Nolan was particularly kind and lovely to me. But where was Mr Rix? The Stage Door Keeper rang down for us. Mr Rix had a bit of a sore throat and was saving his voice for the evening performance, but he came upstairs in his dressing gown all the same. And then, at the crucial moment, my pen ran out of ink! So Mr Rix very kindly invited me down to his dressing room, to use a pen down there! I felt that was such a privilege. I was really surprised to discover that such a star actually shared a dressing room – with Anthony Sharp, as it happens. He was incredibly kind and friendly and it really made my day.

  1. The Show Inn – Pier Theatre, Shanklin, Isle of Wight, July 1970.

image(63)For our summer holiday in 1970, the family went to Shanklin, Isle of Wight, for a week, and whilst there we saw a typical end-of-the-pier show, The Show Inn. I remember very little of this at all, but I see that my programme has the autographs of three of the performers – Bernie Landy, Melody Scott, and Jason Darnel, who, at the age of 84 still maintains a website with reminiscences of all the shows he appeared in. But that’s about all I remember of this show. I’m sure I enjoyed it.

  1. Blithe Spirit – Globe Theatre, London, November 1970.

image(67)I remember really looking forward to seeing this show, not only because it had such a great cast, but also because I was fascinated by its name. Charles Condomine was played by Patrick Cargill – whom I knew from TV’s Father Dear Father, Ruth was Ursula Howells, Elvira was Amanda Reiss, and Madame Arcati was Beryl Reid. I absolutely loved it; it’s still one of my favourite plays, and I missed out seeing this year’s production with Jennifer Saunders as Madame A because of the dreaded Covid 19. I made at the time though, that it was a rotten audience who didn’t seem to enjoy the show.

Fascinating how trendy it was to be photographed smoking in those days!

Everyone was pleasant and kind at the Stage Door, but I have two particular memories of that experience; when I got Beryl Reid’s autograph, there was another lady wanting to meet her, and it turned out she was someone who went to school with Ms Reid and they hadn’t met since they left school – and it was a joyful reunion for the pair of them. The other thing I remember was that after we’d met Amanda Reiss, she left the theatre and headed straight for the local butchers. So what I learned from that production was that Stars Have To Go Food Shopping Too.

 

  1. Aladdin – London Palladium, February 1971.

image(72)My second ever panto, and my second visit to the Palladium. A lavish and hilarious production with yet another superb cast – Cilla Black, Leslie Crowther, Alfred Marks, Terry Scott, Sheila Burnette and Basil Brush. A particularly brilliant scene featured Terry Scott, who played Widow Twankey, being caught on the Magic Carpet as it (apparently) soared over cities and landscapes, looping the loop and doing all sorts of perilous pranks – the comic timing, combined with the special effects, made it something I remember to this day.

image(73)What I learned from this experience is if you don’t ask you don’t get. My mother had written to the Palladium weeks before we went, asking if it would be possible to meet Basil Brush before the show – he was always a favourite of mine, and in fact my parents loved him too. To our surprise he wrote back, and invited us to call round at the Stage Door before the show. So we did. And we met Mr Ivor, who was the Original Voice of Basil, who took us into his dressing room, showed me how the puppet worked (Ooops – spoiler! Sorry) and we had a lovely chat. Would you like to go on the Palladium stage? he asked us. image(74)Mother was even more keen than I was. So he took us through corridors on to the stage, showed us how the famous revolving mechanism worked, and we had an absolutely brilliant chat. Whilst we were backstage I also bumped into Leslie Crowther, who signed my autograph book and was absolutely charming and friendly – see you on stage, were his parting words. By this stage I thought that everything about the theatre is magic. But that’s self-evident, no?

  1. The Mousetrap – Ambassadors Theatre, London, 13th April 1971.

image(79)image(80)Now in its 19th Year, proclaims the programme – and at the time of Lockdown, it’s in its 68th year! So it’s fair to say it’s been a reasonably successful production. A hokey old thriller, but, if you’re a theatre buff, it’s compulsory viewing. I enjoyed this so much, being a Christie fan even in those youthful days. I thought the murderer was Mr Paravicini, Mum thought it was Mollie Ralston. I’m not going to tell you if either of us was right! I do remember quite a few thrills and chills from the production, which, you have to accept, is a classic.

The Mousetrap has always regularly changed cast, and our cast had Carol Marsh as Mollie – she of the landmark TV play Cathy Come Home – who was incredibly friendly and chatty with us – Bee Duffell as Mrs Boyle, Steve Plytas (Fawlty Towers’ irascible and lovelorn chef, Kurt) as Paravicini, and Kevan Sheehan as Sgt Trotter, who had sung on the Music for Pleasure album of Doctor Dolittle which I played a lot at the time.

See you tomorrow for another bunch of holiday snaps – Australia in 1985!

So How’s it Going?

The Real ChrisparkleHow’s Lockdown treating you, gentle reader? I hope you and yours are safe and sound, exercising “common sense” (whatever that is) and minimising risks wherever possible. There’s a whole beautiful world out there, where all your friends and relatives are waiting, The Arts are waiting for a kick-start, comics are preparing a barrage of new jokes for us (or they’d better be) and there are exciting places to discover – once it’s safe again. Until then, pull up the drawbridge, log into Zoom, and catch up with your DVDs and books.

Agatha ChristieI say “books” – as though that was a thing. I don’t know about you, but since Lockdown I have not been able to concentrate on reading AT ALL. I’m too easily distracted, I read a paragraph and instantly forget what I read. So for the moment, my Agatha Christie Challenge and Paul Berna Challenge are on hold until my reading Mojo comes back.

Just a little wine for the eventMrs Chrisparkle has discovered cooking! Who knew that there were other items of kitchen equipment apart from the microwave? So that’s great news. And fortunately, fine food always deserves a fine wine – that’s a bonus. As a downside, The Real Chrisparkle’s Facebook page has fallen foul of some odd computer hiccup and I can’t access it at all. So if you check that page every so often – I wouldn’t bother, nothing’s going to be happening there for some time, I fear.

Typical Eurovision Mayhem

Now that the Eurovision that never was is over, I need to find something else to write about. What I’m proposing, gentle reader, are alternate blog posts where I share some holiday snaps from the great places we’ve been to over the last [redacted] years, and retro theatre posts where I go back over all the shows I’ve seen in [also redacted] years of theatregoing. Not promising anything truly exciting or revealing; we’ll just see how it goes.

So, see you tomorrow with some holiday snaps from Buenos Aires. Take care!

Review – The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 12th March 2020

89403060_567660437170895_1161098001351966720_nIf someone mentions Charlie Chaplin then you get an instant image in your head – a grainy black and white picture of a little guy in an ill-fitting suit, bandy-legged, twirling a cane. Similarly, if you think of Stan Laurel, you imagine a tall weedy-looking chap, intellectually challenged, scratching his hair perplexedly, and almost certainly in the company of the tubby and smug Oliver Hardy. Apart from the era in which they did their best work, you wouldn’t necessarily put the two together. But that’s the basis of this production from Told by an Idiot, co-produced by the Royal and Derngate amongst others.

Through the lifebuoyWho knew that Chaplin and Laurel were on the same ship that sailed to America to join slapstick impresario Fred Karno’s successful troupe of comic performers, a journey that would change their lives for ever and would shape the direction of film comedy for decades? (Everyone put your hands down, that was meant to be rhetorical.) The show is set on their high seas journey to America, interspersed with re-enacted scenes from both the star performers’ lives. Chaplin’s poverty-stricken early days, Laurel’s initial meeting with Hardy (that comedy golf routine was probably the highlight of the show for me), their later-in-life reunion, and so on, are all acted out in little vignettes. There’s no sense of chronological narration to these scenes – they (presumably deliberately) follow each other in a haphazard order, some with great significance to their lives and careers, others less so.

Charlie in full throttleThe production is co-commissioned by the London International Mime Festival, and it’s fascinating to see an entire piece (90 minutes, no interval) performed almost entirely without speech (Chaplin’s drunken dad gets to sing a couple of songs), although the words on the projected screen – cleverly recalling how they got around the issue in the days of the silent screen – provide something of a communication get-out clause. Of course, Tape-Face (or whatever he is called at the moment) can do it – including getting members of the audience up on to the stage without uttering a syllable. The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel also has a couple of entertaining audience participation moments, so do beware if you sit at the front.

FarewellThe performances are all strong; Amalia Vitale gives a tremendous performance as Chaplin, every inch (despite their being not many of them) the clown, impersonating his gait and silently eloquent facial expressions down to a tee. Jerone Marsh-Reid, on the other hand, whilst delightfully suggesting Laurel’s imbecilic charm, doesn’t look remotely like him, which creates a strange sense of imbalance. This is also emphasised by Nick Haverson’s excellent visual impression of Hardy (amongst other roles), but of course that’s not Mr Marsh-Reid’s fault at all. Sara Alexander is the fourth member of the company, spending most of her time keeping pace with the action on her plinky-plonky piano, which works very well.

Nice pictureIf you’re sensing a slight lack of enthusiasm on my part, gentle reader, there’s a reason for that. Whilst I could appreciate the skill, the creativity, the charm, and the cleverness of this production and its performers, it didn’t move me in the slightest. Perhaps I was expecting something different – maybe something along the lines of the simple storytelling of The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk. There were moments in some of the scenes in The Strange Tale (not that it’s remotely strange, btw) where I didn’t fully understand the storytelling. Nor did the chatty people behind us, as we occasionally overheard. I’m also not convinced that the ship setting – nicely realised though it was – helped the show much; I felt it constrained it more than liberated it. The random nature of the acted-out scenes slightly irritated me too; although it was all done in the most charming way, to me it generally lacked focus.

AcrobaticsI must tell you that although she stayed awake – a good sign – Mrs Chrisparkle was bored throughout. I wasn’t, but I confess I did keep looking at my watch. I hoped for more laughs, more emotion, more je ne sais quoi. But then I never did care for Chaplin much; Keaton was much funnier. The audience reaction at the end was more respectful than ecstatic, which strikes me as spot-on; I absolutely respect the skills and artistry of the performers, but, for the most part, was a little disappointed in what this show asked them to do.

3-starsThree-sy does it!

Review – Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 10th March 2020

89071000_226884608705120_6218514948369154048_nEverybody’s been Talking About Jamie since it hit (and I mean hit) the Sheffield Crucible back in 2017. I’d heard great things about it but couldn’t fit it in to our busy schedules. However, we did see it in London in December 2017 and absolutely loved it. Since then it’s gone from strength to strength and is currently touring the UK until August whilst continuing to pack them in at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. Touring, whilst retaining its West End presence, is something that normally only the big boys of musical theatre can achieve, which means that Jamie is now officially a Big Boy of Musical Theatre.

JamieYou’ll know the story of course, but in brief: Sheffield-based Jamie New (based on the real-life Jamie Campbell) is coming up to his 16th birthday. He knows – and everyone knows – that he’s gay; what they don’t know is his secret ambition to become a drag queen. Fortunately, his mum Margaret, and her best friend Ray support him completely in his quest to be The Real Jamie. However, there are drawbacks. His dad simply can’t accept his son’s sexuality, let alone his ostentatious appearance. His school arch-enemy, the bully Dean, does everything he can to scupper Jamie’s lifestyle. Even careers adviser, Miss Hedge, wants him to be a fork-lift truck driver – I think it’s fair to say she doesn’t entirely have the measure of him. The school prom is looming; will Jamie manage to realise his dream of attending the prom in a dress (and not just any old dress), or will the powers that be oppress him back into a gender-stereotypical conservative outfit that won’t offend the other school parents?

Loco and the girlsThe loving heart of this show is its message of acceptance and encouragement to be yourself – don’t give in to bullies and don’t be persuaded that you can’t realise your dream. None of these big ideas are forced or heavily delivered; it all flows lightly and naturally from the very believable characters. There’s nothing didactic or preachy about Everybody’s Talking about Jamie; it’s just school life (which we all recognise or remember), parent- and teacher-management which is an art we all (hopefully) develop, confronting down your bullies, and emerging shining at the end. And if you want to do it in a fabulous dress then no one’s gonna stop you.

Jamie and HugoThere are so many positives about the show, and this current touring production. Dan Gillespie Sells’ and Tom MacRae’s songs are still fresh, funny, telling and memorable; the book is witty, emotional in all the right places, and is populated with some great characters. Benjamin Holder’s band whack out the numbers with showbizzy panache, and Kate Prince’s choreography is lively, fun, and calls for some great set piece routines that knock your socks off.

Jamie and the castAnd then there are the performances. When I saw John McCrea play Jamie in London, I couldn’t imagine how it could be bettered; but this tour stars Layton Williams as Jamie and so I have to think again. I first saw Mr Williams in the New Adventures’ Lord of the Flies six years ago when you could already see he was a star in the making. He was superb in the ensemble of Hairspray the following year, and then he was a brilliant Paul in Kiss Me Kate at Sheffield – his Too Darn Hot dance had to be seen to be believed. No surprise that he absolutely owns both the stage and the role as Jamie; it’s a perfect opportunity for his dance, acting and comedic skills to come to the fore. Supremely confident and skilful; it’s a great performance.

Jamie and DeanI also loved Shane Richie as Hugo, the tired, disillusioned ex-performer who brings his drag creation Loco Chanelle out of retirement in order to encourage Jamie into doing what he wants. I had no idea he could sing and dance so impressively! There’s terrific support from Lara Denning as Miss Hedge, and Shobna Gulati as Ray, and George Sampson makes an excellent villain in the form of Dean, exuding nastiness from every pore. Garry Lee, JP McCue and Rhys Taylor form a great triumvirate of drag queens, a mixture of faded glamour and gruff mateyness. Sharan Phull is superb in the fascinating and assertive role of Jamie’s bestie Pritti, and the ensemble of school students gives us some stunning song and dance routines – a true joy to watch. But Amy Ellen Richardson as Margaret brings the house down with her moving and powerful rendition of He’s My Boy, which stops us all in our tracks and can coax a tear out of the most hard-hearted audience member.

Jamie and PrittiEverybody’s Talking about Jamie – and he and his show will be the talk of the town for the rest of the week. A brilliant portrayal of the power of the individual, this one’s never going to go away. A must-see!

P. S. I (briefly) met the real Jamie at last year’s West End Eurovision. He was wearing a headdress that almost touched the ceiling. I think he’s overcoming his shyness.

P. P. S. Writer Tom MacRae, who comes from Northampton, was in the Press Night audience – and Layton Williams invited him on to the stage to give a charming but empowering short speech about realising your dreams. Good man yourself, Mr MacRae!

Five Alive, let Theatre thrive!