Still more theatre memories? December 2002 – June 2003

  1. Contact – Queen’s Theatre, London, 28th December 2002

A wonderful combination of dance and theatre, Susan Stroman’s Contact was a huge hit in the US, but British audiences didn’t seem to get it. Mrs Chrisparkle and I loved it, and we still have a framed poster in our hall to this day! The superb cast included Michael Praed, Leigh Zimmerman, Sarah Wildor and Craig Urbani. Fantastic!

  1. George Piper Dances – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 18th February 2003

The return of the George Piper team – aka the Balletboyz of the future – to the Swan Dance season gave us four short pieces to enjoy; William Forsyth’s Steptext, Matthew Hart’s Other Mens Wives, Lightfoot/Leon’s Sigue, and Russell Maliphant’s Torsion. As before, the group consisted of William Trevitt, Michael Nunn, Oxana Panchenko and Matthew Hart. Superb as always.

  1. Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 1st March 2003

New Adventures, as Matthew Bourne’s company had now become, brought us Bourne’s vision of Tchaikovsky’s famous Christmassy ballet, which has become a firm family favourite all around the world. The story is now transplanted to Dr Dross’ Orphanage for Waifs and Strays, with the wonderful Scott Ambler as Dr Dross/King Sherbet, Emily Piercy as the Matron/Queen Candy, Saranne Curtin as Sugar, Ewan Wardrop as Fritz, Etta Murfitt as Clara and Alan Vincent as the Nutcracker himself. We took our nieces and they loved it.

  1. Madame Butterfly – Northern Ballet Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 5th April 2003

We took the Dowager Mrs C to see this because she loved the music to Madame Butterfly, although we weren’t sure she’d appreciate the dance much; but we all loved it. A superb dance rendition of Puccini’s romantic opera that tugged the heartstrings more than you could possibly imagine. Desiré Samaai was an extraordinary Butterfly, Jhe Russell a brilliant Pinkerton, and the whole show was just fantastic.

  1. The Dance of Death – Lyric Theatre, London, 19th April 2003

Richard Greenberg’s new adaptation of Strindberg’s play starred Ian McKellen and Frances de la Tour; and I remember that as you entered the auditorium, both were on stage, ignoring each other, moping about in a very gloomy, Strindbergian way. A very strong production, if not a song-and-dance every minute, and beautifully acted, as you would expect.

  1. Hamlet – Arc Dance Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 28th April 2003

Kim Brandstrup’s dance version of Shakespeare’s tragedy had Lee Boggess as Hamlet, the legendary Kenneth Tharp as Claudius and Joanne Fong as Gertrude. If only I could remember it better, because I am sure it was excellent!

 

 

 

 

  1. Paul Taylor Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 6th May 2003

An enviable chance to see the world famous Paul Taylor Dance Company of New York, performing three great dance works – Roses, The Word and Company B, all of which were choreographed by Paul Taylor. Company B was danced to the music of the Andrews Sisters, and was very similar to the dance Rum and Coca Cola choreographed by Janet Smith – I’m not sure who borrowed from whom! We knew we were privileged to see this show.

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater 2 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 7th June 2003

We always took the opportunity to see NDT2 whenever we could, and this show had four terrific dances. Johan Inger’s Out of Breath, followed by two Lightfoot/Leon pieces, Shutters Shut and Subject to Change, and finally = as they so often did – ending up with Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. Brilliant as always.

 

  1. Corpse! – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 13th June 2003

Gerald Moon’s well-trodden old comedy thriller about a brother trying to murder his twin starred Peter Duncan, Colin Baker, Louise Jameson and David Warwick. Can’t remember too much about it, but I suspect it was a little creaky.

  1. The Vagina Monologues – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 27th June 2003

Eve Ensler’s ever popular play for three women had played in the West End for two years and was on a very long UK tour. Part of the fun was seeing which stars would be in it, as the cast kept evolving. For our performance, we saw Tamara Beckwith, Jenny Jules and Su Pollard, and they were all excellent. A very entertaining, and thought provoking show, that still tours today.

How about some more theatre memories? February to December 2002

  1. George Piper Dances – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 5th February 2002

In one of their earliest go-it-alone shows, the George Piper Dances (who eventually became the name by which they were always much better known as – the Balletboyz) were masterminded by Billy Trevitt and Michael Nunn. For this first tour they were accompanied by Matthew Hart, Ludy Dodd, Christopher Marney and Oxana Panchenko, and they performed William Forsythe’s Steptext (which was always one of their signature dances), Charles Linehan’s Truly Great Thing, Lightfoot/Leon’s Sigue and Russell Maliphant’s Critical Mass. We knew they were going to make it big!

  1. Sunset Boulevard – Opera House, Blackpool, 11th February 2002

We went up to Blackpool for Valentine’s weekend, old romantics that we are, and there took in the touring production of Sunset Boulevard, that we had missed in the West End. This is a show that really split us, as I rather enjoyed it, but Mrs C found it awful! Norma Desmond was played by Faith Brown and she was impressive; Joe Gillis was played by Earl Carpenter. It rained a lot; but the Opera House was an attractive theatre.

  1. Rambert Dance Company Spring Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 9th March 2002

The programme for this Spring tour was an unfamiliar selection. First came Richard Alston’s Unrest, danced to music by Arvo Part;  then Siobhan Davies’ Sounding to music by Scelsi. After that came Symphony of Psalms choreographed by Jiri Kylian, and the last piece was Christopher Bruce’s Grinning in your Face, to the accompaniment of music by Martin Simpson. I have to confess to not having too many memories of this particular performance.

  1. Bedroom Farce – Aldwych Theatre, London, 20th April 2002

I don’t usually mention shows I’ve seen before in these blogs, but the combination of Richard Briers and June Whitfield as Ernest and Delia was just too great to ignore. A brilliant production of Ayckbourn’s 70s classic.

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater 2 – Milton Keynes Theatre, 18th June 2002

Another trip to see NDT2, this time with a terrific programme of Jiri Kylian’s Indigo Rose, Paul Lightfoot’s Sad Case and Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. A terrific selection of dances from an amazing company.

  1. My Fair Lady – Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 30th July 2002

On a blisteringly hot summer night, with a packed audience and a faulty air conditioning system, the producers of My Fair Lady gave us all branded fans to keep us cool during the show! This was a superb and very successful production, starring Alex Jennings as Henry Higgins, Joanna Riding as Eliza, and Dennis Waterman as Doolittle. This was the production that famously originally had Martine McCutcheon in the lead role – on very rare occasions. Great show!

  1. Art – Whitehall Theatre, London, 10th August 2002

Yasmine Reza’s tremendously successful play had already been running for five years when we finally got to see it, on one of its regular cast changes. Our cast featured Ben Cross as Marc, Alex Ferns as Serge (although we saw his understudy, Michael Gyngell) and Sanjeev Bhaskar as Yvan. Extremely good – but then it wouldn’t have lasted that long if it wasn’t!

  1. The Play What I Wrote – Milton Keynes Theatre, 3rd October 2002

Hamish McColl and Sean Foley’s loving homage to Morecambe and Wise was every bit as good as everyone had said it was. At the time, McColl and Foley were a double act called The Right Size, and this particular departure into theatre was probably the most successful thing they ever did. For this week in Milton Keynes they were joined by special guest Toby Jones.

  1. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 20th November 2002

Always keen to see the Trocks whenever they toured, the production was so successful that the theatre ran out of programmes. So all I have to remind me of this particular performance is a photocopied running order and cast. We started with Swan Lake (of course), then aften an interval, it was whatever the Pas de Deux of the night was, then La Vivandiere, plus The Dying Swan, and then finally, Raymonda’s Wedding. I do remember finishing off our drinks in the theatre bar after the show (the bar at the Wycombe Swan always welcomed you to linger again with a fresh drink) when a number of the cast came in for a quick drink and we all gave them a huge round of applause in the bar.

  1. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – London Palladium, 10th December 2002

For Mrs C’s birthday treat we saw the new musical version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Palladium, and it was a terrific show. Michael Ball was Caractacus Potts, Anton Rodgers his father, Emma Williams was Truly Scrumptious, and the Baron and Baroness were the formidable coupling of Brian Blessed and Nichola McAuliffe. Peter Polycarpou was the Child Catcher and Edward Petherbridge the Toymaker. I don’t know if this was a performance that featured one of my favourite actors Harry Francis in the role of young Jeremy Potts – it might have been! A superb production throughout.

More theatre memories? OK but they’re mainly dance! September 2000 to May 2001

  1. BBC Proms in the Park – Hyde Park, London, 9th September 2000

I wasn’t sure if I should add this or not, but then if I’m including Proms inside the Albert Hall, why not include Proms in the Park outside the Albert Hall! The perfect alternative to getting those hotly contested last night tickets, we enjoyed a beautiful day in the sunshine with picnic and champers, plus great entertainment from Bjorn Again, The Chieftains, Georgie Fame, Julian Lloyd Webber, Willard White and Angela Gheorghiu. All topped off by the BBC Concert Orchestra, and hosted (of course) by Terry Wogan. Fantastic!

  1. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Milton Keynes Theatre, 12th September 2000

Every show by the Trocks is different, even if they do the same dances as before! This programme started with Les Sylphides; then after an interval, Cross Currents, Go for Barocco and The Dying Swan, finally ending up with Paquita. All as skilful and stunning as they are hilarious. The terminal fowl was executed, as usual in those days, by Ida Nevasayneva. Nothing more to say!

  1. Defending the Caveman – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 15th September 2000

Rob Becker’s beautifully written one-man play was toured the world over by Australian Mark Little, at the time best known for his appearances in the TV soap Neighbours. Defending the Caveman is a really clever show that highlights the differences between men and women, presented from a man’s point of view, but always respectful and entertaining. Great stuff!

  1. Rambert Dance Company Autumn & Winter Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 6th October 2000

Back again for another helping of Rambert, with a slightly unusual programme of two longer dance pieces: Mats Ek’s She was Black and Christopher Bruce’s Sergeant Early’s Dream. Dream was performed to live music from the Sergeant Early Band. The fantastic (slightly smaller than usual) group of dancers included favourites Hope Muir, Glenn Wilkinson, Vincent Redmon, and Simon Cooper.

  1. Graham Norton – Lively – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 8th October 2000

After seeing Victoria Wood a few years earlier, this was our second foray into the world of stand-up comedy on stage, and Graham Norton’s comedy gig was absolutely excellent. He had the also excellent Jo Caulfield as his support act. At the time he was just gathering success with his So Graham Norton TV show – little did we know how he would grow to dominate the TV and radio for decades!

  1. Richard Alston Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 24th October 2000

Our third trip to see Richard Alston’s annual tour, the programme featured a selection of Alston’s pieces set to classical musical. Waltzes in Disorder, with music by Brahms, was followed by Tremor, with music by Shostakovich, and finally The Signal of a Shake, set to music by Handel. The line up of dancers included Martin Lawrance, David McCormick and Diana Loosmore.

  1. Mark Baldwin Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 14th February 2001

A four month gap till our next show, a Valentine’s night trip to the Wycombe Swan to see the Mark Baldwin Dance Company in a programme of works all choreographed by Baldwin: Danses Concertantes, The Bird Sings with its Fingers, and The State. This show was a collaboration with the full scale orchestra, Sinfonia 21. Among the dancers was Laurent Cavanna, whose work we had admired when he danced with Rambert.

 

 

  1. Jekyll and Hyde – Northern Ballet Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 30th March 2001

Another trip to see strong modern ballet with the contemporary twist of the Northern Ballet, in a dance version of the famous story choreographed  by Massimo Moricone. Jekyll was danced by Hironao Takahashi and Hyde by the late Jonathan Ollivier. I confess I don’t have too many memories of this.

  1. Moscow City Ballet perform Swan Lake – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 1st May 2001

Classical ballet on a grand scale, the Moscow City Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece had all the little touches you would expect from this company that brings the atmosphere of the true Russian ballet on its regular tours.

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater 2 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 20th May 2001

Another visit to see NDT2 touring, at the time one of favourite dance companies – the youth department of the NDT. The programme started with Dream Play, choreographed by Johan Inger, to music from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; then Said and Done, a new dance from Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon to the music of Bach; and finally crowd pleaser Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, set to fun 1950s tunes. A brilliant and memorable night’s dance.

 

Not More Theatre and Dance Memories?! January to September 2000

  1. Last of the Red Hot Lovers – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 27th January 2000

There was a time when all you had to do was wait a couple of months and a new Tom Conti production would come around. The man was never shy of work, that’s for sure. He led the cast in this production (which he also directed) of Neil Simon’s 1969 comedy that ran for almost two years on Broadway but by 2000 had started to creak at the edges. Very much a family project, with Tom Conti’s wife Kara Wilson and daughter Nina Conti also in the cast. Maybe it was that family cosiness that meant the production lacked a certain bite.

  1. Without Trace – Vtol Dance Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 15th February 2000

VTol returned to the Swan for another Swan Dance season performance, Mark Murphy’s Without Trace which told the tale of Beth, who “for no good reason, simply decides to disappear” and it’s described as a “hitch-hike into an unknown country of self-discovery.” I confess I can’t remember much about it, but VTol were always good value for some intriguing and thought-provoking contemporary dance. The performers were Graham Cunnington, Christine Devaney, Anne Gilpin, James Hewison, Joanna Holden, Robert “Hacker” Jessett, Ben Joiner, Eric MacLennan and Will Sneyd.

  1. West Side Story – Milton Keynes Theatre, 26th February 2000

There’s something about West Side Story that neither Mrs Chrisparkle nor I get. It wasn’t helped by the fact that we only had seats in Row G of the circle, which at the Milton Keynes Theatre is like being in another county. I remember we both found this extremely boring, and, given that I had to be up early the next day to go to a conference in Torquay, we decided that leaving at the interval would be a good thing, so we did. I don’t recognise any of the cast names, but I do see that the assistant director/choreographer was Craig Revel Horwood, and I know from more recent experience that his choreography and my expectations don’t always crossover.

  1. Gasping – Milton Keynes Theatre, 7th March 2000

I don’t think our luck continued much for our next show at Milton Keynes, Ben Elton’s Gasping, which had enjoyed a successful run in London in the early 1990s. A satire on capitalism and commoditisation, my memory is that it was too “clever-clever” and not quite funny enough. However, my memory could be failing me. David Haig led the cast, and it was directed by Paul Jepson.

  1. Great Expectations – Northern Ballet Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 11th March 2000

Artistic Director Stefano Giannetti’s stunning visualisation of Dickens’ Great Expectations as a ballet was a vivid and exciting piece of dance, set to music by Elgar. The cast was led by Daniel de Andrade as Pip and Charlotte Broom, with a young and much missed Jonathan Ollivier as Drummle.

  1. The Merry Widow – The Australian Ballet at the Sydney Opera House, Australia, 11th April 2000

We travelled to Sydney for my brother-in-law’s wedding, and whilst there we took in the Australian Ballet’s production of Lehar’s Merry Widow at the Opera House, with choreography by Ronald Hynd and scenario and staging by Robert Helpmann. Whilst this production had its first performance way back in 1975, ours was the first performance of that spring (or rather, as it was Australia, autumn) season. The lead dancers for our performance were Lisa Bolte, Miranda Coney, Steven Heathcote, David McAllister, Nicole Rhodes and Justine Summers.

  1. The Car Man – Adventures in Motion Pictures at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 23rd June 2000

This was the 34th performance of Matthew Bourne’s enduringly popular contemporary dance version of Carmen, with a superb company led by Scott Ambler, Saranne Curtin, Etta Murfitt, Arthur Pita and Ewan Wardrop. Absolutely brilliant. I’ve still only ever seen this once, that needs to be rectified!

  1. Spend Spend Spend – Piccadilly Theatre, London, 8th July 2000

We caught this production of Steve Brown and Justin Greene’s brilliant musical shortly before it closed and I’m so glad we did. Full of brilliant songs, characterisations and performances, it starred Barbara Dickson as Viv Nicholson and Steven Houghton as Keith, and with other great names in the cast such as Rachel Leskovac and Jeff Shankley. Fortunately we bought a copy of the CD at the theatre because it’s never been available anywhere else since. Definitely deserving of a revival!

  1. Dinner with George – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 17th July 2000

The Churchill Theatre Bromley launched this touring production of Guy Hemphill and Bryan Hands’ comedy Dinner with George, an old-fashioned farce that shook no trees and I can’t remember a thing about it. However, I can tell from the photographs and the programme design that it probably wasn’t as funny as it thought it was. It starred Peter Baldwin (Derek Wilton in Coronation Street) and Marti Webb.

  1. Why Me? – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 4th September 2000

Research tells me that this comedy by Stanley Price “follows the life of redundant civil servant John, a bitter recipient of a ‘tarnished chrome handshake’. John struggles to keep his dignity and sanity in the face of his wife’s successful business, an adulterous affair, the incipient break-up of his marriage and regular visits from his mother-in-law.” It starred Tim Brooke-Taylor, Susan Penhaligon and Carmen Silvera. The only thing I can remember about it is that we saw Tim Brooke-Taylor in the theatre bar afterwards.

And here’s another bundle of old theatre and dance memories! May to December 1999

  1. Carmen – Northern Ballet Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 6th May 1999

The always stunning and elegant Northern Ballet Theatre brought their production of Carmen, choreographed by one of our favourite dancers, Didy Veldman, to the 1999 Swan Dance season. Set in Rio de Janeiro, in 1999, this Carmen was a packer in a cigarette factory, Jose was a police officer and Escamillo a Rock Star. A fantastic re-imagining of the classic work, with superb performances by Charlotte Broom as Carmen and Daniel de Andrade – who today is Northern Ballet’s Artistic Associate – as Jose.

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater NDT2 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 23rd May 1999

Another wonderful tour from the NDT’s youth company. The programme started with Round Corners, choreographed by Johan Inger, then we saw Déjà vu, choreographed by Hans van Manen, Skew-Whiff, choreographed by Paul Lightfoot, and finally Indigo Rose, choreographed by Jiri Kylian. It’s always a privilege to see this amazing company.

  1. La Sylphide – Ballet de l’Opera National de Paris at the Palais Garnier, Paris, 18th June 1999

Moving past a fairly bland revival of Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth at the Wycombe Swan, starring Peter Bowles and Michael Maloney, our next show was a glamorous visit to the Palais Garnier in Paris, during a wonderful ten day holiday in the French capital. La Sylphide, with choreography by Pierre Lacotte, was given a tremendous, pure production, with Fanny Gaida dancing the title role, Manuel Legris as James and Delphine Moussin as Effie. I had never seen a production quite like it. And since then we’ve always tried to see a ballet at the Palais Garnier if we go to Paris.

  1. Rent – Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 19th August 1999

Rent had already been playing at the Shaftesbury for more than a year by the time we finally got around to seeing it. It was a great production, but for some reason – probably my age and latent conservatism – I’ve never quite got on with it as a show. Three of the roles – Mark, Mimi and Maureen – were played by understudies; I’m not sure if that played a part in how the show came across. Whatever, this production by Michael Greif, is a major part of musical theatre history.

  1. Rambert Dance Company 1999 Autumn Programme – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 14th & 16th October 1999

Rambert returned to Wycombe with two programmes – so we saw them both. The first programme started with Gaps Lapse and Relapse by Jeremy James, followed by my all-time favourite dance, Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances, and finally The Golden Section choreographed by Twyla Tharp.