Edinburgh Fringe 2023 Reviews – The Court, Mary Bourke: 200% Irish, and A Chorus Line

The Court, Hill Street Theatre.

The CourtFrom the moment the reassuring sounds of the Crown Court TV Theme start up, you know you’re in safe hands with another case for our Edinburgh judge to officiate. It’s not denied that Cathy McDonald caused her mother’s death, a cancer sufferer in excruciating pain, but was it a mercy killing (manslaughter) or murder to get her hands on her inheritance? Nine jurors selected from the audience will make the decision and are also allowed to ask questions of the witnesses. Like last year’s Conflict in Court, this is a smart, nuanced piece of writing, designed to send you in one direction with your verdict, only to throw you into doubt and make you change your mind! Acted with a terrific blend of seriousness and stagey tongue-in-cheek, this is superb theatrical entertainment.



Mary Bourke: 200% Irish, The Stand Comedy Club 2.

Mary BourkeOne of our must-see comedians every time we come to Edinburgh, Mary Bourke’s show 200% Irish seamlessly works through a number of comedy routines, from the racism of Peppa Pig, the physical side-effects of a handsome man on the company of women, to her appearance on Britain’s Got Talent and her experience of dealing with her husband’s stroke. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because a lot of the material in this year’s show also appeared in last year’s, although to be fair this year it’s much more polished and word-perfect. So some of our laughter was the laughter of memory and recognition rather than exposure to a brand new damn funny joke. Nevertheless, it’s always worth paying to see Mary Bourke, even if she just read out a shopping list, such is the comedic majesty of her turns of phrase. Hugely funny as always.




A Chorus Line, Paradise in Augustines. A Chorus Line

A Chorus Line is my favourite musical of all time and I’m always keen to see new productions, although I always desperately hope that they are as true to the original Michael Bennett choreography and staging as is humanly possible. Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group’s production, directed by Bella Taylor, comes pretty close and they do a tremendous job of recreating those superb dance routines on a stage the size of a pocket handkerchief; I don’t know how they did it, but they did it! 48 years since it first saw light of day, Chorus Line remains the beacon of everything that is good about performance, courage, love, friendship, support and all-round excellence. The production has some gender-blind casting which clearly works as everyone nails their characters, and there is some terrific dancing and singing too – especially in the harmonies. Personally, I entirely disagree with the decision to include an interval (unthinkable in A Chorus Line!) – however, it was very sensible to change the choreography for a couple of the characters where dancing was not the actor’s strength. I had a tear in my eye on a number of occasions – and I loved it just as much as I loved it when I first saw it on 29th December 1976 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – yes I am that old. And I haven’t even mentioned the live band, who were sensational. Given this is a student production it is way more successful than I could possibly have imagined. A superb achievement!

The Edinburgh Fringe All Month Long – 19th August 2023

Wanna know what’s scheduled for today in Edinburgh? Only three shows and an evening free to have dinner with friends!

Here’s the schedule for 19th August:

12.00 – The Court, Hill Street Theatre. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:

The Court“This courtroom drama centres around the question of euthanasia. Did Cathy murder her mother or merely stop her suffering? This interactive production gets you questioning your beliefs – become a juror, but can you determine the truth? Our 11 jurors picked from the audience will cross-examine and determine the truth behind Cathy’s actions. Will they side with her sister Mary in the belief it was murder? Or will they put their trust in Cathy and support her… or is there more to this case than meets the eye? A must-see for all those part-time sleuths.

We absolutely adored Conflict in Court last year and I’m sure this will be another of those Crown Court type productions where we the jury get the chance to ask questions of the characters to work out if they’re innocent or guilty. Very excited to see this new version!

14.40 – Mary Bourke: 200% Irish, The Stand Comedy Club 2.

Mary Bourke“Mary Bourke and guests present a truly delightful hour about the joys of being Irish. There will be storytelling, music and lots and lots of jokes. ‘One of the best female comics in the country’ (GQ).”

Mary Bourke is another comic who we always make sure we see in Edinburgh because she never fails to challenge or delight!

16.50 – A Chorus Line, Paradise in Augustines.

A Chorus Line“’Well, it would be nice to be a star… But I’m not, I’m a dancer.’ A Chorus Line is a concept musical that explores the bittersweet lives of Broadway performers through a gruelling audition process. The chorus of overly-devoted, under-paid dancers show the dedication it takes to keep going in the hopes that one day they will achieve success. Through a complex fusion of moving songs, large-scale dance numbers, and compelling drama, the auditionees are cut down to a final eight. Now it is their turn to tell their story and stand in the spotlight.”

I’m very excited to see this student production of my favourite musical of all time. There’s a lot of challenges here, and I really hope they make the most of them! Warning: if I don’t like what they’ve done with my favourite show I might sulk for the rest of the day!

Check back later to see how we enjoyed all these shows!

Review – A Chorus Line, Curve Theatre, Leicester, 9th December 2021

A Chorus LineIt’s been over three years since we visited the Curve Theatre, and it was a true delight to return to this wonderful modern building with its hugely useful stages and spaces and lively, modern vibe. More to the point, it’s been over eight years since the London Palladium’s magnificent revival of A Chorus Line, and frankly, it’s been too damn long a wait to see it again. It’s no secret; A Chorus Line is my favourite show of all time – I saw it eight times as a teenager at the Drury Lane in the 70s, including its final performance which was a tear-jerking experience of all of its own (although not as tear-jerking as the last night of the Palladium production!) Since then I’ve seen it in Sheffield, in Oxford and on Broadway, plus another four times at the Palladium. For someone who doesn’t tend to go back to a show unless it’s super-special, I think that demonstrates how super-special it is to me.

My fantasy was that it was an Indian ChiefIn case you don’t know, A Chorus Line is all about a group of dancers auditioning for a Broadway musical. They are quickly whittled down to a final 17, from whom Zach, the choreographer and Larry, his assistant, must pick a final 8 – four boys, four girls. At first, you the audience play the game of Who Would I Choose? But as it goes on, you give in to the show’s main message that everyone is special, and there are no winners or losers. Selecting a final eight is only one of the harsh realities of a dancer’s life that is explored in the show; the dancers had no choice but to live that life because it’s what they did for love. One of the many reasons it’s my favourite show is that no other is so full of positivity, and appreciation of talent and everything that’s good in life. Despite Zach’s necessary ruthlessness, the show is so overwhelmingly kind; and that’s an attribute that is in very short supply in today’s cancel-cultural, governmental gaslighting society. We all have our part to play in life; I’ll take Chorus, if you’ll take me.

Her name was Lola LatoresI was nervous of seeing this production because, where it comes to A Chorus Line, I tend to be a pompous purist. In the past, the further a production departs from Michael Bennett’s original choreography and staging, or Theoni V. Aldredge’s costume design, or Marvin Hamlisch’s orchestration, the less I enjoy it. And don’t even speak to me of the abomination that is Richard Attenborough’s film. I was also concerned that it might be rushed. The original Drury Lane production lasted 2 hours and ten minutes. They shaved five minutes off that for the Palladium production. This production lasts 1 hour 50 minutes. How are they going to manage that?

I just rearranged the furnitureThe answer to that question is that it’s very pacey! There are a couple of moments when I thought the pathos was slightly lost due to our not having the time to take in the true impact of some characters’ emotions and fears, But I’m thrilled to tell you that it’s a resounding super success all the way through! Three seconds into the show and my goosebumps had goosebumps. Time and again I literally shook with emotion at what I was seeing. To be honest, there are a few directorial decisions that I don’t agree with, but nothing that in any remote way dents the inherent brilliance of this show.

Dancing for my own enjoymentDoes the new production treat the original text and story with respect? YES! The programme makes it clear that we are in 1975. The only departure from the original text is the very sensible replacing the dancers’ years of birth with their age when they’re doing their opening introduction sequence. Otherwise, all the original references are there. I was expecting the dancers’ idols like Troy Donahue, Maria Tallchief, Robert Goulet etc to have been updated, but they weren’t. Judy Turner still pretends her real name is Lana Turner – that’s a return to the original from other productions. I hope those old names don’t mystify new younger audience members. Val’s bold verse for her And… sequence which includes the line tied up and raped at seven, has been kept although it had been previously replaced by something more anodyne in the Palladium production. So we’re strictly 1975. Problem one: the first camcorder was released in 1983. So having Larry double-up as a video camera man, filming deeply into the dancers’ faces and projected onto the back wall, simply wouldn’t have happened in 1975. Added to that, he gets in the way of the action, and the visual projection is very slightly out of synch with the sound, so it acts as an obstacle to communication rather than an addition, which I sense is what was intended. For me, the video camera action was unnecessary and a big no-no.

One Singular SensationDoes the choreography give off at least the same amount of joy as Bennett’s original? YES! In fact many of the routines still use a lot of the Bennett signature tricks and pay homage to his original work. I never thought that his staging of the finale could possibly be improved. I was wrong. Whilst I love the iconic Bennett choreography, Ellen Kane’s new routine uses the full stage with such overwhelming joy that the audience is stunned into intense, heart-in-mouth appreciation. In the original production, there’s no further curtain call after the lights dim on the high-kicking dancers, and you start the applause from the beginning of the number. In this production, Paul starts off with an eloquent contemporary dance solo (I note that the fantastic Jonathan Goddard is an assistant choreographer on the show – I bet he had a hand in that) that merges into the boys performing their part of One, before the girls join in. Significantly, there was no applause during this number. But once the curtain was down, the audience went hysterical.

One morning sis won't go to dance classIs the music performed with at least the same richness and expression as the original? Given Tamara Saringer’s excellent band comprises of just seven musicians in comparison with, say, a full scale orchestra in the pit of the Palladium or Drury Lane, their musical richness is phenomenal. The arrangements have naturally had to be altered but remain beautifully evocative and strongly musical throughout; a slight exception perhaps with the musical arrangement for I Can Do That which I felt was slightly underpowered – Mike’s wonderful show-off dance routine deserves as much musical oomph behind it as possible.

Paul San Marco. It's my stage nameDoes the production respect the original characterisations? YES! The show was originally conceived following a series of interviews with real Broadway dancers, telling their true experiences and revealing their true fears. For me, it’s vital that that truthfulness is not compromised, and there’s no danger of that here! Each performer has always brought their own personality to their role, and that tradition remains gloriously intact. I’m not going to mention everybody – as Cassie says, “we’re all special. He’s special – she’s special. And Sheila, and Richie and Connie. They’re all special.” However, in the 16 performances I’ve seen over the years, this was only the second time I’ve heard Paul’s monologue get a round of applause. Ainsley Hall Ricketts performs it with a degree of urgency and pace I’d not heard before, and relives Paul’s childhood experiences brilliantly vividly and profoundly. It’s obscene that an actor as young as him should be giving a stage masterclass but he does.

This peanut on pointeJamie O’Leary portrays Mark as a much more edgy, anxiety-ridden youth than I’d seen before, which took me a little time to get used to but is an absolutely truthful reflection of the role. Redmand Rance’s Mike is again a little smoother and more sophisticated reading of the role than is usual – he’s normally more of a Soprano mobster kind of New Yorker, so that when he’s called Twinkletoes it really hurts – but his stage presence and dance solo are both superb. Beth Hinton-Lever’s Bebe is fresh, vibrant, excited and absolutely the right reading of the character who doesn’t want to hear that Broadway is dying because she’s only just got here. Joshua Lay and Katie Lee interact perfectly as Al and Kristine with an immaculately performed Sing – a song that’s very hard to get right. Tom Partridge is also perfect as the more mature Don, and tells the story of his association with Lolo Latores and her dynamic twin forty-fours with zest and fun. And André Fabien Francis is a delight as Richie; no, you just couldn’t imagine him a kindergarten teacher.

Zach and CassieAnd, of course, there are the big hitters in the story. Adam Cooper brings a superb natural authority to the role of Zach, and balances beautifully the many aspects of the character – his work-driven impatience, his kindness, his genuine appreciation of the efforts of all the auditionees and his embarrassment at the fall-out with Cassie. But – Problem two: he’s on stage too much. Traditionally Zach spends most of the time in the audience at his desk and all you know of him is his disembodied voice barking instructions and challenges. This makes him more aloof from the dancers, which acutely exposes their vulnerability on the line. That said, it did allow for an unexpected additional frisson when Zach confronts Cassie with considerable aggression and Bobby feels like he has to step in to protect her; Zach’s threatening eyes intimidate Bobby into instant, but unwilling submission, and you feel like there’s an untapped mini drama going on behind the scenes that we’ll never speak of again. A brilliant moment.

This man is nothingCarly Mercedes Dyer’s Cassie is surprisingly assertive in her interactions with Zach; this Cassie knows the role should be hers and is less pleading with him than I’ve seen before. She is, of course, a brilliant stage performer and dancer, and her Music and the Mirror routine is electric with beauty and eloquence. Emily Barnett-Salter’s Sheila is as sassy and forthright as you would expect, which makes the moment Zach catches her out with her “anything to get out of the house” comment as telling as ever. As Diana, Lizzy-Rose Esin-Kelly gets to hold court over the theatre with two of the show’s most striking musical sequences and she does them both with terrific power and insight; I particularly liked her supreme emotional skills in Nothing. And Chloe Saunders gives us a wonderfully confident and in-your-face performance of Dance Ten Looks Three, a song with which I have embarrassed myself at several parties and karaokes over the decades.

All I ever needed was the music and the mirrorThere’s one thing I have missed. Howard Hudson’s lighting design. Give that man the Olivier Award this minute. Talk about dazzling. If you want to see how inventive lighting can transport a cast and audience to another place, just see this show.

Lift the hatIt was Sir Harold Hobson, drama critic of the Sunday Times, who nailed A Chorus Line with his everlasting description quote: A rare, devastating, joyous, astonishing stunner. Forty-five years on, it still is. Perhaps more than ever. If ever there was an antidote to these pandemic-ridden, corruption-filled, selfish and depressingly cynical times, it’s this. A Chorus Line is back, and although this production is scheduled to run only until New Year’s Eve, it would be a crime for it not to have a life hereafter.

Production photos by Marc Brenner

Five Alive Let Theatre Thrive!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And another bunch of theatre memories come along… September 2003 to January 2004

Six dance, four theatre

  1. The Immortals – Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome, 27th September 2003

Our first visit to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet in their base at the Birmingham Hippodrome, The Immortals consisted of three separate ballets on that godlike theme. First was Apollo, choreography by Balanchine to music by Stravinsky; then came The Sons of Horus, music by Peter McGowan and choreography by BRB’s very own David Bintley; then finally Krishna, set to music by Hariprasad Chaurasia and choreography by Nahid Siddiqui. The company included Principals Robert Parker and Nao Sakuma, Asta Bazeviciute and Molly Smolen, Chi Cao and Iain Mackay, Tiit Helimets and Dominic Antonucci. A wonderful, lavish production on a grand scale.

  1. The Graduate – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 3rd October 2003

The Cambridge Arts Theatre touring production of Terry Johnson’s adaptation of the famous Dustin Hoffman film starred Glynis Barber as the seductive Mrs Robinson and Andrés Williams as the easily seduced Benjamin Braddock. I remember enjoying it, but also thinking that it could have had more oomph; I confess I can’t remember why.

  1. Giselle – Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome, 4th October 2003

Back at the Birmingham Royal Ballet for another show with the BRB, this time the full length ballet Giselle, based on Petipa’s original choreography and with extra choreography by David Bintley. We took our goddaughter, her brother, her mother and her grandmother – and we all found it delightful. Asta Bazeviciute was Giselle, Tiit Helimets was Albrecht, Marion Tait Berthe and Molly Smolen Queen of the Wilis. Every bit as gorgeous as you would imagine.

  1. Richard Alston Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 7th October 2003

Our annual trip to see Richard Alston’s company had three new dances for us – Grey Allegro, to music by Scarlatti and choreographed by Martin Lawrance; Slow Airs Almost All, set to Mozart, and Overdrive, with music by Terry Riley. The amazing Jonathan Goddard had joined the company and danced in all three pieces, favourite dancers Francesca Romo and Luke Baio also performed as did senior dancer Martin Lawrance. Fantastic as always.

  1. George Balanchine Programme – Ballet de l’Opera National de Paris at the Palais Garnier, Paris, 13th October 2003

As was becoming a tradition, any trip to Paris had to include a visit to the Palais Garnier to see the amazing Paris National Ballet. This was a programme of three works choreographed by George Balanchine – Symphonie en ut, with music by Bizet, Le fils prodigue, set to Prokofiev, and Les quatre tempéraments with music by Hindemith. Always the most spectacular privilege to attend such a show.

  1. Rambert Dance Company Autumn Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 31st October 2003

Passing over the very enjoyable Audience with John Sergeant at the Wycombe Swan, where the great TV journo talked about the entertaining scrapes of his career, our next show was to see Rambert for their Autumn Tour. We started with one of Glenn Wilkinson’s Six Pack solo dances – to Ooh Be Do, then came Karole Armitage’s Living Toys. After the first interval came another Six Pack dance – to Zala, then Wayne McGregor’s PreSentient. After a second interval the show finished with Javier de Frutos’ Elsa Canasta. The fantastic company included Rafael Bonachela, Hope Muir, Glenn Wilkinson, Simon Cooper, Paul Liburd, Clemmie Sveass and Conor O’Brien.

  1. Beauty and the Beast – Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome, 6th December 2003

David Bintley’s vision of Beauty and the Beast, set to music by Glenn Buhr, was a full-scale full-length ballet of epic proportions. Belle was danced by Azta Bazeviciute and the Beast by Robert Parker. As always it was grand, beautiful and delightfully classical.

  1. Anything Goes – Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 31st December 2003

We took the Dowager Mrs C with us to see Anything Goes as a Christmas/New Year treat; it was a terrific show, directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Stephen Mear. The excellent cast starred John Barrowman and Sally Ann Triplett, with Barrie Ingham, Martin Marquez and Susan Tracy for good measure. Way down the cast list playing “A sailor with wanderlust” was Dancing on Ice’s Jason Gardiner.

  1. A Chorus Line – Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 3rd January 2004

I don’t normally include shows I’ve seen before in these memory blog posts, but this production of A Chorus Line was very different from the majority I’ve seen before. Karen Bruce provided brand new choreography for the show, which, for a Chorus Line purist like myself, was sacrilege. With no input from any of the original team (sometimes you would find that Bob Avian or Baayork Lee had lent a hand) it was unrecognisable apart from having the same songs and script. They even included an interval between Hello Twelve… and Dance Ten Looks Three. A cast of amazing talent though, with Josefina Gabrielle as Cassie, Michael Jibson as Bobby, Lara Pulver as Bebe and Hayley Tamaddon as Diana. Casualty’s Jason Durr played Zach. It was well done – but it wasn’t A Chorus Line.

  1. Taboo – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 22nd January 2004

Billed as The Boy George Musical, this had been a big success in London, but we missed it so were happy to catch it on tour. The excellent cast included Stephen Ashfield as Boy George and Neighbours’ Mark Little as Leigh Bowery. Dynamic and fun, a very engrossing and entertaining show.

Yet More Theatre Memories – November 1976 to February 1977

Gird your loins as we dip further into the back catalogue!

  1. Yahoo – Queen’s Theatre, London, November 1976.

image(328)A school trip to see a play that I thought had the potential to be boring – and boy was I right. For some reason, a lot of my schoolfriends were into studying Jonathan Swift for A Level and it was thought this would be a helpful insight into his life. If it was, all I can see is that he was a very dull man. Of course the main attraction was to see Sir Alec Guinness acting in the flesh, and he cut a very imposing figure.

It also featured Nicola Pagett, whom I never liked (sorry), Mark Kingston and To the Manor Born’s Angela Thorne. My only memory of it is Sir Alec turning to the audience at the resumption after the interval with the line “I trust you have all relieved yourself of your baser necessities”. The only laugh in the show. I hated it.


  1. The Frontiers of Farce – Old Vic, London, November 1976.

image(334)I saw this with my schoolfriend Robin because we both liked Leonard Rossiter on TV – I was more a Rising Damp kind of guy and Rob was more a Reggie Perrin fan, but this wasn’t exclusive! The Frontiers of Farce was a combination of two one act fin de siècle farces – The Purging by Georges Feydeau and The Singer by Frank Wedekind, adapted and directed by Peter Barnes.

I can’t remember too much about The Singer, but The Purging is a brilliant play in which Leonard Rossiter played the manufacturer of unbreakable chamber pots; with the simple plot twist that those unbreakable chamber pots broke with the slightest stress. Rob and I sat in the front row and made a collection in the interval of all the broken bits of chamber pot that had been smashed and landed on our laps. The excellent cast also included John Stride, John Phillips and Dilys Laye, and I loved it.


  1. Tartuffe – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 18th November 1976.

image(323)Another school trip, but this time with the French A level class, as this production of Tartuffe was performed in the original French, in a touring production by the Theatre National Populaire of Lyon in France. Don’t think I understood a damn word. image(324)The production starred, was directed by (and he probably made the tea too) the late Roger Planchon. Rather reserved and dreary in its presentation, if I remember rightly, which is a bit of a crime when you consider what a great play Tartuffe is.


  1. A Man for All Seasons – Young Vic, London, 17th December 1976.

First play of a very memorable Christmas holiday, this revival of Robert Bolt’s powerful play was very well performed by an excellent cast, directed by Stewart Trotter. I particularly remember the resounding performance by Michael Graham Cox as The Common Man, and the cast included Ian Gelder and Simon Chandler who would go on to have long and successful careers. As you can see, the Young Vic never invested a lot of money in their programmes!


  1. Jesus Christ Superstar – Palace Theatre, London, 22nd December 1976.


image(327)Looking back, this was one of the “biggest” shows I’d seen at the time, with its longstanding reputation, its massive staging, and its loyal fan base. I went by myself, as I did every show over this Christmas holiday, and remember sitting next to a young woman who, whilst waiting for the show to start, went to the front page of her souvenir brochure and attached (with some glue that she had fortuitously brought with her) her ticket stub where it joined about fifty other similar stubs – that was my first insight into true theatre fandom!

The production was stunning. I found the portrayal of Jesus (by the late, brilliant Steve Alder) absolutely mesmeric. Apart from a couple of the tunes I had no knowledge of what to expect, so the appearance of Barry James as a super camp Herod worked as the fantastic coup-de-theatre that it’s meant to be. Other top performances were from Mike Mulloy as Judas and a brilliant Caiaphas in the form of Nelson Perry. The theatrical highlight of the show for me was the hanging of Judas – it was so horrifically realistic.


This became my favourite show of all time – an accolade it held for exactly one week.

  1. A Chorus Line – Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 29th December 1976.


This production came towards the end of the initial six months run of this show, performed by the Toronto cast. I made a list at the time of the moments that made it for me the best show I’d seen at the time, and I still stand by that. I love this show from the bottom of my heart and it has stayed with me all my life. Here are the things I wrote down:

The mystical march away from the mirrors at the end of I Hope I Get It. The touching sorrow of At the Ballet. The dancing of I Can Do That. The sincerity of And. The mammoth Music and the Mirror. The emotional and sad speech of Paul revealing his homosexuality. The hilarity of Val’s song. The magnificence of One. The pure beauty of What I Did for Love. Val singing: Orphan at 3, orphan at 3, Momma and Dad both gone, raised by a sweet ex-con, tied up and raped at 7 – seriously, seriously, nothing too obscene, I’d better keep it clean. The sequence during Dance Ten Looks Three:

Val: You’re all looking at my tits aren’t you?

Sheila: (peering) They aren’t very big.

Val: I heard that you bitch. Anyway I didn’t want them like yours. I wanted them in proportion.

Sheila: Well you got what you paid for.

Kristine: Say, I’d give anything for just one of yours!

Sheila asking Need any women? Or Can the adults smoke? Bobby saying it was about then that I started breaking into people’s houses. Oh, I didn’t steal anything – I just rearranged the furniture. Judy’s A little brat! That’s what my sister was, a little brat, that’s why I shaved her head, I’m glad I shaved her head. Mark apparently having gonorrhoea at the age of 13. Greg getting hard on the bus. Connie tap-dancing in sneakers. Sheila’s happy-to-be-dancing smile.


I’d better stop. I ended up seeing this production seven more times over the next two and a half years, with the London cast that arrived in February 1977. I won’t include these extra visits in my theatrical memories, because that would be overkill!


  1. Charley’s Aunt – Young Vic, London, 3rd January 1977.


I remember this as being a delightfully funny production of this timeless play. It was the first time I had seen the late great Nicky Henson, and he was perfect for the wacky Lord Fancourt Babberley. In addition to Messrs Gelder and Chandler (who were also in A Man for All Seasons, see earlier) this also featured Janine Duvitski who has gone on to be a TV and stage favourite over several decades. Directed by Denise Coffey, with whom I always associate Mrs Black and her Horrible Handbag, from Do Not Adjust Your Set. I know, you’re too young to know what I’m talking about.

  1. The Circle – Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, 5th January 1977.

image(310)I saw this with the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle who, as I mentioned before, was a big Somerset Maugham fan. It was my first time to the Haymarket, and I wasn’t impressed – I thought the acoustics were poor and it was hard to hear everything on stage even from our relatively good seats. A rather stately play, slow moving to start but quite fun once it got going.


Despite all its big names, the best performance was from a young Martin Jarvis. It starred Googie Withers (whom I knew from TV’s Within These Walls), her husband John McCallum, Bill Porter, Susan Hampshire and Clive Francis.


  1. Irene – Adelphi Theatre, London, 10th January 1977.

I booked to see this at the end of the Christmas holidays slightly against my better judgment, as I wasn’t overly keen to see it, but I did want to see Jon Pertwee on stage again. As it turned out, it was a good show, very lively, likeable and colourful, but it never got close to being a great show. It features one fantastic song, Up There on Park Avenue, which I still regularly play today. Jon Pertwee was very amusing as the couturier Madame Lucy, and it starred Australia’s Julie Anthony, primarily known as a soprano. Unfortunately, Ms Anthony was indisposed at this performance and I saw Mary Dunne in the role, who was very good. A big show, but a lot more style than substance.

  1. Wild Oats – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, 7th February 1977.

image(286)image(287)This was a school trip organised by English teacher Bruce Ritchie and what a great choice it was. John O’Keeffe’s long lost 1791 play was hysterical from start to finish, with a stonkingly good cast who threw everything at it. Led by Alan Howard, one of the great names of the RSC, it also featured Norman Rodway, Joe Melia (always one of my favourite actors), Zoe Wanamaker, some young spark called Jeremy Irons, and, playing 2nd Ruffian, Ben Cross who would go on to be fantastic in Chariots of Fire amongst other roles. I’d love to see this again, but I don’t think there was a recording. I am Hamlet the Dane, said Mr Howard as the poseur Rover, swirling his cape around him like a mad villain. It brought the house down. Absolutely terrific.


Thanks for joining me for these memories. Tomorrow it’s back to the holiday snaps, C is for Croatia and some memories of Dubrovnik. Stay safe!

Review of the year 2013 – The Fourth Annual Chrisparkle Awards

About this time every year an esteemed panel including myself and no one else meets to assess the relative brilliance of all the shows we’ve seen the previous year so that we can recognise and celebrate the artistic fantasticity of the arts world in Northampton, Sheffield, Leicester and beyond! The coveted 2013 Chrisparkles relate to shows I have seen and blogged between 6th January 2013 and 16th January 2014. Let’s not keep anyone in further suspense – let the glittering ceremony begin!

As always, the first award is for Best Dance Production (Contemporary and Classical).

I saw nine dance productions last year, from which it was quite easy to shortlist a top five, but the top three are:

In 3rd place, the fantastic combination of skill and artistry embedded in the October programme by the Richard Alston Dance Company at the Derngate, Northampton.

In 2nd place, the hilarious but incredibly accurate and beautiful dancing of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, as seen at the Birmingham Hippodrome in February.

In 1st place, the consistently rewarding and fulfilling version of Swan Lake by Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, that we saw at the Curve, Leicester, in November.

Classical Music Concert of the Year.

For some reason we only saw four concerts in 2013, and these are the top three:

In 3rd place, the Last Night of the Derngate Proms, by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Derngate, in June.

In 2nd place, Janina Fialkowska plays Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto, plus Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, with the RPO at the Derngate in January.

In 1st place, Alexander Shelley conducts Scheherezade, together with Peter Jablonski’s performance of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with the RPO at the Derngate in April.

Best Entertainment Show of the Year.

This is the all-purpose, everything else category that includes pantos, circuses, reviews and anything else hard to classify.

In 3rd place, Jack and the Beanstalk at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, in January 2014.

In 2nd place, and maybe misclassified here but I can’t quite bring myself to call this artistic endeavour a play; Cooped, by Spymonkey, at the Royal, Northampton, in January 2013.

In 1st place, the stunning tango extravaganza that was Midnight Tango, with Vincent and Flavia off Strictly Come Dancing, at the Derngate in July.

Best Star Standup of the Year.

We saw seven big star name stand-up comedians this year, and they were all excellent, but these are my top four:

In 4th place, Jason Manford and his First World Problems, at the Derngate, in July.

In 3rd place, Jack Dee at the Derngate, in September.

In 2nd place, Stewart Lee in Much a-Stew About Nothing, also at the Derngate, in September, who was just pipped by

In 1st place, Micky Flanagan and his Back in the Game tour show at the Derngate in May.

Best Stand-up at the Screaming Blue Murder nights in Northampton.

Of the thirty or more comics that we’ve seen at Screaming Blue Murder last year seventeen made the shortlist, and the top five are:

In 5th place, an extremely funny guy with a quirky view on urban life, Nathan Caton (18th October)

In 4th place, with an almost unique ability to make a young audience rock with laughter without any swearing, Paul Kerensa (25th January)

In 3rd place, the fantastic mix of gay and Asperger’s that goes to create Robert White (8th February)

In 2nd place, musical comedy genius Christian Reilly (8th March)

In 1st place, the most mischievous comic on the circuit, Markus Birdman (8th November).

Best Musical.

Like last year, this is a combination of new musicals and revivals, and we had a dozen to choose from. The top four were easy to identify; but the fifth place show was really hard to decide from the sixth place show. However, the panel have made their decision, and I’m sticking with it.

In 5th place, the re-invigorated Chicago at the Leicester Curve in December.

In 4th place, the beautiful and moving The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory in August.

In 3rd place, the riveting revival of The Hired Man at the Leicester Curve Studio in April.

In 2nd place, the outrageous and hilarious The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre in March.

In 1st place, which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, the painstakingly caring and reassuringly faithful revival of A Chorus Line at the London Palladium in March.

Best New Play.

As always, this is my definition of a new play – so it might have been around before but on its first UK tour, or a new adaptation of a work originally in another format. Six to choose from, these are the top three:

In 3rd place, despite its cackling disruptive audience, the very inventive play version of The Full Monty, at the Lyceum Theatre Sheffield in February.

In 2nd place, the thoughtful and imaginative Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre in May.

In 1st place, the timelessly relevant and beautifully adapted To Sir With Love at the Royal, Northampton, in September.

Best Revival of a Play.

A shortlist of sixteen productions, but in the end relatively easy to sort out the top five:

In 5th place, the first of three Michael Grandage productions as part of his long season at the Noel Coward Theatre, A Midsummer Night’s Dream in November.

In 4th place, the hard-hitting yet strangely funny Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Curve Studio, Leicester, in October.

In 3rd place, Michael Grandage’s production of Peter Nichols’ Privates on Parade at the Noel Coward in January.

In 2nd place, Michael Grandage’s stunning production of The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noel Coward in August.

In 1st place, the only production in 45 years of theatregoing that I loved so much that I had to see it again the next day, Cal McCrystal’s officially fabulous revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s Mr Whatnot at the Royal, Northampton in April.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical.

So many terrific performances to choose from but I have a top five:

In 5th place, Hayley Gallivan’s brutally treated Nancy in Oliver! at the Sheffield Crucible in January 2014.

In 4th place, Leigh Zimmerman’s indestructibly sassy Sheila in A Chorus Line at the London Palladium in March.

In 3rd place, Cynthia Erivo’s incredibly moving Celie in The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory in August.

In 2nd place, Julie Atherton’s tear-jerkingly superb Emily in The Hired Man at the Leicester Curve Studio in April.

In 1st place, Scarlett Strallen’s stunning Cassie in A Chorus Line at the London Palladium in March, and for her ebullient Cunegonde in Candide at the Menier Chocolate Factory in December.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical.

A really tough category and with so many great performances not getting a mention, but here’s my top five:

In 5th place, David Hunter’s triumphantly resilient John in The Hired Man at the Leicester Curve Studio in April.

In 4th place, Gavin Creel’s selfishly wonderful Elder Price in The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre in March.

In 3rd place, Christopher Colquhoun’s savage then partly redeemed Mister in The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory in August.

In 2nd place, Jared Gertner for his gutsy buddy-from-hell performance as Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre in March.

In 1st place, John Partridge’s role-defining performance as the workaholic, passionate choreographer Zach in A Chorus Line at the London Palladium in March.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Play.

Some great performances here!

In 5th place, Isla Blair in The Lyons at the Menier Chocolate Factory in October.

In 4th place Felicity Kendal in Relatively Speaking at Wyndham’s Theatre in June.

In 3rd place Nora Connolly in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Curve Studio Leicester in October.

In 2nd place, the other half of that double act, Michele Moran in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Curve Studio Leicester in October and also for Dancing at Lughnasa at the Royal, Northampton in May.

In 1st place, and no surprise, Dame Judi Dench for her performance of consummate ease as Alice Liddell in Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre in May.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Play.

Eighteen actors in my shortlist, and I whittled it down to this:

In 5th place, Ansu Kabia for To Sir With Love at the Royal, Northampton, in September.

In 4th place, the magnetic stage presence of David Walliams as Bottom in Michael Grandage’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Noel Coward Theatre in November.

In 3rd place, Ben Whishaw for his threateningly unhinged performance as Baby in Mojo at the Harold Pinter Theatre in January 2014 and for his compellingly thoughtful performance as Peter Davies in Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre in May.

In 2nd place, Simon Russell Beale’s flamboyant performance as Terri Dennis in Privates on Parade at the Noel Coward Theatre in January 2013.

In 1st place, Daniel Radcliffe’s totally convincing performance as Billy in the Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noel Coward Theatre in August.

Theatre of the Year.

In addition to my usual shortlist of the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, Sheffield Theatres and the Menier Chocolate Factory, I have to add the Leicester Curve and also the Noel Coward Theatre for its Michael Grandage season. Taking everything into account – the standard of productions, the comfort of the theatre, the box-office experience, and the general feelgood feeling you get when you’re there, it’s a tight squeeze this year but I am again going to declare my favourite theatre of the year to be the Royal and Derngate, Northampton! God bless her and all who sail in her!

And thanks to you, gentle reader, for still coming back to read my random thoughts on all the shows we’re lucky enough to see. Hope you all have a very Happy New Theatregoing Year!

Review – A Chorus Line – revisited – yet again – London Palladium, 31st August 2013

A Chorus LineThis was my fourth time seeing this production of A Chorus Line in London, my fourteenth time since 1976. If you’d like to take a look at my review from February, it’s here, our visit in June is here, my trip with my Godson in July it’s here, or if you just want to hear about the last night, read on!

Scarlett StrallenLet me take you back, gentle reader, to the last night of A Chorus Line at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in March 1979. A full house, naturally packed with fans, of course. The lights dimmed to signal the start of the show, which generated a huge round of applause that only died down once the show had started. Warm, loving rounds of applause followed each song as the show progressed. At the emotional culmination, when Diana, played by Miss Diane Langton, finished singing “What I Did For Love”, the applause was sustained, and sustained, and sustained… and Miss Langton was choking back the tears. In that 70s production, once the lights dimmed on the glitzily dressed performers doing the “One” finale, you never saw them again for a final curtain call; apart from on that last night, when the lights went back up again to reveal a cast who were a blancmange of tears, waves, shouts and every emotion under the sun.

Victoria Hamilton-BarrittFast forward to the last night of A Chorus Line at the London Palladium on August 31st 2013. The same full house, the same plethora of fans, crackling with anticipation and the same big round of applause when it started. “God I hope I get it…” I have to mention again here the great, brief appearance of Georgie Ashford as Trisha, one of the early eliminees, giving it all she’s got with her wayward wacky dancing that’s hilarious but not cruel. The atmosphere in the audience, this feeling of “fan love” is just like 1979, I thought. Then something different happened. It was at that point near the end of the opening number when the cast all walk up to the front of the stage together, hold the resumés in front of their faces and the orchestra hits that funky, stabbing, portentous chord and they stay still for probably four chords, until Larry collects the CVs. Not this time. Massive applause drowns out the first four chords; then the second four chords. It’s not letting up for the next four chords. From my seat I can see Ashley Nottingham (Larry)’s face go boggle-eyed with delight at the reaction from the audience – the resumés hide everyone else’s faces so we can’t see them but you sense an overwhelming wave of “OMG”-ness is about to hit this stage.

Leigh ZimmermanThe show continues. Harry Francis is playing Mike as the cockiest New York Italian, all slicked back hair and spilling over with machismo. Later in the show the girls either side of him accuse him of being a sex maniac, and whereas other Mikes have looked shocked and surprised at the news, this Mike just looks substantially chuffed! Whereas Adam Salter’s Mike thrilled us with his tumbling acrobatics, Mr Francis’ “I Can Do That” brings out the best of his ballet skills with a series of great fouettés. Cue for another sustained round of applause, so long that it’s about now that some of the performers, Mr Francis included, begin to look a little bit shocked.

Harry FrancisEd Currie’s performance as Bobby is just sheer bliss. His voice wanders up and down the vocal scale capturing Bobby’s weirdness and self-deprecation to perfection. Superb, and fully deserving of its own round of applause, which it duly receives. On to a beautiful performance of “At The Ballet”, with Leigh Zimmerman and Daisy Maywood on top form; and when Vicki Lee Taylor (Maggie)’s soaring yet serene top note gets a huge reaction she seems visibly moved. Another great performance of “Sing” follows, with Frances Dee’s Kristine just missing the notes with absolute conviction and credibility, and Simon Hardwick’s Al going all out to calm her down.

Gary WoodMichael Steedon gives Mark’s monologue great life and humour and he really revels in that discussion with the priest about gonorrhoea. Supersub Katy Hards performs Connie as a Southern States belle of Summer Stock, and her vocal drawl adds to a great reinterpretation of the role. I loved her reaction to Larry’s suggestion she should relax during the Tap Combination, with the result that she flops about the stage like a rag doll. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt (Diana)’s so excited that she’s going to the High School of Performing Arts and gives the most life-affirming rendition of “Nothing” which gets so much applause that she has no choice but to talk through it or we’d never get finished. I did appreciate her returning to Michael Bennett’s original choreography of “be a table, be a sports car, ice-cream cone” (one for the die-hard purists there!)

Rebecca HerszenhornMore superb characterisation follows with Andy Rees’ lugubrious Greg, James T Lane’s keen-as-mustard Richie and Lucy Jane Adcock’s deliriously dotty Judy. When the whole “Hello Twelve…” montage is complete, there is a sea of cheers and whoops that takes forever to die down and now some of the dancers are really beginning to look affected. I can see at least three faces on stage that appear to be saying to themselves “Don’t cry, whatever you do…”, and that’s just the guys. When you think this part of the show can’t get better, Rebecca Herszenhorn gives the best performance of “Dance Ten Looks Three” I’ve seen her give all year, turning Val into the truly ultimate sexpot.

Simon HardwickI always sense that things get more serious once Cassie is called back for her one-to-one with Zach; you’re really into the meat of the show now. Scarlett Strallen gives an amazing “Music and the Mirror”, and when Zach recalls how she “stopped two shows cold”, you can just see how she did it. Her whole performance was brilliant – not just the dancing, but also her understanding of the role brought out the character’s humour, her introspection and anger; and you can really see how the break up of the relationship with the cold Zach, played with businesslike efficiency and eerie domination by Gary Watson, affected her deeply. Very long sustained applause and even some dotted standing ovations at Miss Strallen’s performance. Gary Wood takes to the stage and raises Paul’s monologue to new heights with fantastic changes of pace and terrific vocal light and shade. I felt I understood Paul so much more with this performance. Even though it’s not a musical number, the audience gave Mr Wood a great reaction once the scene was over. The next scenes: the rehearsal of One, the emotionally raw discussion between Cassie and Zach, and the comedy and tragedy of the Tap Combination were all performed with true heart and conviction.

Ashley NottinghamThere’s a lot of poignancy in some of those final scenes, particularly when the show is closing. Nothing runs forever, right? The only chorus line you can depend on this business is the one at un-em-ploy-ment! Lately I’ve been thinking of opening a dance studio – am I copping out or am I growing up? “But if today were the day you had to stop dancing, how would you feel?” Cue gulps of emotion from both stage and audience. Miss Hamilton-Barritt delivers the true message of the show with “What I Did For Love” as tears run down the faces of her colleagues surrounding her. It soars, as it always does, when the chorus comes in, and she completes the song with all the emotional intensity of that final night, an intensity so strong that she has to give way to the tears immediately afterwards.

Strike the setWhen Zach makes his final choice of four and four, Harry Francis turns his tears of emotion into tears of victory for Mike’s success, Ed Currie hides his face and Simon Hardwick simply crumples up with emotion. Naturally it was a full standing ovation for the finale, and for Scarlett Strallen and Leigh Zimmerman’s final messages of gratitude from the stage. Leigh Zimmerman really summed it up with her final words – “don’t cry that it’s ended, smile because it happened – it’s what we did for love.” The end of the line? For today, maybe, at the Palladium. But for anyone who’s been personally affected by this show, the memories, the emotions and the associations that have formed over the past seven months will remain.

Review – A Chorus Line – revisited – again – London Palladium, 17th July 2013

A Chorus LineForgive me Father for I have sinned; it’s been seven weeks since my last visit to A Chorus Line. All those excited #ACLoholic tweets crossing back and forth cyberspace were making me jealous, but I knew I was pushing my luck suggesting yet another trip with Mrs Chrisparkle. It’s not that she doesn’t love it – it’s just that she has a more balanced (i.e sane) outlook than me. Thus it was that yesterday I went to the matinee with my 16 year old Godson, Bad Wolf (it’s his twitter name, who am I to judge?)

Adam SalterLove for A Chorus Line was instilled in him through the placenta as his mother adores the show; she was introduced to it by her husband who, as a teenager, saw it with me four times during its run at Drury Lane. As Bad Wolf and I enjoyed our pre-theatre lunch in Bella Italia across the street from the Palladium, I asked, “so, are you looking forward to the show then?” He eyed me with teenage derision. “It’s A Chorus Line, isn’t it?” Then he shrugged his shoulders with that “don’t you know anything” look. I took that to mean, “yes I’m looking forward to it enormously Chris and thank you very much for treating me to this nice lunch.”

Ed CurrieIf you’re looking for an impartial, balanced review of A Chorus Line then I’m afraid you won’t find it here. If you check back on my blogs of our February and June visits, you’ll see how deeply rooted this show is in my soul, and if I were to pick away at any perceived structural flaws, self-indulgent aspects or character criticisms, then I might as well tear my own arm off. And I’m not going to do that. Trust me when I say it is the American Musical Supreme, but more than that, it’s an examination – nay celebration – of vulnerable people under pressure coming to terms with their careers, their relationships, their pasts, their futures, their lives. Add in Marvin Hamlisch’s incredible score, Michael Bennett’s exhilarating choreography and the cast’s superb talent and you’ve got an unforgettable work of theatrical art to cherish.

Frances Dee But sadly, it’s going to close early. A few weeks ago, Mrs C and I took a sneaky week’s Mediterranean cruise, and we were discussing theatre with our dining companions one evening, when I mentioned how fond I was of A Chorus Line. “Ach,” said our softly spoken Scottish friend, “it’s closin’ earrrly ‘cos apparently it’s no’ verry guid”. The poor woman didn’t know what had hit her. “Au contraire, it’s brilliant”, I remonstrated swiftly and sternly; “it’s a fantastic revival, probably better than the original. The main problem is the Palladium is such a huge theatre, and there’s not a lot of money out there at the moment. It’s just another sign of the times, Miss Jones.” I’m not sure she got my Blood Brothers reference.

Simon Hardwick So when Bad Wolf and I emerged into the stalls on Wednesday afternoon I was half-expecting the place to be empty. Not a bit of it. The centre stalls block appeared to be fully booked, the side stalls were reasonably full and from what I could see the Royal Circle was packed too. Being a midweek matinee, Pensioner Power was out in force; and, without for a moment suggesting any blanket attributes to a sector of the community, there was an awful lot of sweet paper rustling and low-level chit-chat throughout the afternoon. How fondly I recall the happy days of the mid-70s when well-to-do elderly ladies came to the Drury Lane to see that “nice” musical A Chorus Line, and spent the evening tutting with disgust at mentions of tits, ass, gonorrhoea, “I’d be hard” and “I looked like a f***ing nurse”. Today they seem to take that in their stride, if they can hear the words above the chewing clacking dentures.

Harry Francis Every performance of Chorus Line is different – cast members change emphases, cover performers do it slightly differently, audience reactions very enormously. When we saw it in June I was amazed that, at the moment when the lights dim at the end of the show, Zach having chosen his successful 8-strong chorus, there was no round of applause. Silence. Incredible! Never seen that before. Not so on Wednesday, when that moment (rightly) got a big round of applause – as it nearly always does. However, then, when the individual cast members come out and take their initial personal bow before going into the big “One” routine, the whole audience clapped along regularly to the rhythm of the tune, somewhat panto-esque, rather than just clapping each performer. I’ve never experienced that before either.

Daisy Maywood This audience also reacted well to the show’s “gasp” moments. The main one is during that final elimination scene when Diana gets called forward and then Zach says “I’m wrong, back in line”. That got a great gasp. But there was also a very appreciative gasp at the tumbling sequence in Adam Salter’s absolutely spot-on performance of “I Can Do That”; and also during that wonderful glitzy performance of “One” just before the final chorus – that really high visual impact moment when the lights strengthen and line is in full view at the back of the stage – it was just superb.

Gary WatsonIt’s always so satisfying to see my favourite show in such capable and responsible hands. I have now seen many of the performers play their roles for a third time and they are so comfortable in those characters’ skins. I’ve already mentioned Adam Salter’s Mike, a really engaging performance of a character who is only lightly fleshed out in the text, but who, despite having the most self-confident dance routine has this surprising underlying anxiety (“I’d like to tell you to start at the end”). Ed Currie’s Bobby is now about as good as it gets, revealing the character’s quirkiness and complete shamelessness. When he’s talking about the kid whom he spray-painted and had to be taken to hospital, you got an increased insight into the weirdness of what he did by some subtle hand gestures – I’m guessing it wasn’t just the soles of his feet that were involved. And hat’s off to him for playing the role in that jumper on one of the hottest days of the year. Bobby really is quite a weirdo in many ways, and I think he might terrify you in real life, but Mr Currie gives the character so much warmth that it’s a delight to witness.

Michael Steedon When Bad Wolf and I were talking about the show beforehand, we both agreed that “Sing” is probably our least favourite number, because of its potential to irritate; just slightly. But it occurred to me whilst watching it, that it must be extraordinarily demanding for its performers. You need the verbal dexterity of a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, coupled with immaculate comedy timing and, from Kristine, the ability to sing credibly off-key. Frances Dee plays Kristine with superb control and it’s wonderful to watch. We don’t know much about Kristine and Al apart from the littleJon Tsouras secrets they reveal during “Hello Twelve…” Al’s enigmatic “Dad would take Mum to Roseland, she’d come home with her shoes in her hand” is one of the most evocative lines in the show and you never really quite know what to make of it. Simon Hardwick gives the character real substance by superbly contrasting the more private and thoughtful aspects of Al with his macho Bronx façade – great stuff.

Katy Hards Harry Francis is still marvellous as the young Mark, trying so hard to make a good impression, the perfect blend of exuberance and embarrassment; and I still can’t get over what a great dancer he is. Even Bad Wolf spoke highly of his skills. Daisy Maywood is now a real revelation as Bebe. She performed At The Ballet with more emotion in that role than I have ever seen. It was such a thoughtful and reflective account of Bebe’s relationship with her mother – I got a sense that this Bebe was really wounded by her family life and that the scars haven’t healed yet. And I’m still loving Gary Watson’s Don recollecting his youthful experience with Lola Latores – when she drives up in her big pink Cadillac convertible and smiles you just can’t help smiling along with him. Supersub Michael Steedon was playing Paul at this performance – we’d seen him on our previous visit and he really impressed me. This time he was a complete star. It’s such a skilful performance of Paul’s monologue; assertive, clear, brave, proud – but when he breaks down at the end, the contrast is so strong and moving that, again, I got the tears, dammit. And I was additionally moved by the little shriek of sudden pain that accompanied Paul’s fall – something that’s normally done silently – that made it all the more realistic.

Genevieve Nicole It was the first time I’d seen Jon Tsouras as Greg – he’s normally the boy with the headband who refuses to look up. Andy Rees, who normally plays Greg, is absolutely brilliant in the role; but Mr Tsouras puts a fascinatingly different slant on some of Greg’s material. His Greg is very honest, perhaps less of a show-off than others I have seen, and his account of feeling Sally Ketchum’s boobs was laugh-out-loud convincing. This is a very realistic, less bravado-fuelled, more insightful Greg and I really enjoyed his performance. This was also the first time I’ve seen Katy Hards as Diana. A demanding role, I particularly enjoyed her performance of Nothing, which was both funny and moving in all the right places. And, I’m not sure, but I think it was Genevieve Nicole who was playing Vicki, one of the characters to be eliminated early; her unruly dance steps were hilarious!

John PartridgeThe big guns are still going great as well – John Partridge’s Zach was having a slightly more belligerent day, he wasn’t going to let anyone get away with anything. It’s down step, pivot step, not pivot step, pivot step for chrissake! He plays the role with so much conviction and attack, that even just hearing his voice from the back of the auditorium it’s one of the best acting performances you’ll ever be lucky enough to experience. He can invest the word “relax” with unnerving overtones – it could almost be the last words you hear before the Sinister Doctor Zach administers your fatal drug overdose. His sparring with Scarlett Strallen’s Cassie was on absolutely top form, and of course he completely shines in the finale. Miss Strallen was mesmerising in The Music and The Mirror, as usual, and I love the way she copes with Zach and their past relationship; the agony of the memory chokes her voice up and her pain is palpable.

Scarlett StrallenHonestly, what’s not to love? As Harold Hobson said in the Sunday Times in 1975, it’s a rare, devastating, joyous, astonishing stunner and I can’t see any reason to change that opinion. Funny, sad and human to its core and I’m honoured to have seen it again. You’ve got until 31st August to see it too.

Review – A Chorus Line – revisited – London Palladium, 2nd June 2013

A Chorus LineA few months ago – on 23rd February to be precise – Mrs Chrisparkle and I went to see A Chorus Line at the Palladium. It was the first non-preview Saturday night. I loved it, as I knew I would, having loved it ever since as a slightly insecure 16 year old I sat, by myself, in Row C of the stalls at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and became instantly captivated by this life-enhancing show that taught me so much about, well, everything really. £5.50 that ticket cost me; I must have saved up for weeks. One of the best investments I ever made.

Victoria Hamilton-BarrittAs I mentioned in my previous blog, I’ve kept the faith with this show basically all my life, seeing it not only in London, but also in Oxford, Sheffield and on Broadway. February’s trip was my 12th time of seeing it – and Mrs C’s 4th, bless her. She loves the show too – maybe not quite as fanatically as me. I guess we all have our own definition of “what I did for love”. Thanks to the kindness of a Third Party whom I shall not name – but if you’re reading this, thanks so much! – on Saturday we returned to see it again.

John PartridgeI’ve always been a “front stalls” man; that’s my default setting. But for this 13th viewing of A Chorus Line, we sat in the dress circle, and I’ve never seen the show from this angle before. It’s very impressive! It goes without saying that from the dress circle (Row B) you get a fantastic view of the entire stage. Even though you’re further back and you can’t see the sweat and the spit, there are other aspects of onstage activity that become more apparent. Specific elements of the dance; for example, Diana’s thumping tap moves, in an attempt to make some kind of noise with her sneakers, came across as really funny; and you could see that the accidental twist that results in an injury to one of the dancers was executed absolutely perfectly. The view also brought out the anxiety and buzz of the dancers mingling stage right, whilst they’re waiting for Larry to call them on to dance, or for Zach to choose them for his final seventeen. Absolute big up at this point to Georgie Ashford for a fabulous performance as Trisha during that first number. The resigned crestfallen looks from the dancers not chosen, somehow clearer from above, was something I had never really appreciated before.

Scarlett StrallenIf anything, the show is even better than three months ago. Everything flows so naturally and seamlessly. The voices are perfect, the dance moves stupendous. I’ve always loved Michael Bennett’s original choreography, it’s so eloquent yet subtle in comparison with Bob Fosse’s brash showmanship that most other people seemed to prefer at the time. Despite the fact that, as Cassie says, “they’re all special”, some roles are still seen as “starrier” than others and they’re all still sublimely performed. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt especially now really excels herself as Diana. She has taken the song “Nothing” and totally made it her own. With some quirky vocal expression and changes of pace she tells the story of that stupid course and the dreadful Mr Karp with such passion that we can see how that experience has strengthened Diana and shaped the way she copes with life’s problems today. Her “What I Did For Love” still hits home with its plaintive honesty and the whole cast’s backing singing is just superb – major goosebump time.

Leigh ZimmermannJohn Partridge continues to invest Zach with a humanity I’ve not seen in previous actors’ interpretations. His questioning technique of the dancers is rarely straightforward – at times he’s sly, provocative, humorous, compassionate, irate; and his questions in turn seem to elicit a more emotional response from the auditionee. His stage presence is just astounding, and he’s still loving that big number at the end. When Larry asks Sheila for her “I love to dance smile”, it’s Mr Partridge to whom they should look for inspiration.

Gary WatsonAs Cassie, I loved Scarlett Strallen’s heightened emotions when she and Zach are raking over the old coals of their former relationship; I’ve never heard a Cassie quite so outraged by Zach’s pig-headed selfishness. She’s got to keep on the right side of him because she wants the job, but there are some things she’s just not going to let him get away with! The two actors work together incredibly well in those scenes. And Leigh Zimmermann’s Sheila is still a brilliant portrayal of the slightly temperamental, definitely cynical, at heart vulnerable, brassy lady who knows there aren’t many years left that she can continue to be a chorus cutie. Her last look to Zach still speaks volumes.

Ed CurrieThe whole cast are superb, but I wanted to mention a few others that I didn’t talk about last time. There’s a terrifically solid and honest performance by Gary Watson as Don, who really brings his experience with Lola Latores and her twin forty-fours to life; it’s fun to imagine the two of them zooming off into the sunset in her pink Cadillac. I also loved the way he reacted to the final casting decision – absolutely right for that character. Ed Currie seems to have now really got to the heart of Bobby, “real weird” in that nerdy jumper, outrageously sending up the wackier aspects of his character but in an absolutely credible way. Frances Dee is a wonderfully out of tune Kristine, no pantomime character this but a real person who genuinely gets uptight through nerves; and Alastair Postlethwaite, who we thought would be destined for great things after seeing him in So You Think You Can Dance, is giving Larry a real character dimension; not just the assistant but someone who has to have a proper working relationship with Zach and with whom you sense he doesn’t always see eye-to-eye. Andy Rees is still a hugely entertaining Greg, and Harry Francis’ Mark – the character I always identified with when I was young – is a brilliant combination of youthful exuberance and awkward embarrassment. His dance skill is astonishing; you sense he could dance rings round the others given half a chance.

Andy ReesIn the performance we saw, the role of Paul, in many ways the most sympathetic and moving role in the show, was played by Michael Steedon. Paul has a stunningly written monologue to perform, and every Paul plays it slightly differently, obviously drawing on the actor’s own insights and experience. Mr Steedon is absolutely one of the best. Beautifully paced, sincere; I know that speech like the back of my hand and still it brought tears to my eyes.

Harry FrancisA funny thing happened halfway through the show – everything stopped! Judy had just confessed to kissing other girls as a rehearsal for when she wanted to start kissing guys when all the lights went out. Everything went silent; a little torch appeared at the sides of the stage and you heard the shuffle off of retreating dancers. Then, in a tone of immaculate calm, a disembodied voice announced that due to a technical issue they’d had to suspend the show and would get it going again as soon as possible. Well it’s not often that a number literally stops the show! I felt the lighting had gone awry in the “Mother” sequence beforehand; I don’t know if that was the cause. Anyway, for the first time, A Chorus Line actually had an interval! It was about ten minutes before they resumed the show, picking up precisely from where they had left off; and huge admiration to Andy Rees for getting straight back in with Greg’s “Hard” routine without a flicker of anything being wrong. That must have been quite nerve-racking.

Have to go back again soonOne other observation about this production of A Chorus Line is that I really like the fact that we now get an additional curtain call at the end. It was always a source of frustration to the teenage me that the last we saw of the performers was when the lights faded on the high kicks at the end of “One” – you never really felt you were given the opportunity fully to express your appreciation. Apart from the very last night in 1979, that is, when the lights went back up at the end of the show to reveal a stage and auditorium full of weeping cast and aficionados. Now, once the lights have faded, the dancers remain on stage one more time for a proper curtain call. Result: satisfaction all round.

Going back to see it again has satisfied me that the cast are still looking after the show wonderfully well – it’s all in very safe hands. Trouble is, now I’m going to have to go yet again. I knew I’d have to!