How many more of these theatre memories are there left? October 1996 to April 1997

  1. Plunder – Oxford Playhouse, some time in October 1996

Uncertain of the date of this one, because when we got there – disaster – they had run out of theatre programmes. So all I have as a memory of this show is a photocopied cast list – and as a result the ticket stubs have been lost in the sea of time. I remember the show though; a very enjoyable revival of Ben Travers’ Aldwych farce, starring Griff Rhys Jones as D’Arcy Tuck, and with Kevin McNally, Sara Crowe, Pamela Cundell and Hugh Sachs also glittering in the cast.

  1. An Inspector Calls – Garrick Theatre, London, 28th December 1996

Stephen Daldry’s hugely successful revival of J B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls had already been packing them in at the Garrick for over a year and would continue to do so for a long time after. Pip Donaghy and Suzanne Bertish headed the cast at the time, and I had very high expectations of this show, but sadly they weren’t met. Row S of the Garrick stalls is an awful long way away from the stage and I never really felt involved in the performance at all.

  1. Trainspotting – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 21st January 1997

G & J Productions’ staging of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting was a thrilling and absorbing event. Adapted and directed by Harry Gibson, who was a script reader at the Citizens Theatre Glasgow, its cast of four threw themselves into the show in all its visceral glory (and gory). Gerard Butler played Mark before going on to have a huge film career.



  1. Rambert Dance Company Spring Tour – Apollo Theatre, Oxford, 13th February 1997

Only three months had elapsed since we’d last seen Rambert, but we were determined to go back for another treat, primarily so that we could see Rooster again! First up was Kim Brandstrup’s Eidolon, which we had seen in October; then it was Christopher Bruce’s Stream, which I remember was stunning – Steven Brett heading up a remarkable physical presentation of amassing water; and it all ended up with Bruce’s indefatigable Rooster, and a magnificent performance from a group of people who were born to dance it. The amazing company included Simon Cooper, Steven Brett, Rafael Bonachela, Didy Veldman, Glenn Wilkinson, Vincent Redmon, Marie-Laure Agrapart, Hope Muir, Paul Liburd and Sheron Wray.

  1. Dance Bites – The Royal Ballet at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 8th March 1997

Another visit from the Royal Ballet, and another stunning programme. Starting with Figure in Progress, choreographed by Cathy Marston, then the quirky and funny Cry Baby Kreisler, choreographed by Matthew Hart and danced by Gillian Revie and Jonathan Cope; then Room of Cooks, with music by Orlando Gough, choreography by Ashley Page and featuring Adam Cooper. After the first interval, we had Pavane pour une Infante Defunte, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and danced immaculately by Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope. Then it was William Tuckett’s The Magpie’s Tower, before another interval which led into Tom Sapsford’s All Nighter and finally Ashley Page’s Ebony Concerto. It was such a privilege to see.

  1. Absent Friends – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 10th March 1997

I don’t normally include plays I’d seen before in these blogs, but this very enjoyable production of Alan Ayckbourn’s cringe-making play about people pussyfooting around confronting the reality of a bereavement was the first play I saw by myself when I was just 15 in 1976. So I was keen to see it again as an adult, and it certainly came up trumps. The excellent cast included Shirley Anne Field, Peter Blake and David Janson, who directed it.

  1. Bound to Please – DV8 Dance Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 3rd April 1997

Our next production was more dance at the Wycombe Swan in the shape of DV8’s Bound to Please. DV8 had built a reputation of strong and challenging dance narratives and I was keen to see them for myself. The production was notable for the graceful and bold presence of a naked Ms Diana Payne-Myers (at the time 67 years of age) dancing with wonderful control as a beacon of calm against the harshness of the narrative, which involved Wendy Houstoun challenging the audience directly at the curtain call (rather unsubtly I felt, but it was interesting to witness – and it was part of the script!)

  1. A Passionate Woman – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 10th April 1997

Ned Sherrin’s production of Kay Mellor’s hard-hitting comedy had a great performance by Stephanie Cole in the main role, but I remember the matinee performance being rather ruined by an audience member’s hearing aid constantly whistling at high reverberation throughout the whole of the first act. That’s what happens in live theatre! I believe this went on to enjoy a West End run.

  1. Charles Dickens’ Hard Times – Good Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 14th April 1997

Dennis Saunders’ adaptation of Dickens’ grimy and gritty novel had a great cast led by Philip Madoc and Fenella Fielding. Director Sue Pomeroy was Artistic Director of Good Company who adapted many classic novels into plays – not always to great acclaim. I can’t remember how good this production was!

  1. Forty Years On – Mobil Touring Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 22nd April 1997

For my birthday treat we saw this superb revival of Alan Bennett’s brilliant play set in a boy’s school where the lads are having to perform a pageant. Tony Britton was on cracking form as the Headmaster, with Christopher Timothy and Tony Robinson also in the cast. It includes one of my favourite joke lines from a play; when the Headmaster is leading morning prayers in Assembly, he is interrupted and loses his place. When he finally comes back to his text, he resumes, “now, as I was praying…” Lovely stuff from Bennett. One of the boys was played by Steven Kynman, who today is the voice of Bob the Builder.

Yet More Theatre Reminiscences – November 1977 to February 1978

Not finished yet – decades still to go!

  1. Shut Your Eyes and Think of England – Apollo Theatre, London, 2nd December 1977.

image(443)image(444)With another of those classic sex comedy titles, I hoped this would be a rival to No Sex Please We’re British. But sadly it fell far short of that achievement. Written by No Sex Please’s Anthony Marriott and Ray Cooney’s writing partner John Chapman, this saucy but not-that-funny farce had much to commend it in the cast – Donald Sinden, Frank Thornton, Jan Holden, Madeline Smith, and many more – but you always know that when a comedy involves a Sheik you’re on dicey ground. Amusing, but distasteful in a way better examples of genre managed to avoid, and essentially disappointing.

  1. The Comedy of Errors – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, 21st December 1977.

image(448)A very memorable theatrical experience for me and one I still frequently relive by watching the DVD that you can easily buy today! Trevor Nunn’s production featured music by Guy Woolfenden and had a cast to die for. Judi Dench, Roger Rees, Michael Williams, Mike Gwilym and John Woodvine all on cracking form, and a terrific supporting performance from a young Richard Griffiths, whom we would not let leave the stage at curtain call, until he made a I need a drink hand gesture to us all. The characterisations are spot-on, the vigour and dynamics are electric, the songs tuneful and memorable, and I still hold it as my second favourite theatre production of all time.

image(449)I saw this show by myself, shortly before Christmas, and I was anxious. Maybe it was because I had just left school, with my university place secured, so I told myself I was now an adult (although I was still 17), I don’t know. I was having panic attacks. I needed to go to the toilet about three times before it started, so that I knew I couldn’t possibly be caught short. I was breathing deliberately in case I forgot to breathe (yes, I know. It was teenage anxiety). I had a front row seat so I knew that if anything were to go wrong, like having a surprise heart attack, I would be very visible and everyone would look at me. But when the magic of the show kicked in, all my anxieties were forgotten, and I’ve never had that level of pre-theatre nerves since. Plus, at the end of the show, the cast shook hands with the front row! So I got to shake hands with Judi Dench and Mike Gwilym, whose early retirement from the stage remains a complete mystery to me – he was terrific. A profoundly wonderful show.

  1. The Guardsman – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 24th January 1978.

image(437) image(438)I stayed with my Nan in her flat in London, near Manor House tube station, for a week of independent London sightseeing, and during that week saw a couple of shows at the National, both with my friend Robin. First was this adaptation of Molnar’s The Guardsman by Frank Marcus. My prime reason for going was to see Diana Rigg on stage for the first time, but the production also had terrific names such as Richard Johnson, a young Brenda Blethyn, and David Schofield. Enormously entertaining, with the cast on great form.

  1. The Country Wife – Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, 26th January 1978.

image(439)This was the first time I’d seen a professional production of a Restoration Comedy (at school they had done a production of Vanbrugh’s The Relapse which I enjoyed a lot) so I thought I should dip my toes further into the Restoration pool. And it was an excellent dipping. Horner was played by Albert Finney, in whom I was still in awe after his Hamlet from two years previously. image(440)The cast also included notables such as Robin Bailey, Kenneth Cranham and Ben Kingsley, would you believe. But the performance that both Rob and I enjoyed the most was from Elizabeth Spriggs as Lady Fidget, a delightfully pompous yet soft-centred and vulnerable characterisation. Another great night at the National.


  1. An Inspector Calls – Shaw Theatre, London, 1st February 1978.

image(441)J B Priestley’s enduring time play was given a heavy, portentous and thoroughly traditional production by James Roose-Evans in the atmosphere-less Shaw Theatre. I’d seen the play on TV before but was disappointed by how leaden this evening was. This was the first of four shows that I saw with my friend Sandra, in the hope that something might kindle from the experience. It didn’t.


  1. The Point – Mermaid Theatre, London, 8th February 1978.

image(427)image(428)Harry Nilsson’s children’s musical was given a fun and upbeat treatment, and starred two of my favourite people from my childhood, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz from The Monkees. To be honest, the show was a bit of a slog at times, but its light-heartedness kept it afloat. The King was played by Noel Howlett who used to be Headmaster in TV’s Please Sir. Enjoyable, but essentially for kids.

  1. Privates on Parade – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Piccadilly Theatre, London, 10th February 1978.

image(431)A classic amongst productions. Peter Nichols’ brilliant comedy play mixed with Denis King’s fantastic musical pastiches remains one of the best nights out in the theatre you can get. Denis Quilley’s Acting Captain Terri Dennis was such an amazing characterisation, but you also had Nigel Hawthorne’s wonderfully stuffy Christian Major Flack for balance. Moving, hilarious, musical and thought-provoking, this show had/has it all. And I am still very likely to break out into some of the songs from this show. Mr Quilley’s Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward, Vera Lynn, Carmen Miranda and Bud Flanagan had to be seen to be believed, but the entire, sensational cast were on fire.


  1. The Lady from Maxim’s – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, 17th February 1978.

image(433)This Feydeau farce was given a new translation and treatment by John Mortimer, image(434)and had a stonkingly good cast led by Stephen Moore, with Edward Hardwicke, Sara Kestelman, Michael Bryant and Ruth Kettlewell. I regret that I can’t remember that much about it, but I know I enjoyed it.



  1. An Evening with Quentin Crisp – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, February 1978.


I went to see this with my friend Mark who thought that in years to come it would be a talking-point that he had met The Naked Civil Servant himself. I have a few memories of the evening; the first half was Mr Crisp delivering a comedy lecture about himself, and then in the interval, audience members could write down any questions they had for him which he would answer in the second half. Also, during the interval, you could queue up to get his autograph in the bar – which we both duly did. It was all very civilised and gently amusing.


The only question I remember from the audience was “where did you get that shirt?” which Mr Crisp was rather nonplussed by. We were in the circle – it might even have been the upper circle – and I remember there was a large party of young men in the row behind us who were hooting with laughter at everything Mr Crisp said; they had a wonderful night. I looked at them a couple of times and recognised the man in the middle of the group, who was obviously the ringleader. It was a young Christopher Biggins.


  1. Cause Célèbre – Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, 27th February 1978.

image(454)There were two cause célèbres on offer; the first, the story of the trial of Alma Rattenbury for the murder of her lover, and the second, the fact that Terence Rattigan had penned a new play, but that he had died before it reached the stage. I remember this as a riveting play – the first time I had seen a courtroom drama and you should never underestimate how exciting they can be. image(456)Glynis Johns was superb as Alma Rattenbury, and Lee Montague and Bernard Archard were fantastic as the opposing barristers. Further down the cast list was a relatively unknown Sheila Grant. A gripping night at the theatre.


Thanks for joining me for these theatrical memories. On Monday, it’s back to the holiday snaps and F is for France, and a day in St Tropez in 2013. Stay safe!