More theatre memories? More, you say? July to December 1998

  1. The Real Inspector Hound and Black Comedy – Comedy Theatre, London, 18th July 1998

A fantastic double bill of one act comedies written by masters of the genre when they were at their freshest and funniest. Stoppard’s Real Inspector Hound involves two theatre critics watching a whodunit when one of them bizarrely gets physically involved as a character in the play; Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy is a comedy of errors (literally) when a fuse goes and plunges a group of people into darkness – yet of course, that’s the moment the stage lights go on and we see the confusion. Greg Doran’s brilliant production for the Yvonne Arnaud theatre had transferred to the Comedy for a season, and starred David Tennant, Nichola McAuliffe, Anna Chancellor, Gary Waldhorn and Desmond Barritt. We were in hysterics.

  1. Prom No 71 – BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London, 10th September 1998

Passing over that year’s Pendley Festival production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, our next show was in fact a concert – and the first time that I’d a) been to a Prom and b) been inside the Royal Albert Hall. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, together with the BBC National Chorus of Wales, conducted by Mark Elder and with Valdine Anderson, soprano, tackled a very entertaining programme. First was Stravinsky’s Scherzo Fantastique, then came Szymanowski’s Songs of a Fairy tale Princess and then Debussy’s Jeux. After the interval we were treated to a magnificent performance of Holst’s Planets. I was really excited to see my first Prom and have continued to enjoy classical concerts much more ever since.

  1. Explosive Dance – Royal Albert Hall, London, 15th September 1998

We were back at the Albert Hall the following week to see a dance extravaganza in aid of the Red Cross’s anti-personnel Landmines Campaign, dedicated to the late Diana, Princess of Wales. This was a very expensive show and we could only afford the cheapest seats which were way up in the gods. The view was so poor and distant that there was, frankly, little point in our being there.

It was an incredible line-up though, starting with a sequence from the line dancing show Bootscoot, Tamara Rojo and Dmitri Gruzdyev from the English National Ballet with a scene from Don Quixote, Antonio Marquez and Dancers, Antonia Franceschi and Matthew Hart dancing to Cry Baby Kreisler (that we had seen at a Dance Bites show in 1997), Deborah Bull and Ashley Page from the Royal Ballet dancing Walk and Talk; the Jiving Lindy Hoppers, Viviana Durante and Irek Mukhamedov from the Royal Ballet with a pas de deux from Manon; Club Salsa, A scene from AMP’s Swan Lake with Adam Cooper and Scott Ambler; Wayne Sleep and Dancers with Chaplin, Darcey Bussell and Igor Zelensky from the Royal Ballet with a pas de deux from Le Corsaire, and finally highlights from Riverdance. All types of dance were there, and it was a brilliant show – at least, it would have been, if we could have seen it properly!

  1. Richard Alston Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 8th October 1998

This was our first ever visit to a programme of dance performed by the Richard Alston Dance Company, who would go on to be one of our topmost favourite companies for over twenty years. Little did we know! The first dance was Brisk Singing, to music by Rameau, then we saw Light Flooding into Darkened Rooms, and finally Rumours, Visions set to music by Benjamin Britten. Leading the company was the fantastic Martin Lawrance, and all the pieces were choreographed by Richard Alston. The start of a long dance love affair!

  1. Things we do for Love – Duchess Theatre, London, 12th October 1998

Always interested to see a new Alan Ayckbourn comedy, but I confess the details of this one are a little hazy. An engaged couple move in with one of their old school friends, with disastrous consequences. An excellent cast was led by Belinda Lang and Alexander Hanson.

  1. Good Grief – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 16th October 1998

Penelope Keith starred in this new play by Keith Waterhouse, adapted from his original novel of the same name. It’s about the fallout after June Pepper (Ms Keith)’s husband, a gritty no-nonsense newspaper editor, dies. I’m afraid I can’t remember much about it. The excellent cast also featured Christopher Godwin and David Firth.

  1. Popcorn – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 12th November 1998

Another play that had been adapted from an earlier novel, Ben Elton’s farcical Reservoir Dogs-style story about murderers and stationery was well directed by Laurence Boswell, with a cast that included John Bowler, Paul Brennan and Liza Sadovy. Again, my memories are scant but I do know that we enjoyed it a lot.

  1. Rambert Dance Company Autumn Programme – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 3rd December 1998

A great programme here combining some new exciting work with an old favourite. First up was Three Gone, Four Left Standing, choreographed, lit, and with costumes by Rafael Bonachela; then we saw Jiri Kylian’s No More Play. After the first interval we saw Christopher Bruce’s Four Scenes, and then at the end it was the crowd-pleasing Axioma 7, choreographed by Ohad Naharin and with the full cast of dancers. This amazing team included so many of my favourite dancers: Laurent Cavanna, Marie Laure Agrapart, Paul Liburd, Hope Muir, Rafael Bonachela, Glenn Wilkinson, Matthew Hart, Vincent Redmon, Christopher Powney and Simon Cooper.

  1. Alarms and Excursions – Gielgud Theatre, London, 11th December 1998

For Mrs C’s birthday treat we saw this highly entertaining show written by Michael Frayn and described as “more plays than one”. Although the critics didn’t think much of it, we loved it, and also thought the cast – Felicity Kendal, Nicky Henson, Josie Lawrence and Robert Bathurst – were terrific. We still laugh at the memory of Ms Kendal at a business conference struggling to hold her briefcase, her coffee and her notes. Very funny.

  1. The Invention of Love – Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, 30th December 1998

The excellent John Wood led the cast as A E Housman in this hugely successful National Theatre production, that won the Evening Standard award for Best Play and had already been running for over a year in the West End. It also featured the excellent John Carlisle and David Ryall, and featured a young Kris Marshall low down the cast list. Not too many memories of it, I must confess, but it sounds good!

Review – Miss Julie / Black Comedy, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, 2nd August 2014

Miss Julie & Black ComedyFor many years Mrs Chrisparkle and I have paid an annual pilgrimage to Chichester, invariably seeing a play at the Minerva in the afternoon and in the Festival Theatre in the evening. This year, it only took one look at the summer schedule to realise that one visit would not be enough. So for 2014 we are having three trips to Chichester – and this was the first!

Rosalie CraigConsidering when I were a lad I did post-graduate research at London University into the effects of the withdrawal of Stage Censorship in 1968, it’s an outrageous confession that I have to make: I’ve never seen a production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie before. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I’d even read it. I devoured Ibsen as a teenager, but for some reason Strindberg was never on the same menu. This new Chichester production was therefore a golden opportunity to put that right. Although it was written in 1888, and despite several attempts from producers to stage it, it didn’t get a licence for a public performance in Britain until 1938. Even then, the censor insisted the word “whore” be replaced with “filth”. But the Lord Chamberlain’s Office couldn’t hold the tidal wave of literary appreciation for this play back any more: “The play may disgust some, but it can corrupt nobody. No footman nor chauffeur need fear the more for his virtue for its passing, not society disintegrate in one glorious orgy in the servants’ hall”. That must have been a relief.

Shaun EvansSo what is (or was) so shocking about this play? Miss Julie comes from noble stock but she acts like a guttersnipe. Her one desire is to seduce the valet Jean, to steal him from under the nose of his virtuous fiancée Kristin. Once she is “maiden no more” the character of Jean changes somewhat. He manipulates Miss Julie to steal money from her father so they can run away to start a hotel together; you can see his cruelty in the “beheading the bird” scene. Once her courage goes and she realises she has no alternative but to end it all, Jean encourages her to slit her throat with a shaving razor. It’s true – it’s not what you’d call a “nice” play. But it’s very powerful – and Rebecca Lenkiewicz’ new version is a rivetingly disturbing watch, even allowing for its wry treatment of the few passages of dark humour.

Emma HandyAndrew D Edwards’ excellent set is very naturalistic (as it should be for Strindberg), with a decent kitchen table and a proper working sink, but otherwise quite bare and comfortless; and Jamie Glover’s direction is taut and tense, letting the words do the work. Rosalie Craig is a very convincing Miss Julie – bewitchingly seductive with more than a touch of the dominatrix in the way she abuses her position of authority. You can just imagine her with her ex-fiancé, her insisting that he jump over her riding whip – you really wouldn’t want to mess with her. But as her plans fall apart she shows great vulnerability too, and the final scene, when she is completely trapped in the web of her own making, is very moving. Shaun Evans (who I’ve only ever seen before as TV’s Endeavour), plays Jean as a great manipulator; very calculating, very deliberate, innately violent – very much the fire with which Miss Julie plays and gets burned. There’s also a superb performance by Emma Handy as Kristin, the cook; a realist who knows she cannot compete with Miss Julie for Jean’s attentions, whether it be because of status or vivacity. It’s a very intense one hour twenty minutes, demanding your full attention but rewarding you with powerful story-telling and a fine production.

Robyn AddisonYou probably couldn’t have a greater contrast for the second of the two one-act plays, even though both deal with infidelity. Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy first appeared in 1965, also at Chichester, with Derek Jacobi as Brindsley and Maggie Smith as Clea. Kenneth Tynan had commissioned the play to be produced by the National Theatre together with a revival of – you guessed it – Miss Julie; so this double-bill could only have been more appropriate had it happened next year as a 50th anniversary production. If you don’t already know – it’s the simple story of Brindsley, an aspiring but impoverished artist, and his squeaky-voiced girlfriend Carol,Jonathan Coy hosting a small party in order to impress a) millionaire art collector Bamberger who just might buy one of Brindsley’s pieces and b) Carol’s blusterful military Colonel father in the hope he will approve of their marriage. To give the flat a more artistic flair, they temporarily nick furniture and antiques from their prissy neighbour Harold (who’s away for the weekend, and who would never let anyone else touch his prize objects). Just before the Colonel and the millionaire are due to show up, a fuse goes, and the flat is plunged into darkness.

Mike GradyOr into light, as it happens, as the whole play is presented the other way round. When they have no power and cannot see, the stage is lit; when the electricity is working and everyone acts normally, the stage is dark. Matches and torches get struck and are switched on, at which time the stage is half-lit. It’s a very inventive construct. Cue for a hilarious farce, with a barking Colonel, a batty old lady, an unexpectedly returned prissy neighbour, an even more unexpectedly returned ex-girlfriend, and a perfect case of mistaken identity between the millionaire art collector and the man from the London Electricity Board. It’s one of those farces where you have to keep your teeth permanently clenched and you peer at the stage between gaps in your crossed hands, so cringe-making are the scrapes that our hero digs himself into. At one stage the elderly lady seated to my left was laughing so much she had to grab hold of my arm to steady herself. It really is an extraordinarily funny play and is given a deliciously funny production, with some great performances and fantastic comic business.

Samuel DuttonAt the heart of it is a brilliantly physical performance by Paul Ready as Brindsley, tripping over carpets, bumping on his arse all the way down the stairs, walking into doorframes and generally wreaking havoc for an hour or so. However, I think the two supreme comic moments were when Jonathan Coy (always an asset to an comedy cast) as the Colonel, sat down on the replacement rocking chair, and Samuel Dutton, as the diminutive Bamberger, “discovered” the cellar. There’s a lovely performance by Marcia Warren as Miss Furnival, who’s played baffled old ladies as long as I can remember, discovering the drinks cabinet for herself; and also excellent support from Robyn Addison as posh totty Carol, whose sweetness turns sour on encountering her rival, and comedy stalwart Mike Grady Paul Readyas the Germanic and artistically enlightened Schuppanzigh. Also taking part from the Miss Julie cast are Shaun Evans as Harold, brimming with tart petulance when he discovers that Brindsley’s been seeing other women, and Rosalie Craig as a thoroughly unpredictable and sparky Clea, intent on making the situation as bad for Brindsley as possible. The cast work together seamlessly to create a great ensemble performance – and the audience loved it. The whole double bill forms a splendidly enjoyable production, balancing out harsh tragedy with uproarious farce. One more week to go – it closes on 9th August.

Marcia WarrenP. S. Mrs C and I thought we would try the Minerva Brasserie for a pre-theatre lunch. What a good idea that was! Three fantastic courses and some cheese, and a top bottle of Chablis, perfectly chilled, all served with a friendly politeness and in a very comfortable setting too. There’s excellent provision for coeliacs too, with plenty of gluten-free choices, including unexpected g-f bread to accompany the cheese, which Mrs C said was really yummy. We’ll certainly be doing that again!