Hey! Let’s have some Theatre Memories! January 1988 to February 1990

This is when we started to go to the theatre less regularly – real life and poverty got in the way!

  1. A View from the Bridge – National Theatre Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, 2nd January 1988

A view from the bridgeThe National Theatre’s magnificent production of arguably Arthur Miller’s best play had transferred to the Aldwych and we were both mesmerised by it. Directed by Alan Ayckbourn at the peak of his directorial powers, and with an amazing central performance by Michael Gambon as Eddie Carbone, this was one of those nights at the theatre that stays with you for the rest of your life.

  1. Dangerous Obsession – Fortune Theatre, London, March 1988

N J Crisp’s unnerving psychological thriller of stalking menace had transferred from the Apollo Theatre and enjoyed a good little run. Dinsdale Landen was excellent in the lead role, and I remember it sent us away entertained but certain to make sure our doors were locked when we went to bed. This was the last show we saw before we got married – and we took my brothers-in-law-to-be along for the ride!

  1. Follies – Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 5th April 1988

We took the full family of newly acquired in-laws to see this fantastic production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical directed by Mike Ockrent. We were really looking forward to seeing Diana Rigg, and have to confess a little disappointment on the night when she was indisposed; nevertheless a great show, with Julia McKenzie, Daniel Massey and David Healy at the top of their games. The full cast list read like an evening of 1960s light entertainment television, with Leonard Sachs, Lynda Baron, Dolores Gray, Adele Leigh, and Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson. A great cast album too!

  1. Hapgood – Aldwych Theatre, London, 9th April 1988

We took my brother-in-law Barry to see Tom Stoppard’s latest play (before the whole family went back to Australia), and it was a clever, thought-provoking and cerebral experience, as is often the case with Stoppard, but fortunately one with some human connection – which isn’t always the case! Apparently, it was considered an artistic failure and had to be significantly revised for its New York premiere – but we really enjoyed it. The fantastic cast starred Iain Glen, Roger Rees, Felicity Kendal and Nigel Hawthorne – plus American soul singer Al Matthews!

  1. Les Liaisons Dangereuses – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Ambassadors Theatre, London, 12th October 1988

We were late to the party with this famous and hugely successful production, that had already been running for two years at the Ambassadors, having transferred from Stratford. Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Laclos’s novel had won a raft of awards, so when we finally got around to seeing it, we had big expectations. But despite the best efforts of Greg Hicks and Venetia Barrett in the cast, for me it fell rather flat, and at two- and three-quarter hours, very long. Maybe I was expecting the liaisons to be more dangereuses than they were.

  1. Blood Brothers – Albery Theatre, London, 15th October 1988

Willy Russell’s legendary musical captured our hearts and imaginations more that I could possibly have expected. With its gripping melodramatic structure, and its themes of fatalism and nature versus nurture, it’s one of the finest productions ever to grace a stage. We were lucky to see this dream team cast of Kiki Dee as Mrs Johnstone, Con O’Neill as Mickey, Robert Locke as Eddie, and Warwick Evans as the Narrator. Even today, you can’t put shoes on the table, and whenever you think of something as being just a sign of the times, you can’t resist but add Miss Jones into your musical equation. We saw it three times over the next thirty years – so, not an extravagant number of revisits – but this was the best of them all.

  1. How the Other Half Loves – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 28th October 1988

A delightful revival of this early Ayckbourn comedy, directed by Alan Strachan, that shows the promise of all his later dark side to come, whilst stressing the hilarious farcical elements. Extremely funny all round, with a cast led by Christopher Benjamin and Gabrielle Drake.

  1. Easy Virtue – Garrick Theatre, London, 10th December 1988

To mark Mrs C’s birthday, we caught this revival of a less well-known Noel Coward caper, originally produced in 1925, directed by Tim Luscombe. The life and loves of an older lady come to life in this early play, and we really enjoyed it. The cast was led by the excellent Jane How, together with Zena Walker and favourite actor Ronnie Stevens.

  1. A Flea in her Ear – The Old Vic, London, August 1989

Moving past a touring production of Evita at the Apollo Oxford, with Jacqui Scott as Eva, and a gig by the one and only Monkees at the same theatre on the same night as our first anniversary, our next show was a production of the classic Feydeau farce, La Puce à l’oreille, dating from 1907. Translated by John Mortimer, Jim Broadbent played the central character of Victor Emmanuel, who also doubles up as the shady hotel porter. The excellent cast also featured Roger Lloyd Pack and Linda Marlowe. Much enjoyed!

  1. Exchange – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 24th February 1990

We saw this at a very hard-working and stressful time in our lives – somehow we must have managed to sneak a Saturday away with the Dowager Mrs C, I have no idea how. It doesn’t surprise me, although it disappoints me, that I have not one tiny recollection of this production! Exchange was a new translation by Michael Frayn of Yuri Trifonov’s 1976 play that, at the time, had not been out of repertoire in Moscow since it was written. It’s a slice of Moscow life – and I still can’t remember a thing about it. Martin Jarvis, Rosalind Ayres, Noreen Mantle, Gabrielle Lloyd and Zena Walker graced the cast. I’m sure they were good.

Review – Blood Brothers, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 6th November 2017

Blood BrothersI remember hearing a broadcast on Radio 3 once (I know, get me) where the announcer was introducing a performance of Handel’s Water Music. The question arose: why do we have to hear Handel’s Water Music again, it’s so commonplace and everyone knows it, let’s hear something more experimental? The announcer’s response? “Just remember, every time Handel’s Water Music is played, some young person is hearing it for the first time, and what a beautiful moment that is for them”. That’s so true, and it’s the same with Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers. It’s been around since the early 80s and hardly ever stops touring in some guise or other; surely we’ve had enough of it now? For the answer to that, gentle reader, you only had to hear the shocked gasps from (I would guess) at least half the packed audience at the Derngate on Monday night to tell you that every time a performance of Blood Brothers takes place, someone sees it for the first time; and what emotional nourishment it provides.

Blood-Brothers-group-shotThis was the third time we’ve seen it, and it’s been too long a gap. Our first experience was at the Albery (now Noel Coward) theatre in 1988, with Kiki Dee as Mrs Johnstone and Con O’Neill as Mickey. Our second was in 1995, at the Apollo (now back to being called the New) in Oxford, with Clodagh Rodgers as Mrs J and David Cassidy (yes, the David Cassidy) as Mickey. Of course, the first production had Barbara Dickson in the role; and this current touring version stars Lyn Paul. Honestly, where would Mrs Johnstone be without great recording stars of the 1970s?!

Each Mrs J has her own unique characterisation and approach. Kiki Dee was punchy and aggressive, a true fighter. Clodagh Rodgers had a faux-refinement and aspirations to sophistication which meant she had further to fall at the end. Lyn Paul’s Mrs J is running on empty from the start, with dreary memories of her wretch of an ex-husband, exhausted from looking after all those kids and genuinely despairing at the prospect of another two mouths to feed. By the time the show ends, Ms Paul has wrung all her emotions out and is a defeated husk. That’s probably an extremely realistic interpretation.

sean jonesThis show has always had a special place in our hearts, especially Mrs Chrisparkle’s, as, at the age of five, she, along with her parents and brothers, were rehoused from their flat above Fazakerley Post Office, to 65 Skelmersdale Lane – or at least Flamstead, in Skem. Just like the Johnstones, she remembers the green fields, and the fresh air, and so much space everywhere. Away from the muck and the dirt and the bloody trouble, it really was a Bright New Day for everyone.

Dean ChisnallLooking back now, from the viewpoint of today’s 21st century national austerity, to the strikes, unemployment and poverty of the 1980s, nothing much seems to have changed. After Miss Jones was dismissed from her job, despite being a perfect poppet, as just another sign of the times, I don’t suppose she got another job. The only difference today is that today’s Mr Lyons will be creating his own dismissal letters on Word rather than dictating them to a fetching young secretary. That’s progress. And a wealthy upbringing and education is still much more likely to lead to a successful career than playing on the street, being cheeky with your teacher and becoming factory fodder – or today’s equivalent, zero hours contracts in the gig economy. That’s life, but it’s not progress. The essence of the show is to hold up a mirror of nature against nurture, and value kindness, decency, and friendship. In our land of postcode lotteries, where health, benefits and education can depend on which side of the road you live on, that question why did you give me away, I could have been him? seems more relevant than ever today.

I was very struck this time by how the story is completely infused with elements of superstition all the way through. From the portentous saying that if twins separated at birth learn that they were once one of a pair they will both immediately die, to Mrs Johnstone’s horror at seeing new shoes on the table, to looking a magpie in the eye, to the kids’ games where you can get up again if you cross your fingers, folklore and fear rules the roost. I’d always realised it was heavily melodramatic, starting with the end tableau (although a little more stylised than I’ve seen before), so you know there’s never going to be a happy ending. The gloomy, menacing presence of the Narrator is a constant threat and intrusion on their lives, coming right up close to the characters, like a perpetual harbinger of doom, a bad dream that unsettles and disturbs their waking hours. There is light and shade in this show, but shade wins every time.

Danielle CorlassThe performances are superb throughout. I must confess that, at first, I was not entirely sure about Lyn Paul’s presentation of Mrs Johnstone. Her Mrs J is already thoroughly exhausted by everything that life has thrown at her right at the start of the show, and a vital spark was lacking. But as the show developed, I could see that her quiet, serious portrayal was absolutely correct to the character. And what a voice! It’s so powerful, yet so pure; and so perfectly suited to Willy Russell’s amazing lyrics and melodies. It’s a really wonderful performance.

I was also very impressed with Sean Jones’ Mickey. It’s a role with so many elements and so vital to the success of the show. Willy Russell requires us to love Mickey right from the very start – and we do. Thoroughly believable as that irrepressible eight year old, seeing how high he can spit in the air, never going anywhere without his imaginary horse; then the easily embarrassed teenager at a dirty movie, ashamed of his pubescent body; the enthusiastic young worker, doing the overtime and planning on spending it on great Christmas parties; and then, when the harsh reality of life kicks in, the aggressive, jealous Mickey who realises that his life will lack the texture and depth of his best friend’s; and the broken Mickey relying on medication to keep his brain from dancing. Only Five Ages of Man for Mickey as he dies so young, but Sean Jones nails them all absolutely. We’d all like to have a best friend like Mickey – the younger one, that is; someone who makes you laugh, someone who’ll always be on your side; but isn’t a goody-two-shoes either. No wonder the audience is devastated at the end.

Sarah Jane BuckleyIt’s very difficult to portray the eight-year-old Eddie effectively; he’s so posh and innocent, and so different from Mickey that our instant reaction is to mock him rather than side with him. I thought that Mark Hutchinson’s characterisation of him was so wet, and so soft, that it was very unlikely that Mickey would have taken to him. However, once he becomes Eddie the teenager, that’s when he comes into his own. Shag the vicar! Eddie has one of the most telling songs in the show, the restrained and delicate I’m Not Saying a Word, and I really enjoyed Mr Hutchinson’s performance. One character whom in previous productions I’ve always thought of as a bit of an irritant and easily ignored, is Mrs Lyons, but in this production Sarah Jane Buckley gives such a tremendous performance that she is also equally vital to the success of the show. She brings out all the character’s fears and weaknesses; and you readily agree with the diagnosis of others that she probably needs mental health treatment. Ms Buckley also has an amazing voice and is a true credit to the production.

danny-taylor-sammy-sean-jones-mickeyDanielle Corlass’ Linda develops very believably from a squeaky but spirited little girl into a teenager with a massive crush on Mickey, and then into a smart and positive young woman – a very good performance. Dean Chisnall is the least Scouse Narrator I’ve seen (singing “you know the devil’s got your number” and not “nombare”) but has a strong stage presence and great singing voice; and Daniel Taylor’s Sammy, who was always a bad lot, turns that childhood bully into an adult hoodlum with sadly predictable authenticity.

lyn-paulThat massive gasp of shock when the brothers died at the end said it all. The audience were so enthralled and wrapped up in what was going on that they couldn’t keep their emotions in. It’s an excellent production of a staggeringly good show, among the very best musicals of all time. It’s enjoying a week at the Royal and Derngate, before continuing its tour to Nottingham, Sunderland, Bath, Belfast, Weston-super-Mare, Aylesbury, Darlington, Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Rhyl, Carlisle, Barnstaple, Truro, Wolverhampton, Ipswich, Southampton and reaching Manchester in the middle of May. I can’t recommend it too strongly but do book early because everyone else will!