Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Birmingham Hippodrome, 8th November 2008
We saw the Trocks’ 2008/9 UK tour twice – the first time at the Birmingham Hippodrome – with the classic programme of Swan Lake Act II, Le Grand Pas de Quatre and Paquita, as well as the surprise pas de deux and the Dying Swan. For Swan Lake, the wonderful Lariska Dumbchenko was our Odette, Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow our Siegfried, and Yuri Smirnov our von Rothbart. Always a joy! It was at this performance that I bought a poster that still graces my study wall!
Noises Off – Milton Keynes Theatre, 15th November 2008
This touring production of Michael Frayn’s brilliant Noises Off was fantastic as always, with a terrific turn by Jonathan Coy as Lloyd and also featuring Colin Baker as Selsdon and Maggie Steed as Dotty. Never gets old.
Hamlet – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Novello Theatre, London, 15th December 2008
The hugely successful and hot ticket production of Hamlet starring David Tennant as the Dane – and in which the majority of the audiences saw Edward Bennett in the role (as we did) because David Tennant injured his back. Always worth pointing out that you should never book a show purely on the strength of a star performer (but of course we always do.) The main thing that arose from this Gregory Doran production was what a star Mr Bennett is, taking over the role at very short notice and making a massive career move out it. A great show, certainly helped by Patrick Stewart playing Claudius, Oliver Ford Davies as Polonius, and John Woodvine as the Player King.
Cinderella – Derngate Auditorium, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 26th December 2008
By now we had moved to Northampton, and our first taste of our local theatre was a big family Boxing Day trip to see its panto, Cinderella, starring Jimmy Osmond as Buttons. Not sure what expectations I had, but Jimmy Osmond is pure heart on stage – a true Mr Entertainer and he made the show go with an absolute swing. Superbly enjoyable.
A Little Night Music – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 28th December 2008
Trevor Nunn directed this beautifully intimate production of A Little Night Music, with so many star turns among the cast that it was hard to keep up. Hannah Waddingham was terrific as Desiree, but it also had Alexander Hanson as Fredrik, Maureen Lipman as Madame Armfeld, Jessie Buckley as Anne, Kaisa Hammarlund as Petra and Gabriel Vick as Henrik. The perfect post-Christmas treat. Superb.
Sleeping Beauty – The Theatre, Chipping Norton, 8th January 2009
To date our only trip to the charming little theatre at Chippy, this version of Sleeping Beauty was written by Graeme Garden. But the main reason for going was so that we could see our friend, Eurovision’s Dame Nicki French, appearing as Queen Jenny. An intimate theatre that produces a great vibe and the panto was enormous fun.
King Lear – Young Vic, London, 28th February 2009
We bought tickets to see this on hearing about Pete Postlethwaite’s amazing performance as Lear; it’s still thought of as one of the best Lears in modern memory. To be honest, I wasn’t that keen. Rather a sparse production that I felt lacked gravitas. But I was in the minority!
The New Yorkers – Lost Musicals at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, London, 5th April 2009
Passing over our second visit to the Trocks this season, this time at the Milton Keynes Theatre, with exactly the same programme, our next show was another of Ian Marshall Fisher’s wonderful resurrections of an old lost musical – Cole Porter and Herbert Fields’ The New Yorkers, a 1930 musical with one memorable song, Love for Sale. The super cast included Craige Els, Anna Francolini, Sandra Marvin, Ursula Smith and Jon Robyns. I miss those Lost Musicals shows!
Boeing Boeing – Milton Keynes Theatre, 10th April 2009
Breaking my usual rule about not repeating productions here that I’d already seen, I have to include this touring version of Boeing Boeing that we had seen in London two years earlier, simply because it was just so fantastically good. Interestingly it starred the real life Marquez brothers, Martin as Bernard and John as Robert, and also included Victoria Wood As Seen On TV’s Susie Blake as the hard-nosed maid Bertha. Sheer joy.
Rookery Nook – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 26th April 2009
Moving past the touring production of Cabaret at the Milton Keynes Theatre which we really loved until the end when Wayne Sleep dissed the entire audience by abruptly ending the curtain call (I ended up having words with Bill Kenwright himself about the matter!) our next show was the Menier’s revival of Ben Travers’ 1926 play Rookery Nook, one of the famous Aldwych Farces. It did feel dated, but then again, it was still funny, with a particularly excellent performance from Mark Hadfield as Harold Twine, the original Robertson Hare role. By now we were firmly in love with the Menier and rarely missed a show!
Omid Djalili – Oxford Playhouse, 17th January 2007
One of the very first stand-up comedy shows we ever saw, Omid Djalili was beginning to break through on TV comedy shows and I have to say that, live, he is sensational. A great night’s comedy.
Cabaret – Lyric Theatre, London, 27th January 2007
Rufus Norris’ amazing production of Kander and Ebb’s brilliant musical, that continues to tour and to influence other productions to this day. Anna Maxwell Martin proved her versatility as Miss Sally Bowles, and a very affectionate coupling of Sheila Hancock as Fraulein Schneider and Geoffrey Hutchings as Herr Schultz. James Dreyfus played Emcee and I expect he was terrific, but the night we saw it, his understudy was playing and I regret I have no note as to who that was. An excellent production.
Hay Fever – Oxford Playhouse, 24th February 2007
I had always wanted to see a production of one of Noel Coward’s earlier sparkling comedies, but sadly I have hardly any memories of this show, starring Christopher Timothy and Stephanie Beacham as the heads of the theatrical Bliss family. I’m sure it was good though!
Spiegel – Ultima Vez/Wim Vandekeybus at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 2nd March 2007
This show could have been called Wim Vandekeybus’ Greatest Hits, with excerpts from several of his previous shows forming a new work as a whole. Again, very few memories of this show, I’m afraid.
Guys and Dolls – Milton Keynes Theatre, 7th March 2007
Breaking my usual rule about not including shows I’ve seen before in these blogs, this was a very brash production of Guys and Dolls by Michael Grandage, but my memory is that it was a little underwhelming. The four big roles were played by Alex Ferns, Samantha Janus, Norman Bowman and Louise Dearman.
Equus – Gielgud Theatre, London, 17th March 2007
A really big ticket at the time – Richard Griffiths as Martin Dysart with Daniel Radcliffe as Alan Strang; and Jenny Agutter as Hesther. A terrific coupling of two amazing actors, one slowly reaching the end of his career, one blossoming at the start of his – and both known for their work on Harry Potter. Young Mr Radcliffe was still only 17 when he took on this brave role. And it was every bit the riveting show that you would imagine.
Madama Butterfly – Welsh National Opera at the Milton Keynes Theatre, March 2007
A beautiful, strong and sensitive production of Puccini’s opera – but mainly notable for me as it was the last time we took the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle to the theatre, before her dementia sadly took over. I’m delighted to say that she loved it.
Boeing Boeing – Comedy Theatre, London, 6th April 2007
Marc Camoletti’s wonderful comedy from 1962 was given a completely fresh make-over and bounded back to life in this brilliant revival by Matthew Warchus. A dream team of a cast, with Roger Allam as the Lothario Bernard, Mark Rylance as his bemused friend Robert, Frances de la Tour as the bolshie maid Bertha, and Tamzin Outhwaite, Daisy Beaumont and Michelle Gomez as the three air hostesses whom Bernard is controlling through close following of the Boeing timetables. Incredibly funny, full of beautiful period detail, and a total joy.
The Sound of Music – London Palladium, 9th April 2007
The production that followed Andrew Lloyd Webber’s TV search for a new Maria – Connie Fisher – this was a tremendous show that at times transformed the innocent Palladium into a Nazi conference with swastikas all over the auditorium – very scary and extremely effective. We went on the one night of the week that Connie Fisher didn’t perform – it was the only night that tickets were readily available – but Sophie Bould, who normally played Liesl, played Maria and she was absolutely brilliant. All this plus Lesley Garrett as the Mother Superior and Alexander Hanson as von Trapp.
Can-Can – Lost Musicals at the Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London, 15th April 2007
Another of Ian Marshall Fisher’s delvings into the back catalogue of Lost Musicals, Can Can is an old Cole Porter show brought to life in the round by the usual crowd, including James Vaughan, Stewart Permutt, Myra Sands and Valerie Cutko. Great fun as always.
And now another plunge into my early days of theatregoing. Hold tight!
11. To See Such Fun – London Palladium, 25th April 1971.
The first proper revue show I ever saw, I went with my Dad because we were both great fans of the legendary Tommy Cooper, who topped the bill, but the show also starred the great names Clive Dunn, Anita Harris and Russ Conway. What I learned from this show is that it’s acceptable to laugh hysterically – as I remember doing, from Tommy Cooper’s very first appearance to his final trick. I was so thrilled by this show – it probably remained my favourite show (I reserve the right to change my mind on that statement) until A Chorus Line came along and blew everything away for me five years later.
I only got one autograph – but that too was a memorable experience. Standing outside the Stage Door about an hour before the show started, some guy came up to us and said that if we wanted to see Tommy Cooper, he was just finishing his dinner over there – and he pointed towards a greasy spoon that is now the swish O’Neills pub on the corner of Carnaby Street and Great Marlborough Street. So we went over there, and there was the great man, sitting in front of an empty plate that had obviously contained fried eggs, baked beans and chips, signing autographs for a queue of people. I joined the queue, and he kindly signed.
12. Boeing-Boeing – Lido Theatre, Cliftonville, July 1971.
Our week’s summer holiday in 1971 was to Ramsgate – we always went to the best places. One of the shows we saw that week was Boeing-Boeing, Marc Camoletti’s 1962 comedy that refuses to go away, even though the recently planned tour was cancelled due to poor advance sales – pity, as it’s one of the finest modern farces, superbly structured and a wonderful example of bringing a lovable louse to justice. I guess it is a little dated now. But I remember this fondly. This is another example of the lesson Look After Your Programme – it rained that day and the programme got soggy so we chucked it. Nowadays I’d know to keep it under my coat! The cast featured Kenneth Connor (of the Carry On films), McDonald Hobley, who was primarily a TV presenter and continuity announcer, and Yutte Stensgaard, who I remember as being one of the hostesses on TV’s The Golden Shot and appeared in some racy horror movies in the 1970s.
13. The Toast of the Town – The Granville Ballroom, Ramsgate, July 1971.
Not the Talk of the Town – that was something far more glamorous! Sadly the Granville Ballroom was demolished in the 1980s – proof that we have to protect our live venues. I remember clearly that this little show delivered more than it promised; a hilarious cast with some great sketches, including “The Jumble Sale”, a variation of which you see frequently at pantos today – “If I were not upon the stage something else I’d rather be…” to which various performers with silly moves add their lines and end up in a deliberately choreographic mess. I remember it featured a vicar singing “nylon panties, nylon panties, look at them stretch”, a robust young lady shouting “crumpet, crumpet, come and have a nibble” and an effete young man with the lines “pansies, pansies, don’t you think they’re Oh so gay”. Not that acceptable today, but done with huge panache.
The cast were “yodelling cowboy” Ronnie Winters, Colin Beach, Sonny Day and Nola Collins, and many of them signed my programme. A little research shows that Ronnie and Nola were married, and their daughter Mandy still performs in the family tradition.
14. John Mann’s Show – Granville Theatre, Ramsgate, July 1971.
I completely draw a blank on this show I’m afraid – I have no memories of it whatsoever! No autographs either, so perhaps I wasn’t in the zone. John Mann (who retired in 2018) was on the organ, and the show also featured Roy Greenslade, Roger Smith, Ricky and Shirlie Young, and Myra Sands, whom we only saw last year in one of the Lost Musicals.
15. Moscow State Circus – Wembley Empire Pool, August 1971.
It may be odd to include this show in theatre reminiscences, but I still have the programme and also the memory of an enormously entertaining show. I’m one of those weird people who actually enjoy clowns, and Oleg Popov was the Master of the genre and I loved watching him. My other main memory of this show is that it was a matinee, due to start at 3pm, when the orchestra started the show with three musical strikes (to suggest the clock striking 3). However… for whatever reason, the show was delayed and didn’t start until about 3.20pm – nevertheless the orchestra still had to start with the three musical notes. I learned from that experience that it’s not always wise to tie down a start time that firmly!
16. Cinderella – London Palladium, 3rd January 1972.
Theatre is never an island; your own experiences and those in the theatre are inextricably linked. I say this because three days before Mum took me to see Cinderella at the Palladium, my dad died. I was 11; she was widowed at 50. In retrospect, I still don’t know whether the decision to go ahead with going to the panto was a wise one or not. It probably was, as I remember enjoying it – it provided a couple of hours of light relief at an otherwise very sad time. Much harder for my mother though, who put on her stiff upper lip throughout, but I remember looking at her from time to time and thinking she’d never looked so sad; and wondering whether it was fair of me to still ask to go to the panto despite everything.
But we did; and it was a typically glamorous and showbizzy affair. Ronnie Corbett as Buttons, Clodagh Rodgers (who’d just represented the UK at Eurovision) as Cinderella, and Terry Scott and Julian Orchard were the Ugly Sisters. Malcolm (May I Have the Next Dream with You) Roberts was Prince Charming. I got a few autographs, including David Kossoff and 1960s favourite Dorothy Dampier, but I remember the whole event being tinged with sadness.
17. Give a Dog a Bone – Westminster Theatre, January 1972.
This Christmas Show came back every year from 1964 to 1975 and the Saturday Morning Drama School that I attended had a school visit to see the show. It was written by Peter Howard, head of the Moral Re-Armament movement, and I expect it was the heavy Moral/Christian element of the story that made it feel very worthy but not very sophisticated. What I learned from this show was an ability to start honing my critical faculties where it came to theatre, because, in comparison with all the other shows I’d seen, this was deathly dull. Too childish and patronising for my taste. I hated it!
Although I have to confess, I do still sing “I Dream of Ice Cream” to myself at regular intervals. “I Dream of Ice Cream, sausages and cake. Things that you chew, things that you bake. It’s such a nice dream, I’m afraid to wake, when I dream of ice cream, sausages and cake.” Music by Ivor Novello, lyrics by Sir Noel Coward, as the late Terry Wogan would have said.
18. Move Over Mrs Markham – Vaudeville Theatre, July 1972.
This is more like it! A very funny, Ray Cooney and John Chapman farcical comedy, where a one-bedroomed flat is the target for three sets of illicit lovers, none of whom know that the others have the same intent. Cue a couple of hours of trendy early 70s stage naughtiness. I remember that I absolutely loved it – and my mother did too, so it was nice to see her enjoying theatre again (although all that was to change when you see the next entry!)
It had a terrific cast, many of whom I met at the stage door afterwards and were generous with their time and their autographs. Dinah Sheridan, Tony Britton, Diane Hart, Terence Alexander and even Dame Cicely Courtneidge were all lovely. And the programme features loads of photographs from the production, which brings it all back in glorious monochrome!
19. The Comedians – London Palladium, July 1972.
What I learned from this show is that a successful product in one format does not necessarily translate into a successful product in another format! Granada TV’s The Comedians was a big hit at the time and made stars of the likes of Bernard Manning, Charlie Williams and Ken Goodwin, with its innovative editing and nightclub style presentation. On the vast stage of the Palladium, most of these comics looked and felt very sad indeed. I had particularly wanted to see this show, but Mother was not keen, feeling that their acts were an unfortunate cross between coarse and Northern, not sure which was the more offensive to her! As it was, my memory of it was that their material was very disappointing and not very funny.
The six comics who presented this show were Mike Reid, Dave Butler, Jos White, Jimmy Marshall, Charlie Williams and Ken Goodwin. When I was hunting autographs at the Stage Door Jimmy Marshall didn’t endear himself to my mother by bumping into her as he wasn’t looking where he was going, and she put on her affronted look. And Ken Goodwin ended his act with a very schmaltzy and sentimental number, and as soon as he sang the words “absence makes the heart grow fonder they say” all her inner griefs exploded and she burst into loud uncontrollable tears in the middle of the stalls, much to the embarrassment of those around, including myself. So another lesson I learned was to make sure of the material on offer in a show when you have a volatile parent!
20. The Mating Game – Apollo Theatre, London, August 1972.
I got on much better with this fast, funny and sexy farce (yes, I know I was just 12) with a brilliant cast and a show full of laughter. Terry Scott led the cast, with Aimi Macdonald, Clive Francis, Avril Angers and Julia Lockwood. I remember the first scene very clearly, where Mr Francis is luring Miss Macdonald back to his bed for a night of shenanigans only to find Mr Scott already in it.
Written by Robin Hawdon, and directed by Ray Cooney, this had a long run and enjoyed very many successful international transfers. Julia Lockwood was the daughter of Margaret Lockwood and retired from acting a few years later. Clive Francis is the father of Harry Francis, one of the best young actor/dancers on stage today. All the cast were charming when I met them at the stage door afterwards.
And there you have it for today’s reminiscences. My next blog post, probably on Tuesday, will be back on the holiday snaps and we’ll be in Austria in 1989.