Some theatre memories, you say? Why not! December 1986 to November 1987

With the return of live theatre looking further and further away let’s immerse ourselves in these memories. A couple of concerts here too, but, as I have the programmes, I might as well include them!

  1. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – Royalty Theatre, London, 23rd December 1986

We’re used to seeing Joseph come round every couple of years or so nowadays, but I think back in ’86 a London production was quite a rarity. The Tomorrow People’s Mike Holoway starred as Joseph in this brash and bright little production, which we remember enjoying but in comparison with all the big shows we’d seen throughout the year, it was perhaps slightly underwhelming. I’d like to be able to say more about this production, but I’d be making it up. The Royalty, if you’re wondering, is now the Peacock.

  1. Carmen – English National Opera at the London Coliseum, London, 3rd January 1987

Miss Duncansby’s first exposure to the world of opera. You can’t go wrong with Carmen – wasn’t it Stephen Sondheim who described it as the best ever musical? This was a heavily criticised production that the purists loathed, as it brought the famous cigarette girl kicking and screaming into the twentieth century, with a translation by Anthony Burgess. Carmen was sung by Sally Burgess, Don José was John Treleaven, Micaela was Rosamund Illing and Escamillo David Arnold. We really enjoyed it, and were patronised by the pompous asses around us for doing so.

  1. The Maintenance Man – Comedy Theatre, London, 14th February 1987

This was the most self-indulgent Valentine’s Day celebration ever, with Miss D and I going to the Equatorial Restaurant for lunch (a Singaporean place that was a favourite, sadly long gone) and the Paradiso e Inferno on the Strand for dinner (now replaced by a similar Italian restaurant) and fitting in The Maintenance Man (so to speak) for its first house in between. A comedy by Richard Harris, best known for his TV writing, it starred John Alderton, Gwen Taylor and Susan Penhaligon.

Divorced Bob can’t stay away from his ex-wife’s house, much to the annoyance of his new girlfriend. I remember it being very bittersweet (much more bitter than sweet) and without that many laughs. This performance was right at the end of the run. No wonder we remember the meals more that day.

  1. Dr Evadne Hinge and Dame Hilda Bracket in The Arkley Barnet Show – Comedy Theatre, London, 24th March 1987

Filling the gap left by The Maintenance Man, the “Dear Ladies” launched themselves on the Comedy for a short season with their Arkley Barnet Show, an excuse for some wonderful Hinge and Bracket shenanigans, which if you loved, you loved, and if you hated, you hated. I loved them. Their act managed to mix the historical and the modern in a really clever way. I remember at the time that fear of AIDS was everywhere, and many much-loved performers were sadly losing their lives to it. This prompted Dr Evadne to modernise the old song A little of what you fancy does you good into A little of what you fancy kills you off. Sharp intakes of breath all round, as you can imagine – but devilishly brilliant.

  1. When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout – Whitehall Theatre, London, 2nd April 1987

We saw this with our friends Mike, Lin and Barbara, and I remember we were very late leaving the restaurant beforehand so we had to run to make the curtain up, and thus sat there panting and sweaty for the first half hour, which is never a great start to a show. The play had won Sharman Macdonald the Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright, and I remember it going down with the audience very well, but not much else.

It’s very much a young woman’s play, involving understanding relationships, disappointing parents and struggling to discover yourself. Maybe it didn’t speak much to me? Not sure. Mrs C can’t remember anything about it either. Fabulous cast though; Sheila Reid, Julie Walters, Geraldine James, John Gordon Sinclair.

  1. The Mystery of Edwin Drood – Savoy Theatre, London, 18th May 1987

Tipping a wink to a touring production of A Chorus Line that we saw in April for my birthday, at the Apollo Theatre Oxford, and starring Caroline O’Connor as Cassie (and with a young Ruthie Henshall as Maggie), our next London show was The Mystery of Edwin Drood, to which we also brought the Dowager Mrs C, and she really enjoyed it. A moderate success in New York but a flop over here, Rupert Holmes’ inventive and interactive musical, took Dickens’ unfinished novel and challenged the audience to solve the murder. Notable for the star billing given to comedy legend Ernie Wise as the Chairman, the production also boasted such talents as Lulu as Princess Puffer, Julia Hills as a cross-dressing Edwin Drood, David Burt as John Jasper and Martin Wimbush as my namesake, the Reverend Crisparkle. This should have been a hit, and I’m still not quite sure why it wasn’t, but it only lasted ten weeks.

  1. Kiss Me Kate – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Old Vic, London, June 1987

Another of the Dowager Mrs C’s favourite shows, we took her to see this RSC production, which I think was played heavily for laughs with a relatively straightforward production by Adrian Noble. By far the best thing about it was Nichola McAuliffe’s fantastically tempestuous Lilli, almost matched by Paul Jones’ smarmy Fred. Interesting to note that Tim Flavin and Cyril Nri appear in the cast, in relatively minor roles. Thoroughly enjoyable, but there again it would have to be a bad production of Kiss Me Kate that wasn’t thoroughly enjoyable.

  1. Three Men on a Horse – National Theatre Company at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, 3rd October 1987

This highly successful production, directed by Jonathan Lynn, had transferred from the Cottesloe earlier in the year. John Cecil Holm and George Abbott’s comedy premiered in 1935 and concerns a mild-mannered chap who discovers he has a supernatural gift of picking the winning horse, provided he doesn’t watch the race. A fantastic cast was headed by Geoffrey Hutchings, and also included Toyah Willcox, Ken Stott, Desmond Barritt, Cyril Shaps, Alison Fiske and Nicholas le Prevost. Extremely funny and it deserved its success.

  1. The Spinners – Civic Centre, Aylesbury, 6th November 1987

Miss D (as she still was) was very keen to see the Spinners as they had been part of her childhood, being a Liverpudlian who grew up in Australia – the connection couldn’t be stronger. I knew nothing about them, apart from the fact they tended to have late night shows on BBC TV when there wasn’t anything much else to watch. I think you had to be a real fan to enjoy this show – and there were plenty of those in the audience.

  1. Incantation – Civic Centre, Aylesbury, 10th November 1987

We were both huge fans of Incantation, the group that arose from the band that played the music for Ballet Rambert’s Ghost Dances, and who had a number of hits with their Pan Pipes of the Andes style. Incantation took their music very seriously and did much research on the streets of Cuzco to achieve truly authentic performance quality, as their line-up consisted of three Brits and three Chileans at the time. Timeless music, brilliantly performed.

Review – Carmen, Ellen Kent Productions, Derngate, Northampton, 24th February 2013

CarmenI’m quite partial to a spot of opera. I’m no buff, mind you – so basically, when it comes to working out what’s good and what’s not in the opera world, I can only go with my gut reactions. We’ve seen Carmen three times now – the first time was an infamously modern interpretation by English National Opera at the Coliseum in 1986, which sparked a lot of furore at the time – but we rather liked it. Then we saw it about eight years ago at the Leipzig Oper, which was very entertaining – but mainly remarkable for the fact that my shoe fell apart during the course of the evening and I had to hop back to the hotel afterwards. And now the third time is Ellen Kent’s touring production at the Derngate.

Carmen and her stallionWe’d not seen any Ellen Kent productions before. Their advertisements always proclaim they’ve got something potentially gimmicky in the show – for example, in this Carmen, there is a “majestic Andalucian stallion” ** (see double asterisks in the advert – which signifies “certain venues only”.) That get-out clause passed me by when we booked to see it – thus we saw neither the horse nor the rider (geddit?) Tosca, which was performed the following evening (which we didn’t see) apparently featured a magnificent Golden Eagle **. (**Same rider applies). The £5 souvenir brochure (toppy for the provinces) features a quote from the Times in 2006, saying that Ellen Kent’s spectaculars are the “Las Vegas of opera”. Well, I confess I have never been to Las Vegas, but I really would hope that their shows are a bit glitzier than this one.

Nadezhda StoianovaI guess any opera production will succeed or fail on the singing and the orchestra. Well to my mind and ears, this all sounded pretty good. The orchestra obviously wasn’t enormous, but they played with good attack and at a good volume, and got the Spanish feeling across very nicely. I missed the two entr’acte pieces of music though – it was a shame to cut these, as they are two of Bizet’s greatest hits IMHO. The singing was also of a very good standard. Carmen was played by Nadezhda Stoianova, and she had a lovely rich voice and an understated sexiness – Carmen has to be sexy, doesn’t she? She was alluring and her eyes suggested a subtle promise of naughty things if you managed to keep in her good books. As the perfect opposite, I really liked Ecaterina Danu as Micaela, pure and virginal, keenly reporting her messages from Don Jose’s mum, and shying away from those nasty rough soldiers. I thought her Act One duet with Don Jose was stunningly beautiful. Sorin Lupu sang Don Jose, and he has a refined tenor voice which was very enjoyable. Iurie Gisca was the embodiment of how you would imagine Escamillo to look if he played rugby – stocky and forceful, and with a good strong voice. I also very much enjoyed Maria Tonina and Olga Busuioc as Frasquita and Mercedes, plotting mischievously and singing beautifully, and together with Anatolie Arcea as Dancairo and Ivan Dogot as Remendado, as well as Miss Stoianova, they performed the Act Two quintet “Nous avons en tête une affaire” with a very amusing lightness of touch. Finally Iurie Maimescu sang Zuniga very well and gave a great “drunk act” performance in Lillas Pastia’s bar.

Ecaterina DanuThe other good thing about this production is the costume department. The soldiers’ uniforms were colourful and eye-catching; the Spanish gypsies had just the right combination of style and colour, all fringes and lace which looked just right to me – mind you, what do I know about costumes; and the parade (such as it was) of picadors, banderillos, and matador looked elegant and their garish gear was suitably peacock-like.

Sorin LupuSo far, so good then. The trouble is, for me the show was not the sum of its parts. Whilst the backing chorus characters sang very well – most notably in the Act Four bullfight scene – they looked incredibly under-rehearsed, shifted self-consciously from position to position, and spent far too long gazing for inspiration at the conductor rather than interacting with each other or looking at the audience. To be honest, many of the main performers did that too – and you lose confidence in a singer when they’re eyes are transfixed on the podium like rabbits in headlights. Miss Stoianova and Miss Danu were the notable exceptions here. The cigarette girls squabbling between each other and allegedly “attacking” each other in Act One was possibly the least convincing catfight ever seen on a stage. I found it embarrassing to watch. There were a few scenes that caused some members of the audience to laugh out loud in a rather scornful way, simply because the direction and staging was so lame. Mocking laughter really undermines a performance. The set itself looked cheap and shoddy – you could see a distinct gap between panels that were meant to represent the solid wall outside the cigarette factory – and when the doors to the factory were open, the side wall was missing and you just saw the performers moving to and fro on their way on and off the stage. When Escamillo entered the stage for his Toreador song in Act Two, he bounded on full of fearless confidence and stood on the table ready to sing – but it looked like he got there about twenty seconds too early, so all he could do was look around a bit sheepishly waiting for his song to start.

Maria ToninaAnd we didn’t get the stallion. I realised afterwards that the Derngate was obviously a no-stallion zone; but I heard mutterings in the audience about the non-appearance of the equine star. “He was neigh there” joshed Mrs Chrisparkle. “Maybe Findus got him first” said someone else. Instead we had a donkey. He came on for a few minutes in Act One, chewed a bit of hay and then got led off. If there were an award for the most pointless appearance of an animal in an opera, I know who I would have my money on. Still, at least he was continent. At the end, there was an announcement that there would be a collection for the Donkey Sanctuary. I’ve nothing against donkeys, but to be honest it’s not high up in my charity priorities. Nevertheless I scrambled around for some change – only to find on exit that there was no one collecting after all. They even managed to get that wrong.

Iurie MaimescuWhich brings me to the curtain call. This actually summed up the whole evening. Despite the good singing and the nice costumes there was something about this production that drained you. The audience weren’t energised by Bizet’s fantastic tunes, we were enervated by the whole thing. Why else would a packed house start up the round of applause at the end of the show, only for it to die down and actually stop before the curtain rose for the cast to take their bows. That’s a sign of extreme indifference by the audience. As the performers came out and took their bows I did find myself saying to myself, “oh yes, I liked him” and “actually, she was good”, but despite all this the applause had to be wrung out of us. When Mr Lupu came out to take his applause, he was full of grand gestures, the hand across the heart, wearing almost a belligerent smile, and then he shocked us by victoriously thumping his hand on the stage floor as if he had just broken his personal best at La Scala. Well I’ve never seen that done before – maybe it’s de rigueur in Romania.

Suffice it to say that Mrs C has begged me not to book for their return later in the year. A real shame, actually, as it’s obviously an honest endeavour and there is a lot of talent on display. But really, to call it “Am Dram” is to give “Am Dram” a bad name.

Just checking in

Greetings, dear reader. Thought I’d just drop by to see how you’re doing; well, I hope! That’s good. Oh, I’m fine too, thank you for asking.

Taj MahalIf you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that what you normally get here is a lot of theatre stuff, a bit of travel, the occasional Eurovision meanderings and the odd what-not. Well, I had planned a nice set of travel blogs for you about our fascinating trip to India, that should have been going on at this very moment in time. Unfortunately, owing to circumstances beyond our control, this trip has had to be postponed – probably until this time next year. So not only am I unable to bring you first hand experiences of Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Pushkar, I also haven’t got any theatre trips booked for the moment. Next planned theatrical extravaganza is for about three weeks time when we will be taking in the Menier’s Merrily We Roll Along – that should be excellent.

Privates on ParadeSo here’s a chance to look forward to some more great shows that will be coming our way – and by consequence yours once I’ve written about them – into December and the New Year. After Merrily, we’ve got some Christmas shows – the Northampton Derngate’s panto Cinderella, and their festive play, A Christmas Carol; we’ll be going up to Sheffield again to see their panto, Cinderella (again, shame), and their new production of My Fair Lady, which I expect will be brilliant. We’ll be going into London to see the first of the new Michael Grandage season at the Noel Coward Theatre, Privates on Parade – that’s one of my favourite plays; Mrs Chrisparkle has never seen it, and I took my first girlfriend to see the original production back when I was 17, so that will be nice. Spymonkey are reviving their Cooped at the Royal Northampton, which should be a laugh; we’ve got the touring productions of The Ladykillers and Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at Milton Keynes, as well as the next in the series of Royal Philharmonic Concerts at the Derngate. And that’s all in January!

A Chorus Line - poster obtained from Drury Lane on the last night 26th March 1979February sees the return of the Trocks to the Birmingham Hippodrome – we always have to see them, as their combination of skill and comedy is out of this world. We’ll be seeing Sheffield’s new Full Monty, the return of A Chorus Line to the Palladium (still my favourite show of all time), Ellen Kent’s production of Carmen, which boasts a real Andalucian Stallion – not sure if that’s simply “bigging up” the guy playing Escamillo; and the touring production of The 39 Steps at Northampton which will be a hoot. March brings the prospect of The Book of Mormon in London (can’t wait) plus a comedy gig from Harry Hill. So there’s definitely loads to look forward to. I think the Royal and Derngate announce their spring season next week, so no doubt the credit card will be working overtime again.

Annual Chrisparkle AwardsEarly January will also see the Third Annual Chrisparkle Awards, a star studded gala gathered on my desktop to select the finest contributions of the year. In 2010 The Big Fellah, Thomas Morrison, Tracie Bennett, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and Paul Sinha won best new play, best actor, best actress, best dance, and best standup. Last year it was One Man Two Guvnors, Derek Jacobi, Gina McKee, The Trocks and Jason Byrne. Who will be festooned with plaudits this year? Only a few weeks till we find out.

Loreen in full flowAnd of course we are coming in to the Eurovision season. So early, you ask? Absolutely. Lithuania have already had three heats and (I think) five countries are choosing their songs in December. Preparations get earlier and earlier every year. Swedish Television have already made their mark on next year’s contest by shaking it up a bit. For the first time that all important running order will be decided by the show’s producers rather than by a random draw. The idea is that they can construct a more balanced programme by choosing a suitable order for the songs. That will probably work; but every fan knows that you can’t win from second position, and that every winner since 2004 has come from the 17th – 24th slot, so this is highly manipulative of the final outcome. Personally, I’m not happy about it. The fans who go to Malmo will also be largely standing in the centre of the stadium, which again will probably look lively on TV but will be a pain in the legs for some people, and anyone on the short side probably won’t get value for money for their €345. Still, it’s all good fun, isn’t it!

Work in progressSo please consider this meandering blogpost as representative of work in progress. It’s like one of those spacers you’re meant to put against the wall when you’re trying to do some tiling – not very attractive in itself but a tool to separate two more important items of décor. Or maybe like a red carpet; a glamorous conduit leading VIPs from one artistic event to another. Or just as a filler because I have nothing else to blog about at the moment.