Come on in, the water’s lovely!
- The Killing Game – Apollo Theatre, London, 29th October 1981
Thomas Muschamp’s The Killing Game was an intriguing thriller with a military air; it had something of the Conduct Unbecoming to it, if you remember that old play. Given the fact that he apparently wrote dozens of plays, Mr Muschamp’s oeuvre seems to be largely forgotten today. I remember this as being a riveting and exciting drama that kept me guessing throughout. An excellent cast but I particularly remember Hannah Gordon being superb.
- The Mitford Girls – Globe Theatre, London, 4th November 1981
Another two-show day, this started off with Ned Sherrin and Caryl Brahms’ musical about the six Mitford sisters, the socialite, not socialist, family who got in with the Mosleys and the Hitlers and suchlike in the first half of the twentieth century. Nicely done, but it left me a bit cold – although, maybe that was the point? A great cast starred Patricia Hodge, with terrific stalwarts including Gay Soper and Julia Sutton – not to mention Oz Clarke. It even had “dances supervised” (whatever that means) by Anton Dolin. I remember feeling grateful that I had another show to go on to; and, indeed, it didn’t last long in the West End.
- Anyone for Denis – Whitehall Theatre, London, 4th November 1981
John Wells’ Chequers-based farce was a complete hoot, with a fantastic central performance by Angela Thorne as Maggie Thatcher, although I always found John Wells’ own impersonation of Denis as rather over the top.
I still cringe when I think of the publicity photo with Ms Thorne and Mr Wells and the real Thatchers – Denis obviously found it hilarious, but The Iron Lady had a smile full of individually gritted teeth.
A fascinating example of political satire that could never have been allowed whilst Theatre Censorship was in action. Creatively different programme, too!
- Children of a Lesser God – Albery Theatre, London, 5th November 1981
On a second two-show day, I first saw Mark Medoff’s stunning play about a relationship between two members of staff at a school for the deaf, which garnered several awards on both sides of the Atlantic. The main roles were taken by the deaf actor Elizabeth Quinn and the hearing actor – and Shoestring himself – Trevor Eve. I remember it as a gripping and riveting watch, chock-full of terrific performances, and indeed it was later made into a very successful film.
- Roll on 4 O’clock – Palace Theatre, London, 5th November 1981
The Palace Theatre is an awfully big place when there aren’t that many people in the audience so this third night performance of Colin Welland’s amusing but overwhelmingly alarming play about teachers coping with life as teachers and homophobic bullying amongst the boys felt a bit surreal. Primarily I went to see it because I wanted to see what Windsor Davies was like on stage – and he was brilliant. I remember him rousing up the first few rows of the stalls so that we all stood up to sing a hymn just before the curtain fell for the interval. Enjoyable, but I was expecting more. Also appearing as members of staff were Shaun Curry, Bernard Gallagher and Clive Swift, and amongst the boys, Nick Conway went on to have a very successful acting (and teaching) career.
- Pass the Butler – Globe Theatre, London, 6th February 1982
A farce by Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle, and with a massive cast headed by William Rushton, John Fortune and Peter Jones, directed by Jonathan Lynn, should have been a thing of joy. But I remember it as being sadly shallow and full of horribly easy laughs, and, whilst it was certainly superficially funny at times, it didn’t have anything like enough oomph to become memorable. Can’t win them all – my next four shows were all sensational.
- On the Razzle – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 20th February 1982
I saw this with my friend Ian – I’m not quite sure why he wanted to see it, but I’m glad he convinced me. Adapted by Tom Stoppard from Johann Nestroy’s 1842 comedy Einen Jux will er sich machen, which was also adapted into The Matchmaker and Hello Dolly, this was a brilliantly funny farce with maniacally lively characters, a superb script and some fantastic performances – Ray Brooks, Felicity Kendal, Dinsdale Landen, Joan Hickson, and above all, Michael Kitchen who was on fire for this show. A farce of mistaken identities, romantic entanglements, an actress playing a boy and anything else Stoppard and Nestroy could chuck at it. I note that of the three child actors playing the Ragamuffin, one of them was Adam Woodyatt (aka Ian Beale). As Michael Kitchen said many times during this show: In a word, classic.
- Guys and Dolls – Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, 4th March 1982
A preview production of the show that has never really gone away since. Frank Loesser’s magnificent musical based on the writings and characters of Damon Runyon is full of the stuff of legend – and this incredible production by Richard Eyre quickly entered the annals of history as being Of The Best. I’ll never forget the audience erupting with ecstasy at David Healy’s finest career moment – his performance of Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat – so much so that Harry Towb, who had the next line as Lieutenant Branigan, simply gave up waiting to deliver it and joined the audience in demanding a reprise. With a dream team four main actors of Julia McKenzie, Julie Covington, Ian Charleson and Bob Hoskins, supporting cast including Barrie Rutter, John Normington and a young Imelda Staunton, this was always going to be one of the best shows anyone was ever likely to see. This production fired up some controversy along the lines of “should the subsidised theatre be creating commercial productions like this that could stand on their own two feet on Shaftesbury Avenue?” When it was a production of this quality, the answer was, unquestionably, yes.
- Another Country – Queen’s Theatre, London, 10th April 1982
Julian Mitchell’s astonishing play about two social outsiders growing up in the public school system ran for ages and remains a landmark production, not only because it’s a riveting play, but because of the two young stars that were made from it – Rupert Everett in his first West End role and Kenneth Branagh, straight out of RADA. It wasn’t difficult to tell that these two would set the world on fire. Inspired by the real life story of Guy Burgess, the play went on to become a very successful film and is often revived. Another highly memorable and electric theatrical experience.
- Noises Off – Savoy Theatre, London, 15th April 1982
Michael Frayn’s best known play had been running for just two weeks at the Savoy Theatre when I saw it, and since then I must have seen it at least another three or four times! A classic farce of backstage shenanigans with a hopeless cast rehearsing a dreadful sex comedy – and we see the first act of this awful play three times from three different perspectives and at three different points of its disastrous tour. One of the funniest plays around – and it still packs them in wherever it plays. With a superb original cast of Paul Eddington, Patricia Routledge, Nicky Henson, Roger Lloyd Pack and many more blistering names – just sensational.
Thanks for joining me down this theatrical memory lane. Next regular blog will probably be back to the holiday snaps and J is also for Jordan, and a week of exciting sightseeing in November 2008. Stay safe!