And another bunch of theatre memories… February to April 1999

All but one of these were at the Wycombe Swan!

  1. Ennio Marchetto – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 12th February 1999

A hilarious show in the company of this brilliant impersonator who uses unfolding paper costumes to reveal his characters. Sadly mis-booked by the theatre, in that it was clearly designed to be one part of a double bill, so that when we were all packing up to go home, barely forty minutes after we’d sat down, front of house were visibly embarrassed at how short-changed we’d been! Nevertheless, hugely funny and entertaining.

  1. The Prisoner of Second Avenue – Oxford Playhouse, 15th February 1999

Neil Simon’s 1971 play, that was made into a hit film four years later, toured with the terrific casting of Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason, Neil Simon exponents par excellence. I remember feeling that the story itself was quite dated and not terribly interesting, but it was great to see such a distinguished cast doing it superbly.

  1. Twisted – Motionhouse Dance Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, February 1999

An exhilarating return of this exciting contemporary dance company to Wycombe’s Swan Dance season. From the programme: “An airborne toxic event has occurred – “something” has been released into the atmosphere. What is more dangerous – the unknown substance or the mystery that surrounds it? News spreads like wildfire – hype begets rumour which creates panic. Fortunately help is at hand, or is it? As events become distorted so people and things become twisted.” In retrospect, incredibly prescient!

  1. Mark Baldwin Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 26th February 1999

Mark Baldwin’s own dance company, which he ran from 1993 until he became Artistic Director of Rambert, always starred Baldwin’s own elegant and attractive choreography. This programme featured Pulcinella Disperato, Darkness Visible, M-Piece, and Song of the Nightingale. The small company were Shelley Baker, Bart de Block, Richard Court, Martin Lindinger and Mark Baldwin himself.

  1. The New Rocky Horror Show – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 1st March 1999

I’m not entirely sure what was new about this; I don’t think the show itself had changed, must just have been a new production. It’s a shame that I don’t remember much about Jason Donovan’s performance as Frank N Furter, but I do remember that Nicholas Parsons was absolutely brilliant as the Narrator. The cast also featured Laurie Brett, better known as Eastenders’ Jane Beale. Rocky Horror is often a bit… messy, I reckon, and this was no exception!

  1. Dance Bites – Royal Ballet at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 11th March 1999

The last ever Dance Bites tour featured four ballets of the highest quality, and with a company that included Darcey Bussell and Deborah Bull. First up was Love’s Fool, to music by Karl Jenkins, and choreographed by William Tuckitt. Next was Walk and Talk, choreographed by Ashley Page, followed by Monotones with music by Erik Satie, and choreographed by Frederick Ashton. The final piece was Towards Poetry, music by Julian Anderson and choreography by Mark Baldwin. We were always very appreciative of the Royal Ballet coming out to perform on our patch!

  1. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) – The Reduced Shakespeare Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 18th March 1999

Even though the original production was still running in London, this touring production of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s hilarious adaptation of the works of William Shakespeare called at the Wycombe Swan for a couple of nights of sheer comedy perfection. The brilliant cast were Rick Bland, Christian Malcolm, Michael O’Connor and John Schwab. We still quote lines from this today.

  1. The Return of Don Juan – Arc Dance Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 23rd March 1999

It’s still extraordinary to think that we bought front stalls to see this show, with principal dancer Irek Mukhamedov, for a mere £6.25 each! Kim Brandstrup’s comic ballet had premiered earlier that month at Sadlers Wells, and the lavish production virtually bankrupted Brandstrup’s Arc Company. Full of excitement and showing-off, a really fun and virtuoso night of dance!

  1. Earth and Sky – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 10th April 1999

Douglas Post’s thriller starred Sam Janus (before she became Samantha Womack) and Joe McGann and had originated at the now defunct Nuffield Theatre Southampton. Mr Post’s website gives a fascinating account of what this play is about. If only I could remember one thing about it. But alas I can’t.

  1. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 26th April 1999

Our second ever visit to see the Trocks featured a classic programme beginning with Swan Lake Act II, then (as always) a mystery pas de deux to be announced on the night, Go for Barocco (which is always hilarious), The Dying Swan, executed by Comrade Ida Nevasayneva as it nearly always was when she was in town, and finally Raymonda’s Wedding. It’s a sign of the times that the programme includes the statement “Les Trockadero would like to dedicate this performance to the memory of all Trocks who have died of AIDS”. It was an always present threat. As always, an evening of blistering joy.

Another bunch of theatre memories? Why not! February to June 1998

Rather weak on the detail of some of these, but here goes anyway!

  1. Faking It – Motion House Dance Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 10th February 1998

The first show in that year’s Swan Dance festival at the Wycombe Swan, we saw Motion House Dance Theatre’s exciting and punchy piece of contemporary dance, that the programme describes as being “about power games, the struggle for pole position and the many faces we don in order to hide our vulnerabilities.” Sounds great, and I think it was! The all-female company consisted of Caroline Bridges, Penny Collinson, Ruth Jacombs, Isabelle Martinez and Lisi Perry.

  1. Dance Bites – The Royal Ballet at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 7th March 1998

1998’s Dance Bites programme featured five short pieces, immaculately performed as always. First up was Horseplay, choreographed by Tom Sapsford, and danced by Michael Nunn (a Future Balletboyz founder), Jonathan Howells, Justin Meissner and David Pickering. Then we had Highly Strung, a solo danced by Jerry Douglas, choreographed by Matthew Hart to music by Debussy. After the first interval came Dream of Angels, choreographed by William Tuckett (the other Balletboyz founder), and danced by Leire Ortueta, Michael Nunn and Sarah Wildor. Then came Words Apart, choreographed by Cathy Marston, and performed by 12 dancers; then after the second interval, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, choreographed by William Forsythe, and danced by Deborah Bull amongst others. Always a privilege to see.

  1. Tartuffe – Mobil Touring Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 14th March 1998

Mobil’s show that year was a very lively and enjoyable production of Molière’s Tartuffe, with Stephen Tompkinson perfectly cast in the main role, and also starring Simon Williams as an Orgon full of bluster, plus Isla Blair and Maria Charles giving great support. However, my main recollection of this production was Mr Tompkinson (unforgivably in my mind) completely dissing the audience during curtain call, by chatting ostentatiously to the other cast members and never making eye contact with us or acknowledging our presence. I don’t know what we had done to deserve that, we had been respectful and laughed in all the right places.

  1. Romeo and Juliet – Northern Ballet Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 17th March 1998

Northern Ballet brought their production of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Massimo Moricone and directed by Christopher Gable, with design by Lez Brotherston, who continues to be the best at the job today. I remember this being a very grand and elaborate affair, with dance and production values of the highest quality. Romeo was danced by Denis Malinkine, and Juliet by Jayne Regan. Very enjoyable.

  1. Kind Hearts and Coronets – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 16th April 1998

Giles Croft adapted and directed this touring production of the famous film for Charles Vance productions. Very enjoyable, if I remember rightly, with Robert Powell as Louis Mazzini and Colin Baker as the D’Ascoynes. But it wasn’t the kind of production to stick in the mind!

  1. Dein Perry’s Tap Dogs – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 24th April 1998

This lively entertainment was already a huge international success and their visit to the Swan Dance festival was very well received. I remember it as being a blistering attack on the senses – not only from a dance point of view, but also, frankly, the clashing racket they made with their dustbin lids and all sorts of other noisy ephemera! Very enjoyable, but after a while I did start to find it slightly repetitive and just – ever so slightly – boring. But I know I was in the minority!

  1. And Nothing But the Truth – VTol Dance Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, April 1998

And Nothing But the Truth was billed as a Murder Mystery set to dance, and it was a highly entertaining piece of contemporary dance – although I can’t remember whodunit. The company was Christine Devaney, James Hewison, Kieron Jecchinis, Marcia Pook and Karl Sullivan, and the show was devised by the company under the auspices of Artistic Director Mark Murphy. Very nicely described in the programme: “Back from the dead, our host Jake takes us into a nightmare landscape blackened by murder. Four characters, Christine – The Wife, Karl – The Husband, Marcia – His Lover and James – The Neighbour; find themselves in a complex maze of lies, infidelity and pillows.”

 

 

  1. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 1st May 1998

This was our first ever exposure (and that’s probably the right word) to The Trocks and they have gone on to be amongst our very favourite companies of all time, whom we see whenever we can. This programme was a true classic, starting with Swan Lake, Act II, a Mystery Pas de Deux (as always), Vivaldi Suite, The Dying Swan (executed by Comrade Ida Nevasayneva), and ending with Paquita. It goes without saying that the quality of dance from this company is always of the highest exceptional quality, but it’s mixed with their wonderful feel for the comic potential in classical ballet (and, occasionally, contemporary dance). This wonderful company featured at the time a very young Robert Carter (Olga Supphozova and Yuri Smirnov), Associate Director Tory Dobrin (Margaret Lowin-Octeyn and Adam Baum), the brilliant Paul Ghiselin (Ida Nevasayneva and Velour Pilloux) and Manolo Nolina (Fifi Barkova and Igor Slowpokin). Some of those names just kill you.

  1. Cruel Garden – Rambert Dance Company at the Apollo Theatre, Oxford, 7th May 1998

I was looking forward to seeing Lindsay Kemp’s iconic production so much, but it was completely ruined by the fact that our view of the stage was obliterated by the very high- positioned conductor standing right in front of our seats. If it had been described as obstructed view or a lower price I would have understood (and indeed, booked different seats) but there was no such warning. The theatre management were unhelpful to my plight and as a result I’ve never been back to this theatre. I genuinely can’t comment on the show as I couldn’t see it.

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater 2 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 2nd June 1998

Having enjoyed NDT2 so much the first time we saw them, it was a no-brainer to book to see them on their return visit. The programme was: Grosse Fuge, choreographed by Hans van Manen, Un Ballo, choreographed by Jiri Kylian, Sans Response by Patrick Delcroix, and finally Paul Lightfoot’s Sad Case. Sheer joy from the NDT youth department.

Another ten theatre memories? OK then – five plays and five dances … May to December 1997

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater 2 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 31st May 1997

Passing over a jolly visit to the Moscow State Circus at the Battersea Big Top, our next show was a tour from NDT2, whom the programme refers to as “Europe’s Foremost Contemporary Dance Company”, and they were certainly a contender for that title. The Youth Department of the Netherlands’ NDT1 main company, this was the first time we had seen them and we were bowled over by their skill and artistry. The programme was Jiri Kylian’s Songs of a Wayfarer, Hans van Manen’s Solo, Johan Inger’s Mellantid, and finally, Nacho Duato’s Jardi Tancat. All the members of this amazing company have gone on to have rich and varied careers in the world of dance.

  1. The Return of Sherlock Holmes – Middle Ground Theatre Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 10th June 1997

Middle Ground returned to the Wycombe Swan with Ernest Dudley’s adaptation of Conan Doyle’s collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, directed by Harry Landis. Leading the cast as Holmes was Michael Cashman, now a Life Peer in the House of Lords. It also featured Frederick Pyne and Nicholas Smith who had appeared in Middle Ground’s previous production at the Wycombe Swan. I can’t fully remember, but I think this had a very poor audience and as a result the atmosphere was a bit lacking. Great cast though.

  1. Mrs Warren’s Profession – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 23rd June 1997

Safe pair of hands Alan Strachan directed this touring production of Shaw’s third play, one of his Plays Unpleasant, largely a vehicle for another safe pair of hands, Penelope Keith, to be versatile on stage. I think we all know what Mrs Warren did for a living. The excellent support cast included Charles Kay and Denis Lill. Very enjoyable.

  1. Lettice and Lovage – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 30th June 1997

We’d missed the West End production of Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage and so I was keen to see this touring production, although I was uncertain of the casting of Hinge and Bracket in the two main roles – much as I loved them as an act. I needn’t have worried; they fitted in perfectly, and it was an excellent production, directed by Graham Watts.

  1. Laughter on the 23rd Floor – Oxford Playhouse, 28th August 1997

Moving past that year’s Pendley Festival offering – Macbeth, our next show was a production of Neil Simon’s comedy Laughter on the 23rd Floor, with a fantastic cast led by Frank Finlay, also featuring Sandra Dickinson, Peter Polycarpou and John Challis. It was Simon’s recreation of 1950s TV comedy, where he cut his writing teeth. I only wish I could remember more about it!

  1. The Woman in Black – Fortune Theatre, London, 30th August 1997

Only ten years after it opened in London, we finally got to see this extraordinary play – and have seen it three times since then. Perfectly located in the Fortune to accentuate the intimate, claustrophobic terror of the story, it boasted two excellent performances from Robert Demeger and David Pullan. Still going strong! Nothing’s going to stop this one.

  1. Carmen – Czech National Ballet at the National Theatre, Prague, 30th September 1997

We took the opportunity to discover some Czech ballet whilst on holiday in Prague, and a visit to the National Theatre is a very rewarding experience if you should ever find yourself there. To say that it was avant garde is to underestimate its oddness. Any production of Carmen that starts with a naked dwarf jumping around isn’t going to lend itself too much to the original. Nevertheless, we kind of enjoyed it. Kind of.

  1. Cinderella – Adventures in Motion Pictures at the Piccadilly Theatre, London, 11th October 1997

As soon as Matthew Bourne’s follow up to his incredibly successful Swan Lake was announced, I snapped up tickets. Set in London during the Blitz, his Cinderella featured a dashing pilot and an angel – as well as some of the roles you might normally expect with this story! Nothing was ever going to beat Swan Lake and maybe I was slightly disappointed because of that – but this was a fine performance of an innovative new dance show, and the cast list was superb – Adam Cooper, Lynn Seymour, Sarah Wildor, Scott Ambler, William Kemp and many more great dancers from the Bourne stable!

  1. Rambert Dance Company – 97/98 Season Programme at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 18th October 1997

Never missing up a chance to see Rambert, this programme started with Paul Taylor’s Airs, followed by Christopher Bruce’s Stream (which we had seen the previous February) and finally Didy Veldman’s Greymatter. The dancers included Paul Liburd, Vincent Redmon, Glenn Wilkinson, Hope Muir, Sheron Wray, Rafael Bonachela, Mattew Hart, Steven Brett, Didy Veldman, Laurent Cavanna, and my favourite from that era, Marie Laure Agrapart. Wonderful as always.

  1. The Nutcracker – Vienna Festival Ballet at the Civic Centre, Aylesbury, 4th December 1997

You don’t think of combining Vienna Ballet with Aylesbury, but they were there and it was a very enjoyable performance of this Christmas favourite; although I doubt whether many of the dancers had been any nearer to Vienna than Weston Turville. A crowd-pleaser though!

How many more of these theatre memories are there left? October 1996 to April 1997

  1. Plunder – Oxford Playhouse, some time in October 1996

Uncertain of the date of this one, because when we got there – disaster – they had run out of theatre programmes. So all I have as a memory of this show is a photocopied cast list – and as a result the ticket stubs have been lost in the sea of time. I remember the show though; a very enjoyable revival of Ben Travers’ Aldwych farce, starring Griff Rhys Jones as D’Arcy Tuck, and with Kevin McNally, Sara Crowe, Pamela Cundell and Hugh Sachs also glittering in the cast.

  1. An Inspector Calls – Garrick Theatre, London, 28th December 1996

Stephen Daldry’s hugely successful revival of J B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls had already been packing them in at the Garrick for over a year and would continue to do so for a long time after. Pip Donaghy and Suzanne Bertish headed the cast at the time, and I had very high expectations of this show, but sadly they weren’t met. Row S of the Garrick stalls is an awful long way away from the stage and I never really felt involved in the performance at all.

  1. Trainspotting – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 21st January 1997

G & J Productions’ staging of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting was a thrilling and absorbing event. Adapted and directed by Harry Gibson, who was a script reader at the Citizens Theatre Glasgow, its cast of four threw themselves into the show in all its visceral glory (and gory). Gerard Butler played Mark before going on to have a huge film career.

 

 

  1. Rambert Dance Company Spring Tour – Apollo Theatre, Oxford, 13th February 1997

Only three months had elapsed since we’d last seen Rambert, but we were determined to go back for another treat, primarily so that we could see Rooster again! First up was Kim Brandstrup’s Eidolon, which we had seen in October; then it was Christopher Bruce’s Stream, which I remember was stunning – Steven Brett heading up a remarkable physical presentation of amassing water; and it all ended up with Bruce’s indefatigable Rooster, and a magnificent performance from a group of people who were born to dance it. The amazing company included Simon Cooper, Steven Brett, Rafael Bonachela, Didy Veldman, Glenn Wilkinson, Vincent Redmon, Marie-Laure Agrapart, Hope Muir, Paul Liburd and Sheron Wray.

  1. Dance Bites – The Royal Ballet at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 8th March 1997

Another visit from the Royal Ballet, and another stunning programme. Starting with Figure in Progress, choreographed by Cathy Marston, then the quirky and funny Cry Baby Kreisler, choreographed by Matthew Hart and danced by Gillian Revie and Jonathan Cope; then Room of Cooks, with music by Orlando Gough, choreography by Ashley Page and featuring Adam Cooper. After the first interval, we had Pavane pour une Infante Defunte, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and danced immaculately by Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope. Then it was William Tuckett’s The Magpie’s Tower, before another interval which led into Tom Sapsford’s All Nighter and finally Ashley Page’s Ebony Concerto. It was such a privilege to see.

  1. Absent Friends – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 10th March 1997

I don’t normally include plays I’d seen before in these blogs, but this very enjoyable production of Alan Ayckbourn’s cringe-making play about people pussyfooting around confronting the reality of a bereavement was the first play I saw by myself when I was just 15 in 1976. So I was keen to see it again as an adult, and it certainly came up trumps. The excellent cast included Shirley Anne Field, Peter Blake and David Janson, who directed it.

  1. Bound to Please – DV8 Dance Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 3rd April 1997

Our next production was more dance at the Wycombe Swan in the shape of DV8’s Bound to Please. DV8 had built a reputation of strong and challenging dance narratives and I was keen to see them for myself. The production was notable for the graceful and bold presence of a naked Ms Diana Payne-Myers (at the time 67 years of age) dancing with wonderful control as a beacon of calm against the harshness of the narrative, which involved Wendy Houstoun challenging the audience directly at the curtain call (rather unsubtly I felt, but it was interesting to witness – and it was part of the script!)

  1. A Passionate Woman – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 10th April 1997

Ned Sherrin’s production of Kay Mellor’s hard-hitting comedy had a great performance by Stephanie Cole in the main role, but I remember the matinee performance being rather ruined by an audience member’s hearing aid constantly whistling at high reverberation throughout the whole of the first act. That’s what happens in live theatre! I believe this went on to enjoy a West End run.

  1. Charles Dickens’ Hard Times – Good Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 14th April 1997

Dennis Saunders’ adaptation of Dickens’ grimy and gritty novel had a great cast led by Philip Madoc and Fenella Fielding. Director Sue Pomeroy was Artistic Director of Good Company who adapted many classic novels into plays – not always to great acclaim. I can’t remember how good this production was!

  1. Forty Years On – Mobil Touring Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 22nd April 1997

For my birthday treat we saw this superb revival of Alan Bennett’s brilliant play set in a boy’s school where the lads are having to perform a pageant. Tony Britton was on cracking form as the Headmaster, with Christopher Timothy and Tony Robinson also in the cast. It includes one of my favourite joke lines from a play; when the Headmaster is leading morning prayers in Assembly, he is interrupted and loses his place. When he finally comes back to his text, he resumes, “now, as I was praying…” Lovely stuff from Bennett. One of the boys was played by Steven Kynman, who today is the voice of Bob the Builder.

Did you say you wanted more theatre memories? March to October 1996

  1. Dance Bites – The Royal Ballet at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 19th March 1996

Over a few years the Royal Ballet did a mini tour every Spring to certain selected theatres – and because the Wycombe Swan was managed by the balletomane Stuart Griffiths (who went on to manage Dance Consortium, amongst other ventures), our local theatre was always amongst the first to get good contemporary and classical dance. So Dance Bites became a regular show until the 1999 season.  Never before had we seen such well known and well regarded classical dancers. The programme started with Signed in Red, choreographed by Emma Diamond, which included Deborah Bull, Adam Cooper and William Trevitt (of Balletboyz fame) amongst its line-up. Then we had the world premiere of Ashley Page’s Sleeping with Audrey, music composed by Orlando Gough, which I remember being thoroughly unusual, Souvenir, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, Odalisque choreographed by Tom Sapsford, a pas de deux by Ashley Page entitled …Now Languorous, Now Wild…, danced by Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope – a real crowdpleaser casting there, and finally William Forsythe’s Steptext, danced by Deborah Bull, Adam Cooper, Tetsuya Kumakawa and Matthew Dibble. Truly a night to remember.

  1. Swan Lake – Adventures in Motion Pictures at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 30th March 1996

Matthew Bourne’s ground-breaking production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece is still packing them in in theatres all around the world (that is, when theatres all around the world are allowed to reopen). It had opened at Sadlers’ Wells the previous November, and we saw it on one of its very first out-of-town performances, a Saturday matinee in High Wycombe. For me, this is the most impressive dance production I’ve ever seen – and I’ve gone back to it again and again over the intervening decades. Perhaps because this was our first time, we still look back on this production as featuring the dream team of casts: Scott Ambler as The Prince, Will Kemp as the Swan, Fiona Chadwick as the Queen, Emily Piercey as The Girlfriend and Barry Atkinson as the Press Secretary. If you haven’t seen it – mark it down in your diaries as soon as theatres come back to life. The Original and Best.

  1. Dial M for Murder – Mobil Touring Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 13th April 1996

Frederick Knott’s classic thriller was given a smart and stylish production with Peter Davison and Catherine Rabett as Tony and Sheila Wendice. Best known as the Hitchcock film starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly, it’s an intriguing story that goes to prove that the perfect murder just doesn’t exist. Very enjoyable.