Twenty more shows for your consideration – including some more student productions, so this a bigger-than-average memory blog!
- Ballet Rambert – New Theatre, Oxford, 23rd October 1980.
Another mixed programme of contemporary dance, including favourite dancers Catherine Becque, Ikky Maas, Lucy Bethune and Michael Clark. The four dances performed were Christopher Bruce’s Preludes and Song, Richard Alston’s Rainbow Ripples and Antony Tudor’s Judgment of Paris and Dark Elegies. Having seen Rainbow Ripples, my friend Mike spent the best part of the next 25 years occasionally breaking into the meaningless Rainbow Bandit. Rainbow Chuck Bandit. Chuck Bandit. And so on. As always, a terrific night of dance.
- Lark Rise – Oxford University Dramatic Society at the Burton Rooms, Oxford, October 1980.
OUDS’ production of Lark Rise was performed in promenade just like the National Theatre version, directed by Tim Whitby and with music composed by Oscar-winner-to-be Rachel Portman. My friend Mark played Boamer and Cheapjack; elsewhere in the cast list was Chris Bryant who has been MP for Rhondda since 2001. Can’t remember much else about it.
- Catch 22 – Keble Tyrrells Drama Society, Keble College, Oxford, November 1980.
Joseph Heller’s groundbreaking novel given an adaptation by Alan Durant, who also designed and directed the show, and today is a very successful children’s author. Yossarian was played by Jonathan Darby, and my friend Andrew played Major Major amongst other roles. I remember seeing a production of Catch 22 a few years back which announced itself as the first ever dramatization of the book, and saying to myself – err, that’s wrong, I saw it in Oxford as a student!
- Three Sisters – Oxford University Dramatic Society at the Oxford Playhouse, 6th December 1980.
Chekhov’s great play given the OUDS treatment with a top quality cast that not only included my friend Mark as Kulygin, but also had Jon (now Jonathan) Cullen as Prozorov, a young Imogen Stubbs as Irina (her first stage performance, I believe), and political philosopher Adam Swift as Fedotik. I remember this was a stonkingly good production and all the young actors acquitted themselves tremendously well.
- Hinge and Bracket at the Globe – Globe Theatre, London, 9th December 1980.
This was the first time I got to see the Dear Ladies themselves in this hilarious two-hander revue where Doctor Evadne Hinge spent most of the time with her nose out of joint as she accompanied the frequently insensitive Dame Hilda Bracket as she soprano’d her way through some long- and best-forgotten pieces. Hinge and Bracket were an incredibly inventive and creative drag act who could target their material at both the liberals in the Theatre and the more conservative listeners to Radio 4. I guess their humour didn’t suit everyone but I always found them completely hysterical and I loved every minute of this show. As they spied a guy nipping off to the Gents during the show they inquired after his wellbeing and on his return asked him “Could you hear us?” When he said he couldn’t, Doctor Evadne threw back “oh…. We could hear you”. Comedy genius. I saw all these Christmas holidays shows by myself, no one else wanted to come out and play, sadly!
- The Biograph Girl – Phoenix Theatre, London, 11th December 1980.
Harold Fielding’s production of this much-expected show received a barrage of bad reviews and by the time I saw it, three weeks into the run, it was already on its last legs, and it’s not been seen since. Shame really, as it’s not a bad show and it has some great songs, about the crises faced by performers who were big stars in the days of silent movies but when the talking pictures came in – unfortunately their voices were not up to the job. Sheila White played Mary Pickford, the Biograph Girl herself, but on the night I was there I overheard some important-looking people muttering and grumbling to themselves that “she’s refusing to go on” “she won’t listen to reason” and such like. Sure enough, that night (and I believe on many nights) Mary Pickford was played by her understudy. Directed by Victor Spinetti and also featuring Allo Allo’s Guy Siner as Mack Sennett, I quite enjoyed it despite everything; Put it in the Tissue Paper is a genuine tearjerker and the title track is a banger!
- Oklahoma! – Palace Theatre, London, 16th December 1980.
Courtesy of the Haymarket Theatre Leicester, this rip-roaring spectacular production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s landmark musical was directed by none other than Hammerstein’s son James, and starred Australian John Diedrich as Curly and Rosamund Shelley as Laurey. Madge Ryan as Aunt Eller, and, perhaps most interestingly, Alfred Molina played Jud. I enjoyed it, but at this stage of my life I found episodes like the long dream ballet sequence relentlessly tedious. It would take several decades to change that opinion!
- Dangerous Corner – Ambassadors’ Theatre, London, 20th December 1980.
Another two-show day, Robert Gillespie’s production of J B Priestley’s classic time play had only opened three days before I saw it, and I found it absolutely riveting. As a result of seeing this, I went out and bought the text to all Priestley’s plays, but this one is probably my particular favourite. An excellent cast was led by Jennifer Daniel and Clive Francis. Not much more needs to be said!
- Early Days – Comedy Theatre, London, 20th December 1980.
David Storey’s latest play had opened at the National earlier in the year and finally received its West End transfer in time for Christmas. Ralph Richardson led the cast, which also included Gerald Flood, and it was directed by the redoubtable Lindsay Anderson. Sir Ralph played a retired MP who was drifting into dementia and was being looked after by his increasingly irritable family. A very sad and moving play given some great performances.
- Pal Joey – Albery Theatre, London, 23rd December 1980.
A cracking show with a brilliant production that had come from the Half Moon Theatre in Whitechapel (now, sadly, a pub). Denis Lawson and Sian Phillips led the cast in this story of a despicable but lovable louse, and the women he mistreats as he scrambles his way to what he thinks is the top – by which time there’s no one left to love him. Brilliant songs (and an excellent cast album which I still play often) made this a must-see production at the time. Notable for its reinstated original lyrics for Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered, plus entertaining references to Ravel’s Bolero and Ronald Reagan, to give it a modern twist. Wonderful supporting performances from Danielle Carson as Linda, Darlene Johnson as Melba, and all the night club girls (Jane Gurnett, Buster Skeggs, Lynne Hockney, Kay Jones, Susan Kyd and Tracey Perry). Funny, musical and enormously entertaining.
- Orpheus – St Hugh’s Players, Morden Hall, Oxford, January 1981.
A student production, which was an original adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s film Orpheus for stage. I regret I can’t remember too much about it, although it featured my friends Linda and Andrew, and starred Wally Upton and Helen Dodds in the main roles.
- London Contemporary Dance Theatre – New Theatre, Oxford, February 1981.
During their Spring Tour of 1981 the London Contemporary Dance Theatre dropped in at the New Theatre Oxford to present two premieres and a five-year-old dance. The programme started with Robert North’s Death and the Maiden, which has lasted long in many dance repertories; then Siobhan Davies’ Something to Tell, and finally the return of Robert Cohan’s Masque of Separation. The superb company included favourites such as Robert North himself, Janet Smith (who would go on to launch her own excellent dance company), Darshan Bhuller, who’s had an extraordinarily successful career in dance, and Kenneth Tharp, “merely” the Apprentice, currently CEO of the Africa Centre London.
- Moving – Queen’s Theatre, London, 16th March 1981.
When I should have been revising hard for my finals, (a comment that applies to this and the next six productions) I saw this comedy by Stanley Price which later was developed into a TV series. It had a great cast to include Penelope Keith, Peter Jeffrey, Roger Lloyd Pack, Barbara Ferris and Miranda Richardson, but I felt it needed to be funnier than it actually was. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining night at the theatre.
- Virginia – Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, 24th March 1981.
Edna O’Brien’s play about Virginia Woolf, taken from the author’s own writings, starred Maggie Smith as Virginia, Nicholas Pennell as Leonard and Patricia Connolly as Vita. As a student of literature, I had often tried, but largely failed, to get into the works of Virginia Woolf and I’m afraid this thoroughly boring play didn’t help matters at all. A delight of course to see Maggie Smith in the flesh, but that was all.
- The Crucible – Comedy Theatre, London, 31st March 1981.
Arthur Miller’s brilliant play that aligns the Salem Witch Trials with American McCarthyism was given a very strong outing in this National Theatre production by Bill Bryden that had transferred from the Cottesloe. The cast was led by the fantastic Mark McManus as John Proctor, with a terrifyingly nerve-racking performance by Caroline Embling as Abigail, James Grant as Reverend Hale and a dignified J G Devlin as Giles Corey. Gripping, exciting drama – I loved it.
- I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking it on the Road – Apollo Theatre, London, 3rd April 1981.
I always thought this powerful and feelgood musical should have made a much greater impact than it did – one of those magical mysteries of theatre life that no one can really understand. It ran for almost three years in New York, but only a few months in London. Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford’s show about a 40 year old female singer doing her own work in her own way, attempting a comeback into the world of pop music had many excellent songs and a superb central performance by the great Diane Langton as Heather, and also a great performance by Ben Cross as her unbending manager. Its failure was maybe because of its being perceived as a feminist diatribe – but I really don’t remember it being preachy in any way. I enjoyed it a lot, and still have my souvenir badge! Interesting fact – the excellent Nicky Croydon, who was also terrific in this show, was Diane Langton’s understudy in A Chorus Line.
- Man and Superman – Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, 6th April 1981.
Shaw’s fantastic play was given a massive production at the National, directed by Christopher Morahan, and with a cast to die for led by Daniel Massey, with Basil Henson, Penelope Wilton, Anna Carteret, Michael Bryant and Greg Hicks. Usually productions cut the long allegorical Don Juan in Hell sequence in the middle – but not this one. Yes, it really was 4 and a half hours long. I loved it so much I bought the poster and it graced the walls of my digs for the next couple of years.
- They’re Playing our Song – Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 10th April 1981.
I saw this with the Dowager Mrs C – we were expecting a great show, and we got one! Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager’s autobiographical musical of how they met and worked together, and how it all unravelled, is full of fun and pathos, terrific songs and two enviable roles for two great actors. Tom Conti on top form, and accompanied by Gemma Craven’s stand-in, Nancy Wood, who I understand probably performed the role more often than Ms Craven. Mrs C and I still sing the title track at the drop of a hat whenever the need arises. Marvellous show!
- Titus Alone – Merton Floats and Experimental Theatre Company at the Oxford Playhouse, 15th May 1981.
“In its first adaptation for the stage” proudly proclaims the programme. The adaptation of Mervyn Peake’s novel and its stage direction was by Patrick Harbinson who has gone on to write many successful TV films and series. Nigel Williams played Titus, and this looks as though this must have been a tremendous production, but it was so close to Finals that my thoughts must have been elsewhere as I cannot remember one solitary thing about it.
- The Business of Murder – Duchess Theatre, London, 15th July 1981.
Richard Harris is best known for his work on TV scripts and for adapting his plays into TV series and vice versa. The Business of Murder is a suspense thriller that enjoyed a very good run, and starred Francis Matthews and George Sewell. Although Finals were now over, I must have still been drunk because I also cannot remember a blind thing about this show. Must have been good though, to enjoy such a long run! From the production photos, it looks as though Mr Matthews spent most of the play pointing angrily at other cast members.
Thanks for accompanying me on this long day’s journey into night. Next regular blog will be back to the Holiday snaps and we’re now on J – for Japan, and three days in Tokyo in August 2014. Stay safe!