- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- English National Ballet – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 24th May 1996
I have to confess that I remember very little of this programme of dance from the English National Ballet. I can see from the list of dancers that it featured Principal Dancer Josephine Jewkes, Senior Soloists Angela De Mello and Kevin Richmond, and Soloists Rebecca Sewell and Paul Lewis. The programme was Mauro Bigonzetti’s Symphonic Dances, Kenneth Macmillan’s My Brother, My Sisters, and David Lichine’s Graduation Ball. I’m sure it was all terrific. But I can’t remember a thing about it.
- Victoria Wood on Tour – Apollo Theatre, Oxford, 25th June 1996
At the time, you probably couldn’t have gone to a more on-trend and must-see comedy show than Victoria Wood’s tour, when she was at her height of creativity. She knew exactly what her fans wanted – a mixture of old and new, so there was plenty of fresh stand-up, but still time for The Ballad of Freda and Barry and other old gems. Demand for tickets was very high and all we could get were two seats right at the very far end of the second row. It was great to be there; but I think I remember coming away with the idea that she was better on TV.
- I Have Been Here Before – Middle Ground Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 29th June 1996
I remember that this show was booked for just half a week at the Swan – from the Thursday to the Saturday, so they couldn’t have been confident that it would have attracted those early to midweek bums on seats. One of J B Priestley’s more mysterious Time Plays, I remember it being absolutely gripping, and a thoroughly decent production to boot. Starring Nicholas Smith (Are You Being Served’s Mr Rumbold) and Frederick Pyne (Emmerdale Farm’s Matt Skilbeck) and directed by David Kelsey, Artistic Director of Middle Ground Theatre Company, who sadly died during the play’s tour.
- Barnum – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 12th July 1996
Breaking my rule about not including shows in these blog posts that I had already seen, this production of Cy Coleman, Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s fantastic musical was notable for a few reasons. I think it was the first national tour of this show since it left the Palladium years previously; secondly, it drew very little attention from audiences and critics alike; thirdly it was also directed by the late David Kelsey who had died during the tour of both this show and the one I’ve just written about above ; and fourthly it starred a big name on TV at the time, game show host Andrew O’Connor, who was surprisingly superb in the role. I really enjoyed it – and was shocked at how few people there were in the audience on a Friday night!
- There’s a Girl in my Soup – Apollo Theatre, Oxford, 27th July 1996
Continuing to break my rule about not including shows in these blog posts that I had already seen, I was so excited at the prospect of a revival of Terence Frisby’s 60s smash hit that I had seen as a little kid and loved every minute of. So I was massively disappointed – but really shouldn’t have been surprised – that the touring production which we saw in the enormous Apollo Theatre Oxford on a Saturday matinee had one of the tiniest audiences I’ve ever seen. Whether it was the casting – with Love Thy Neighbour’s Jack Smethurst as Andrew (at a time when everyone believed that the content of that show was no longer something to be proud of) or whether it was just that the Swinging Sixties were an outdated concept, I don’t know. Despite them closing the circle and asking everyone in the Stalls to bunch up into the front five rows, this production had no hope of raising the tiniest of laughs and it was an embarrassment to be there. Not because it was bad, because it wasn’t. But because it was just wrong. I felt very sorry for Mr Smethurst – he was hoist by his own petard by being so good in Love Thy Neighbour that the general public couldn’t see that he was in fact an actor, rather than that bigoted character.
- High Society – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 20th September 1996
Moving past that year’s offering at the Pendley Festival – The Merchant of Venice – our next show was a production of Cole Porter’s so-called champagne musical, High Society, which we saw with the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle as we thought it would be her kind of thing. The musical version of the successful film, The Philadelphia Story, this excellent production was enormous fun, boasting a splendid cast including Tracey Childs, Michael Howe, Roland Curram and the one and only Miss Jackie Trent. We all had a swell party.
- Rambert Dance Company Autumn Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 10th October 1996
At a time when we simply couldn’t get enough Rambert, this was another superb programme. First was Christopher Bruce’s Moonshine, set to the music of Bob Dylan, and danced by Didy Veldman, Christopher Powney, Steven Brett and Sheron Wray. Next came the world premiere of Kim Brandstrup’s Eidolon, with Laurent Cavanna, Sarah Warsop, Simon Cooper, Daniel de Bourg, Rafael Bonachela, Patricia Hines, Elizabeth Old, Fabrice Serafino and Didy Veldman. After another interval it was Veldman’s own Kol Simcha, with the cast including Paul Liburd, Simon Cooper and Rafael Bonachela. Such great names, and such great performances.