Some good ones here!
- Half-Life – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 10th March 1978.
Passing over yet another trip to see A Chorus Line, I chose my next show because I wanted to see Sir John Gielgud on stage, and, if my memory serves me right, he was every bit as good as you would expect.
This meaty play had transferred over from the National Theatre’s Cottesloe and enjoyed a successful run – unsurprisingly. Gielgud played an elegant, noble, mannered gentleman coming to terms with the last years of his life. It was moving and funny at the same time. The excellent cast also featured Hugh Paddick, Diane Fletcher and Avril Elgar.
- Murder Among Friends – Comedy Theatre, London, 15th March 1978.
This comedy thriller had flopped on Broadway but came to London following a successful tour of South Africa the previous year. Written by Bob Barry, of whom I have heard nothing before nor since. It starred Moira Lister and Tony Britton, and I have some vague memories of it, but nothing substantial. It was very enjoyable though. The programme suggests that you enjoy a three course meal at their restaurant before the show for £2.70 including VAT. Bargain!
- The Rear Column – Globe Theatre, London, 17th March 1978.
Having really enjoyed Otherwise Engaged when I first started seeing West End shows on my own a couple of years previously, I thought I should definitely try this new play by the same author, Simon Gray – whose career I continued to follow with great interest.
The Rear Column had an impressive pedigree; directed by Harold Pinter, and starring Van der Valk himself, Barry Foster, as well as Clive Francis, Jeremy Irons and Young Winston, Simon Ward. It involved a stranded band of soldiers in the Congo, awaiting the return of Stanley (of Dr Livingstone I presume fame). It was a pitifully small audience because it received lousy reviews and failed to ignite the interest of the public. It closed after about six weeks. But I really enjoyed it – I was thoroughly gripped by the whole story and performance.
- Kismet – Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 22nd March 1978.
I saw this show with the Dowager Mrs C because she loved the songs, and I was curious to see how they would fit into the show format. Bitter sweet memories of this show, because a) I absolutely loved it, and it remains one of my favourite musicals of all time and b) the meal we had before the show went through me like a dose of salts and I had to miss Baubles Bangles and Beads as a result of a desperate rush to the stalls Gents toilet. I ended up with a horrible skin rash for a week or so due to the food poisoning. Grrrr!!
John Reardon was Hajj and Joan Diener, who had played the role in its original Broadway production, was Lalume. All the critics agreed that one important role was seriously miscast – I think that was Clifton Todd as the Caliph, who just didn’t seem right at all – but best of all was the brilliant Christopher Hewett as The Wazir. And we never went to that restaurant again.
- Ten Times Table – Globe Theatre, London, 10th April 1978.
Unexpectedly quickly arriving into the West End due to The Rear Column’s early demise, this latest comedy by Alan Ayckbourn featured ten bickering characters on the same committee. They’re attempting to re-enact some ghastly local event and, unsurprisingly, it all goes horribly wrong. The excellent cast was led by Paul Eddington and also had Julia McKenzie, Benjamin Whitrow, Tenniel Evans and Christopher Godwin, whom I met at the Royal and Derngate’s celebration for Ayckbourn’s 70th birthday a few years ago, and was able to tell him how much I enjoyed his performance. He was gobsmacked that anyone would have remembered it. A very good show, a typical crowd pleaser of the time.
- Plenty – David Hare, Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 17th April 1978.
I had already started to devour David Hare’s plays by reading almost everything he’d written to that date, so when I saw there was a new Hare coming to the National, booking for it was a no-brainer. A fascinating and uncomfortable play starring Kate Nelligan as Susan Traherne, a wartime secret agent coming to terms with her dull life of today. The great cast also included Julie Covington, Stephen Moore and a young Lindsay Duncan. I thoroughly enjoyed it – a serious, meaty play with lots to think about. This was also the last play I saw as a “child” – as I turned 18 before I saw my next one!
- Macbeth – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Young Vic, London, 27th April 1978.
And what a significant production to start my adult theatregoing life! I don’t know how I managed to get tickets for this, but I did. Trevor Nunn’s pared back, stark, gimmick-free production was just sensational. Look at this for a cast: Macbeth – Ian McKellen; Lady Macbeth – Judi Dench; Macduff – Bob Peck; Banquo – John Woodvine; Porter – Ian McDiarmid; Malcolm – Roger Rees; and so on.
Fortunately the production was filmed and you can still buy a copy today. Without doubt the best production of a Shakespeare tragedy I’ve ever seen, in the trendy but simple environment of the Young Vic, sitting on those old wooden benches. Two hours that flew by!
- A Picture of Innocence – Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, 21st June 1978.
For five weeks in the summer of 1978 I stayed with relatives, whom I’d never met before, in Toronto, for a bit of a Gap Year break. I intended to travel around, go to New York, and so on, but I loved Toronto so much that I didn’t want to leave! Whilst I was there I decided to see what was on at the theatre, and I discovered this eminently British production of a new comedy by Robert Morley and John Wells. The Picture of Innocence in question is a formal portrait of some respectable gentlemen who also liked to dress up as women. I remember it being a very funny play – although I didn’t particularly get the sense of shock that the Toronto matinee-goers experienced at the sight of men en travestie. A great cast led by Robert Morley, also included Basil Brush’s Uncle Derek Fowlds, Kenneth Griffith and a young Susie Blake. Whether or not they were hoping for a West End transfer I don’t know, but it didn’t happen.
- A Murder is Announced – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 15th July 1978.
Agatha Christie’s famous book adapted for the stage by Leslie Darbon was proving a great success, and had already been running for nine months by the time I saw it. Dulcie Gray played Miss Marple and she looked every inch the part. Dinah Sheridan took the lead role of Letitia Blacklock. I remember an excellent comedy turn from Ursula Mohan as the ghastly cook Mitzi. Because I knew the book, I already knew whodunit, which detracted from seeing the play a little, but it was still fun.
- Every Good Boy Deserves Favour – Mermaid Theatre, London, 17th July 1978.
I saw this with my friend Claire on one of our Monday night out nights out. Tom Stoppard’s fascinating collaboration with Andre Previn created this moving and inventive story of a Russian dissident confined in a mental hospital for his anti-state beliefs and writings. There he meets a fellow inmate who believes he has a symphony orchestra in his head. The play starred John Woodvine, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Windsor and John Carlisle, performed in tandem with the full Mermaid Chamber Orchestra. Very different, very telling, and very memorable.
Thanks for joining me on this trip down memory lane. Tomorrow it’s back to the holiday pics and G is for Germany and a day in Munich in 1989. Stay safe!