Still More Theatre Memories – July to September 1979

Ready Steady Go!

  1. The Family Reunion – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 9th July 1979

image(662)image(663)I decided to go and see this because I’d never seen a T S Eliot play before – and boy was it heavy going. I don’t have much in the way of memories of this show, but I do remember that I didn’t enjoy it much! A transfer from the Manchester Royal Exchange, this had a very classy cast led by Edward Fox but also featuring Joanna David (whom Fox would marry 25 years later), Constance Chapman, Avril Elgar and a respectably authoritative figure of British Theatre, Esmond Knight.

  1. Happy Birthday – Apollo Theatre, London, 13th July 1979.

image(668)On the strength of the reputation and hilarity of Boeing Boeing, I decided to see this new comedy by Marc Camoletti, translated (as always) by Beverley Cross. Again, I can’t remember too much about it other than it was extremely funny in the typical farce tradition. image(669)The cast was led by Dad’s Army’s Ian Lavender, plus Christopher Timothy, Elizabeth Counsell, Julia Foster and Malou Cartwright. I don’t think this play features as one of Camoletti’s big successes – but he was so successful anyway that it didn’t matter. The programme was very generous with its production photos as you can see!



  1. Filumena – Lyric Theatre, London, 18th July 1979.

image(658)A super-strong cast and a massively positive critical reception led me to expect a brilliant comedy. However, I was really disappointed. I found it stodgy, noisy, and rather boring. And I discovered that I was really tried and tested by the use of Spaghetti English – the play is set in Naples, image(659)and to prove it, all these British actors spoke as if they arguing in a pizza kitchen witha realla heavya Italiana accentas!  So incredibly tedious. So look at this cast: Joan Plowright (yes, indeed, Lady Olivier), Frank Finlay, Patricia Hayes and… looking way, way, way down the cast list a 24-year-old Ken Stott and a 25-year-old upstart by name of Pierce Brosnan. Not for me.



  1. Dispatches – Cottesloe Theatre, National Theatre, London, July 1979.

image(649)image(653)A gripping adaptation of Michael Herr’s book about the Vietnamese War, written and directed by Bill Bryden. It had a fantastic cast and I remember really strong performances from Kevin McNally, Brian Protheroe, James Grant, Oscar James, Jack Shepherd and especially Don Warrington, who I had always enjoyed in TV’s Rising Damp. Creative and inventive use of the Cottesloe acting space too. Enjoyable would be the wrong word, but it was very well done and exciting.


  1. Can You Hear Me at the Back? – Piccadilly Theatre, London, 23rd July 1979.

image(638)This was written by Brian Clark, who had written the excellent Whose Life is it Anyway, and maybe it was the fact that the title was also a image(642)question that swung it for me to book – but this was another show that was quite a disappointment. My main memory of it was that it was incredibly pretentious, but I can’t quite remember why. A terrific cast though: Peter Barkworth, Hannah Gordon, Edward Hardwicke, Michael Maloney and a pre-Tenko and Dynasty Stephanie Beacham, who all looked as bored during curtain call as I felt. A lot of angst for not a lot of dramatic benefit.

  1. Bodies – Ambassadors Theatre, London, 28th August 1979.

image(644)After a five week-break between shows to accommodate a pretty disastrous camping holiday with university friends, I went to see Dinsdale Landen in James Saunders’ new comedy, Bodies, an examination of marital infidelity as so many 1970s plays are.image(645) My chief memory of this was that it was very wordy and much more to do with talking about things than doing them, so again, I think I might have been rather bored by this play. image(633)

I hadn’t had much luck that summer picking out the best shows!

  1. The Gin Game – Lyric Theatre, London, 4th September 1979.

image(635)image(637)image(622)Ignoring my first ever visit to the Pendley Festival in Tring to see Macbeth, my next London show was The Gin Game, which I booked on the strength of its cast. I admit, I had no idea who Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy were, but they had a lengthy reputation; and, I have to admit, on stage, they were absolute dynamite. The play is the story of two elderly care home residents who strike up an argumentative friendship over a series of gin rummy games. Beautifully acted, written and presented, it was a privilege to see.

  1. The Government Inspector – The Old Vic, London, 5th September 1979.

image(627)image(626)The Old Vic Company held an exciting season in the autumn of 1979, but the show I chose to see was Gogol’s The Government Inspector because I’d heard it was a clever and funny satire, and I knew nothing of Gogol and wanted to find out. It was a great production of a very funny play and I really enjoyed it. The cast was led by Ian (you might say that, I couldn’t possibly comment) Richardson on top form, with great support from Barbara Jefford, Ronnie Stevens and a talented cast. Right at the bottom of the cast list, as a townsperson, and not meriting an entry in the list of biographies in the programme, one young pre-Jewel in the Crown Art Malik.


  1. Close of Play – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 12th September 1979.

image(619)image(621)There were two reasons to book to see this new play; it was written by Simon Gray, whose career I was following closely, and it starred Michael Redgrave, in what was to be his last appearance in a theatre. Sir Michael played Jasper, the elderly, demented, catatonic head of the household, whilst his family members squabble and reminisce on their situation. A very strong and moving play with a stonkingly good supporting cast including Michael Gambon, John Standing, Zena Walker and Anna Massey. Directed by Harold Pinter, of course.


  1. For Services Rendered – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 14th September 1979.


Returning to the Lyttelton two days later (and I’d be back again the following week) to see Michael Rudman’s production of Somerset Maugham’s classic examination of the effects of the First World War on an otherwise polite-appearing family. Done with a great sense of period and occasion, this excellent production starred Jean Anderson as the elderly mother trying to influence the morals of her random offspring, with a fantastic supporting cast that included Barbara Ferris, Phyllida Law, Peter Jeffrey, Alison Fiske and Robin Bailey. Very absorbing and enjoyable.

Thanks for joining me on this set of blasts from the past. Tomorrow, it’s back to the holiday snaps and I is for India, my favourite travel destination, and a few days in glorious Varanasi back in 2016. Stay safe!

Review – For Services Rendered, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, 29th August 2015

For Services Rendered First Chichester weekend of the year, and a joint visit with our friends Lord Liverpool and the Countess of Cockfosters. The last time we saw them was for a show in Edinburgh, and it poured with rain. This time, in Chichester, it poured with rain again. We’re seeing them next weekend in Stratford. I don’t have much in the way of climactic expectations!

For Services Rendered 1979After a really superb lunch in the Minerva Brasserie (why would you go anywhere else pre-theatre in Chichester?) we took our seats in the Minerva Theatre for For Services Rendered. Described as a rarely performed play nowadays, I did get to see it at the National in 1979 – on September 14th, in fact, in seat G14 in the Stalls, priced £5.95. I remember it being a stunning production, featuring such stalwarts of the stage as Jean Anderson, Alison Fiske, Peter Jeffrey, Harold Innocent, Barbara Ferris and Phyllida Law. Of course the original production starred Flora Robson and Ralph Richardson – I bet that had the wow factor. But there’s no doubt that this new production at Chichester is, I’m sure, as fine as any in the past. Superb attention to period detail, a deep, beautiful, atmospheric set, and cut-glass acting as good as you’ll get anywhere.

Stella GonetWritten in 1932, this was Somerset Maugham’s last-but-one play, an examination of the fallout of World War One within a well-to-do English family. Fourteen years on, the Ardsleys are still just about surviving, with the oldest son and heir blinded in the war, and therefore unable to carry on the family business; one daughter having lost the man she’d hoped to marry; another having married outside her class (disgraceful) to a tenant farmer; and the third unmarried at 27 with no hope of finding a suitable gentleman in the backwater in which they live. Simon ChandlerIn addition, there is the hard-up ex-officer Collie Stratton, who opened a motor repair business that has fallen on its face, and a married couple with no apparent love for each other, but with the husband eager to seduce the Ardsleys’ youngest daughter. All that, and the doctor brother of the lady of the house has concerns about her health… Maugham weaves these threads together culminating in various degrees of tragedy, although there is one glimmer of happiness for a couple of the characters somewhere there – but on reflection, it’s unlikely to end well.

Anthony CalfWhilst this may be a play from several eras ago, and you may feel that the drawing-room, middle class setting is anachronistic in the post- Look Back in Anger age, there is much to admire and appreciate about this play. Staging it today shows how the general emancipation of women has come a long way; back in 1932 it just wasn’t done for women to make their own decisions about – well, anything really. Marrying outside of one’s class is shown to be a foolish venture, inevitably ending in disappointment; that is perhaps the one element in which this play has a dated feel. Apart from that, much that was relevant then is relevant today. Matilda ZieglerCoping with social shame and scandal can still result in suicide. Lives and relationships can still be ruined in the aftermath of war. As a nation, we still don’t look after our war veterans as we should; many of them still rely on drink or drugs as a prop on which some of them just about get by. Recessions and depressions affect our livelihoods and incomes; but there will always be those who have inordinately inappropriate sums of money at their fingertips, to keep for their own pleasure and fun without a thought for the wider community. If For Services Rendered had been written by Noel Coward, we might have expected a wittier touch or maybe a happier ending; but Maugham liked his gloom, and, despite a few ironically humorous scenes, the tone and vision remain bleak throughout – but appropriately so.

Justine MitchellHoward Davies’ classy production thrills you from the moment you enter the auditorium and are greeted by William Dudley’s elegant, tasteful set; in fact it was all I could do to deter Lord Liverpool from jumping on stage, lolling on one of the dining chairs, feet up on the table, feigning 1930s ennui with a tennis racquet in one hand and The Times in the other. The whole production oozes dignified restraint, from the rarely played wireless in the corner to the well-worn but once hideously expensive eastern carpets. Only the pantomime-like clap of thunder that heralds in the second act strikes an over the top note; I half-expected Mr Ardsley to burst out of a stylised bottle, bestowing three surprise wishes upon the impoverished Collie.

Joseph KloskaStella Gonet’s Mrs Ardsley is a strong matriarch, who knows precisely how to behave decently and will never stoop to depths unbecoming of a lady. Her altercation (such as it is) with youngest daughter Lois is a fine exercise in strict discretion, packing her off to spend months with a miserable aunt before she even has a chance to fiddle with her pearls. It’s a beautiful performance, blending practicality with decorum, and when her character has her own tragedy to contend with, she gives us a classic stiff-upper-lip experience that you can only admire Yolanda Kettleand hope you’d be like that in the same circumstances. As her husband, Simon Chandler is a little nugget of Victorian conservatism, decent but unbending, intelligent but without empathy; a walking, talking, emotional void who follows rules to the nth degree. Much of the ironic humour comes from his total inability to see the wood for the trees.

Jo HerbertAnthony Calf is excellent as always as the abysmal Wilfred Cedar, exuding friendship and bonhomie when it suits him, retreating into hostile selfishness when challenged. He very credibly gives the impression of someone falling in love with love, and there’s a huge element of the pathetic about his approaches to young Lois. Matilda Ziegler’s Gwen is a brilliant creation of a woman under pressure to keep her man, mixing sarcasm and ridicule with sheer venom. I also loved her opening scene where every comment she made could be taken as an insult – it was immaculately performed. There’s also a brilliant performance by Justine Mitchell as Eva, who’s sacrificed her own emotions to do the decent thing by blinded brother Sydney, but who just can’t take any more of that wretched chess.Nick Fletcher Her scene with Joseph Kloska, as the persistently irritated and irritating Sydney, where he’s criticising her on her chess moves, is electric. But it is Ms Mitchell’s semi-coquettish approaches to Nick Fletcher’s Collie, sending as strong a signal as is decently possible to suggest that, like Barkis, she is willing, that constitutes the stand-out performance of this play. She positively hurts with pointless optimism, as she tries to lend him money or suggest they would make a good couple together; but Eva is the character to whom Somerset Maugham most wants to deny happiness, and her increasing mental instability is movingly and convincingly played.

Sam CallisJo Herbert is excellent as the put-upon but stoic Ethel, Sam Callis also very good as the rough and ready farmer Howard with potentially straying hands. Yolanda Kettle is very convincing as the frustrated, teasing and not entirely demure Lois, and David Annen turns in a very nice performance as the doctor/brother, incapable of persuading his patient to do the right thing, and, when it comes to the crunch, resigned to (as he sees it) failure.

David AnnenA rewarding, thoughtful, and thoroughly traditional revival which kept everyone on the edge of their seats and really satisfied its audience. We all came out heaping praise on the performers and the production. If you’re not au fait with between-the-wars British drama this is a perfect opportunity to see how stiff those upper lips could be. Highly recommended.