You want some more theatre memories? OK! November 1985 to June 1986

  1. The Gondoliers – The London Savoyards at the Barbican Hall, London, 8th November 1985

I’ve never liked Gilbert and Sullivan; go on, shoot me. I probably booked this in an attempt to see what I was missing, because I knew (and still do) so many people who think that G & S are a class act, and they can’t all be wrong. I have absolutely no memory of this show, so perhaps they are all wrong.

 

  1. Wife Begins at Forty – Ambassadors Theatre, London, 5th December 1985

A jolly comedy, produced by the (at the time) ubiquitous Theatre of Comedy Company, written by Arne Sultan and Earl Barret (who? Mr Barret was a TV writer of shows such as Bewitched and My Three Sons, and Mr Sultan was his TV producer) directed by Ray Cooney, so you know precisely the kind of thing to expect, and starring Dinsdale Landen and Liza Goddard. It was very enjoyable and memorable for one main reason; it was the first time that I took a young Australian lady, Miss Duncansby, to the theatre, whilst she was on holiday in the UK. Little did I know that 28 months later she would become Mrs Chrisparkle.

  1. Mutiny! – Piccadilly Theatre, London, 16th January 1986

Well this show had a fairly mighty pedigree, so long as you like David Essex – he wrote the music and starred as Fletcher Christian. I do like David Essex – on records – but not on stage, where I feel he is wooden and expressionless, sadly. But there was more to this show than Mr Essex. Frank Finlay was Captain Bligh, whilst Sinitta Renet (yes, the Sinitta of So Macho fame, who had been going out with Simon Cowell, had a longish fling with David Essex during the run of this show, and then went back to Cowell) played Maimiti. Directed by Michael Bogdanov, and choreographed by Christopher Bruce, this should have been a stunner of a show, but the critics panned it and I can’t remember much about it. This was the last show I was to see on my own for 16 years!

  1. Glengarry Glen Ross – Mermaid Theatre, London, 11th April 1986

With Miss D back in the UK, and us “going out” full time, our next show together was the new play by David Mamet, whose work I had admired for many years. Glengarry Glen Ross has come back recently, and felt like a much better play than our memory of this production, which is a difficult play to stage because of its uneven structure. Nevertheless I enjoyed it, whilst Miss D hated it. A strong cast included Derek Newark, Karl Johnson, James Grant, Kevin McNally and Tony Haygarth.

  1. Torch Song Trilogy – Albery Theatre, London, 19th April 1986

1986 turned out to be a year of big shows with big reputations, and first of the big-hitters that year was undoubtedly this landmark play and production, which, fortuitously, had a change of cast just before we saw it, so that the lead role of Arnold Beckoff was played by the writer and All Round Significant Person, Harvey Fierstein himself. It will come as no surprise that he was sensational – the perfect combination of funny and sad with huge dollops of emotion throughout. Rupert Frazer, Belinda Sinclair and Rupert Graves all gave brilliant supporting performances, and the memorable role of Arnold’s mum was played to perfection by Miriam Karlin.

  1. Starlight Express – Apollo Victoria Theatre, London, 14th May 1986

Starlight Express, answer me yes, are you real, yes or no? Definitely real to me, I absolutely loved this vast but intimate, brash but emotional show about little Rusty, the little steam engine who dreams big, and attempts to win the race to be fastest, so that he can steal the heart of Pearl, the first-class carriage. But Electra and Greaseball aren’t going to take that lying down. All on roller skates, of course, with aprons jutting out into the auditorium to bring the action even closer. A lovely score, with a few real highlights – Starlight Express, Light at the End of the Tunnel, and my favourite, He Whistled at Me. Yes, I know it’s for kids really, but you’d have to be really hard-hearted not to love it. The show had already been running for a couple of years, and our cast featured Kofi Missah as Rusty, Maria Hyde as Pearl, Lon Satton as Poppa, Drue Williams as Greaseball, and Maynard Williams as Electra. Only 11 days before we saw the show Maynard Williams (son of Bill Maynard) had appeared as the UK’s representative in the Eurovision Song Contest as lead singer of Ryder, with the song Runner in the Night. You won’t remember it.

  1. The Merry Wives of Windsor – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Theatre, London, 21st May 1986

Shakespeare’s knockabout comedy was given a 1950s treatment in a brilliant production by Bill Alexander, and with stunning set design by William Dudley. My main memory of it is watching Mistress Page and Mistress Ford getting their hair done under one of those big old 50s/60s hairdo machines. With a cast that included Nicky Henson, Lindsay Duncan, Ian Talbot, Peter Jeffrey (as Falstaff) and Sheila Steafel as Mistress Quickly, you can guess that laughter was the top priority. A relatively big group of us went to see this – not only Miss D, but also my friends Mike and Lin and her mum Barbara. A good night enjoyed by everyone!

 

  1. When We Are Married – Whitehall Theatre, London, 24th May 1986

J B Priestley’s vintage comedy was brought to life in an effervescent production by Ronald Eyre for the Theatre of Comedy Company, with this immense cast: Bill Fraser, James Grout, Patricia Hayes, Brian Murphy, Patricia Routledge, Patsy Rowlands, Elizabeth Spriggs, and the real life couple of Prunella Scales and Timothy West. Fascinatingly, Patricia Hayes had appeared in the original 1938 production – although in a much more minor role. Three couples discover that they are not legally married and endure Victorian levels of embarrassment as a result. Dated but still fun.

  1. La Cage aux Folles – London Palladium, 12th June 1986

Never one to miss an opportunity to go to the London Palladium, this was the original London production of Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s enduring musical, adapted from the old French comedy film of the same name. George Hearn and Denis Quilley took the lead roles, but it was Brian Glover’s fantastic comic performance as the dreadful M. Dindon that stole the show. I know everyone loves the song I Am what I Am, and it is indeed a great number, but it’s not a patch on the wonderful The Best of Times which always gives me goosebumps. Totally and officially fabulous in every respect.

  1. Ballet Rambert – Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, 16th and 23rd June 1986

Rambert had a two week season at Sadler’s Wells, with four programmes on offer in all, and over the course of two Saturdays we caught Programmes 1 and 3. Programme 1 featured Dipping Wings (Continual Departing) by Mary Evelyn, Soirée Musicale by Antony Tudor, Mercure by Ian Spink and Zansa by Richard Alston. Programme 3 was Glen Tetley’s Pierrot Lunaire, Christopher Bruce’s Ceremonies and Richard Alston’s Java, danced to the music of the Ink Spots. Hard to remember, but I think Programme 3 was the more entertaining. Rambert at the time had such brilliant dancers as Mark Baldwin, Lucy Bethune, Christopher Carney, Catherine Becque, Christopher Powney, and Frances Carty. Fantastic performances, and we continued to wear our Ballet Rambert t-shirts that we bought at the theatre for many years!

Review – Glengarry Glen Ross, Playhouse Theatre, 16th November 2017

Glengarry Glen RossDavid Mamet’s written some cracking plays in the past. Do you remember Sexual Perversity in Chicago? American Buffalo? Duck Variations? (Just how many ways can you do it with a duck?) And then there’s Glengarry Glen Ross. It was only the second play I saw with the then Miss Duncansby (now Mrs Chrisparkle), back in April 1986. The first, the previous December, had been Wife Begins at Forty, a hilarious romp which we both loved. Was I onto a winning streak with the Mamet? With Tony Haygarth, Kevin McNally, and Derek Newark all in the cast, what could possibly go wrong? She hated it.

GGR Christian SlaterFast forward 31 years (yikes!) and this new production of GGR, the prospect of which didn’t titillate her at all. But my friend, the Squire of Sidcup, suggested that it might be fun to go to see it, and I agreed. And I’m very glad I did, because this production wiped the floor with the original one, and is full of meticulous detail, superb performances and a tangible feel for the cut-throat world of Real Estate.

GGR Don WarringtonStructurally, it’s a lopsided play. The first act contains just three short scenes, set in a Chinese Restaurant (absolutely beautifully designed by Chiara Stephenson – you can almost smell the chop suey), where the salesmen go to discuss their nefarious wheeler-dealer activities, concocting plans to outdo the others, agreeing percentage cuts of percentage cuts in return for blind-eyes or insider knowledge; or maybe even a plot to break into the office overnight and steal all the preciously hidden “leads” – which could make a top salesman hundreds of thousands of dollars. The third scene is between the most successful salesman, Ricky Roma, and a poor sap of a geezer who just happened to be sitting in the restaurant. Before he knows it, he is being tempted with property beyond the dreams of avarice.

GGR Kris MarshallThat all takes place in a space of half an hour, and then it’s time for the interval. Originally (I understand) the interval was half an hour long and there were criticisms that it obstructed the natural flow of the story. For Thursday’s matinee, the interval was just twenty minutes, which felt fine. The second act takes place back at the office; there’s been a break-in, the leads are gone, but who stole them? And how will that team of competitive salesmen ever work together again?

GGR Stanley TownsendThe transformation from restaurant to tatty office during the interval is a remarkable feat, as the floor is strewn with papers, loose files, cabinets are overflowing with disturbed documentation; a clock on the back wall keeps time, and twenty minutes in to the act someone says it’s 12:15 and you look at the clock and it precisely is! That’s what I call attention to detail.

GGR Christian Slater and Daniel RyanThe big attraction in this production is the presence of Christian Slater as Ricky Roma. I’m not overly familiar with his work but, boy, is he a classy actor. The confidence, the ease, the charisma that he exudes is so impressive that he’s just a delight to watch and to hear. Roma is a total sleazeball but Mr Slater still makes him incredibly likeable, and even when you know he’s weaving a web of deceit around his victim, strangely, you’re still on his side. That’s a great achievement. His victim is the excellent Daniel Ryan, as Lingk, whom Mrs C and I last saw in Chichester’s The House They Grew Up In; he really is the master in portraying a put-upon underdog. There are also strong performances by Kris Marshall as the angularly unpleasant boss John Williamson, arrogantly patronising all his staff; Oliver Ryan as the impatient, gun-wielding local cop brought in to sort out the mess; and super-sub Mark Carlisle, effortlessly stepping into the role of the snide, cantankerous Dave Moss whilst Robert Glenister is indisposed.

GGR Christian Slater and Kris MarshallI really loved the indomitable Don Warrington as the hapless George Aaronow, perpetually confused and startled by life, almost frozen into stasis by the perplexity of everything around him, seeing the last dregs of what was once a decent career slip through his fingers. The brief Act One scene between Mr Warrington and Mr Carlisle was sheer joy, as they volleyed lines and responses back and forth to each other like a verbal tennis match. But perhaps the big surprise of the show is the brilliant performance by Stanley Townsend as Shelly Levene, glorying in the minutiae of his fabulous sale, getting a truly mellifluous resonance around his words as he proudly revelled in his moment. It’ll be a long time before I forget his recollections of that crumbcake.

Playhouse TheatreIt takes a great production to bring this play to life; and this production is teeming with it. Shocking, surprising, gasp-inducing and littered with laugh out loud moments – a really impressive work. It’s running till 3rd February 2018 and I’d recommend it wholeheartedly!