Theatre memories, you say? All right then! January to April 2007

  1. Omid Djalili – Oxford Playhouse, 17th January 2007

Omid DjaliliOne of the very first stand-up comedy shows we ever saw, Omid Djalili was beginning to break through on TV comedy shows and I have to say that, live, he is sensational. A great night’s comedy.

  1. Cabaret – Lyric Theatre, London, 27th January 2007

Rufus Norris’ amazing production of Kander and Ebb’s brilliant musical, that continues to tour and to influence other productions to this day. Anna Maxwell Martin proved her versatility as Miss Sally Bowles, and a very affectionate coupling of Sheila Hancock as Fraulein Schneider and Geoffrey Hutchings as Herr Schultz. James Dreyfus played Emcee and I expect he was terrific, but the night we saw it, his understudy was playing and I regret I have no note as to who that was. An excellent production.

  1. Hay Fever – Oxford Playhouse, 24th February 2007

I had always wanted to see a production of one of Noel Coward’s earlier sparkling comedies, but sadly I have hardly any memories of this show, starring Christopher Timothy and Stephanie Beacham as the heads of the theatrical Bliss family. I’m sure it was good though!

  1. Spiegel – Ultima Vez/Wim Vandekeybus at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 2nd March 2007

This show could have been called Wim Vandekeybus’ Greatest Hits, with excerpts from several of his previous shows forming a new work as a whole. Again, very few memories of this show, I’m afraid.

  1. Guys and Dolls – Milton Keynes Theatre, 7th March 2007

Breaking my usual rule about not including shows I’ve seen before in these blogs, this was a very brash production of Guys and Dolls by Michael Grandage, but my memory is that it was a little underwhelming. The four big roles were played by Alex Ferns, Samantha Janus, Norman Bowman and Louise Dearman.

  1. Equus – Gielgud Theatre, London, 17th March 2007

A really big ticket at the time – Richard Griffiths as Martin Dysart with Daniel Radcliffe as Alan Strang; and Jenny Agutter as Hesther. A terrific coupling of two amazing actors, one slowly reaching the end of his career, one blossoming at the start of his – and both known for their work on Harry Potter. Young Mr Radcliffe was still only 17 when he took on this brave role. And it was every bit the riveting show that you would imagine.

  1. Madama Butterfly – Welsh National Opera at the Milton Keynes Theatre, March 2007

A beautiful, strong and sensitive production of Puccini’s opera – but mainly notable for me as it was the last time we took the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle to the theatre, before her dementia sadly took over. I’m delighted to say that she loved it.

  1. Boeing Boeing – Comedy Theatre, London, 6th April 2007

Marc Camoletti’s wonderful comedy from 1962 was given a completely fresh make-over and bounded back to life in this brilliant revival by Matthew Warchus. A dream team of a cast, with Roger Allam as the Lothario Bernard, Mark Rylance as his bemused friend Robert, Frances de la Tour as the bolshie maid Bertha, and Tamzin Outhwaite, Daisy Beaumont and Michelle Gomez as the three air hostesses whom Bernard is controlling through close following of the Boeing timetables. Incredibly funny, full of beautiful period detail, and a total joy.

  1. The Sound of Music – London Palladium, 9th April 2007

The production that followed Andrew Lloyd Webber’s TV search for a new Maria – Connie Fisher – this was a tremendous show that at times transformed the innocent Palladium into a Nazi conference with swastikas all over the auditorium – very scary and extremely effective. We went on the one night of the week that Connie Fisher didn’t perform – it was the only night that tickets were readily available – but Sophie Bould, who normally played Liesl, played Maria and she was absolutely brilliant. All this plus Lesley Garrett as the Mother Superior and Alexander Hanson as von Trapp.

  1. Can-Can – Lost Musicals at the Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London, 15th April 2007

Another of Ian Marshall Fisher’s delvings into the back catalogue of Lost Musicals, Can Can is an old Cole Porter show brought to life in the round by the usual crowd, including James Vaughan, Stewart Permutt, Myra Sands and Valerie Cutko. Great fun as always.

Carrying on with the theatre memories – October 1981 to April 1982

Come on in, the water’s lovely!

  1. The Killing Game – Apollo Theatre, London, 29th October 1981

image(1193)image(1194)image(1199)Thomas Muschamp’s The Killing Game was an intriguing thriller with a military air; it had something of the Conduct Unbecoming to it, if you remember that old play. Given the fact that he apparently wrote dozens of plays, Mr Muschamp’s oeuvre seems to be largely forgotten today. I remember this as being a riveting and exciting drama that kept me guessing throughout. An excellent cast but I particularly remember Hannah Gordon being superb.

  1. The Mitford Girls – Globe Theatre, London, 4th November 1981

image(1185)image(1186)image(1178)Another two-show day, this started off with Ned Sherrin and Caryl Brahms’ musical about the six Mitford sisters, the socialite, not socialist, family who got in with the Mosleys and the Hitlers and suchlike in the first half of the twentieth century. Nicely done, but it left me a bit cold – although, maybe that was the point? A great cast starred Patricia Hodge, with terrific stalwarts including Gay Soper and Julia Sutton – not to mention Oz Clarke. It even had “dances supervised” (whatever that means) by Anton Dolin. I remember feeling grateful that I had another show to go on to; and, indeed, it didn’t last long in the West End.

  1. Anyone for Denis – Whitehall Theatre, London, 4th November 1981

image(1181)John Wells’ Chequers-based farce was a complete hoot, with a fantastic central performance by Angela Thorne as Maggie Thatcher, although I always found John Wells’ own impersonation of Denis as rather over the top.

image(1182)I still cringe when I think of the publicity photo with Ms Thorne and Mr Wells and the real Thatchers – Denis obviously found it hilarious, but The Iron Lady had a smile full of individually gritted teeth.

A fascinating example of political satire that could never have been allowed whilst Theatre Censorship was in action. Creatively different programme, too!

  1. Children of a Lesser God – Albery Theatre, London, 5th November 1981

image(1171)image(1172)image(1175)On a second two-show day, I first saw Mark Medoff’s stunning play about a relationship between two members of staff at a school for the deaf, which garnered several awards on both sides of the Atlantic. The main roles were taken by the deaf actor Elizabeth Quinn and the hearing actor – and Shoestring himself – Trevor Eve. I remember it as a gripping and riveting watch, chock-full of terrific performances, and indeed it was later made into a very successful film.

  1. Roll on 4 O’clock – Palace Theatre, London, 5th November 1981

image(1162)image(1163)image(1168)The Palace Theatre is an awfully big place when there aren’t that many people in the audience so this third night performance of Colin Welland’s amusing but overwhelmingly alarming play about teachers coping with life as teachers and homophobic bullying amongst the boys felt a bit surreal. Primarily I went to see it because I wanted to see what Windsor Davies was like on stage – and he was brilliant. I remember him rousing up the first few rows of the stalls so that we all stood up to sing a hymn just before the curtain fell for the interval. Enjoyable, but I was expecting more. Also appearing as members of staff were Shaun Curry, Bernard Gallagher and Clive Swift, and amongst the boys, Nick Conway went on to have a very successful acting (and teaching) career.

  1. Pass the Butler – Globe Theatre, London, 6th February 1982

image(1156)image(1157)image(1149)A farce by Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle, and with a massive cast headed by William Rushton, John Fortune and Peter Jones, directed by Jonathan Lynn, should have been a thing of joy. But I remember it as being sadly shallow and full of horribly easy laughs, and, whilst it was certainly superficially funny at times, it didn’t have anything like enough oomph to become memorable. Can’t win them all – my next four shows were all sensational.

  1. On the Razzle – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 20th February 1982

image(1152)I saw this with my friend Ian – I’m not quite sure why he wanted to see it, but I’m glad he convinced me. Adapted by Tom Stoppard from Johann Nestroy’s 1842 comedy Einen Jux will er sich machen, which was also adapted into The Matchmaker and Hello Dolly, this was a brilliantly funny farce with maniacally lively characters, a superb script and some fantastic performances – Ray Brooks, Felicity Kendal, Dinsdale Landen, Joan Hickson, and above all, Michael Kitchen who was on fire for this show. image(1137)A farce of mistaken identities, romantic entanglements, an actress playing a boy and anything else Stoppard and Nestroy could chuck at it. I note that of the three child actors playing the Ragamuffin, one of them was Adam Woodyatt (aka Ian Beale). As Michael Kitchen said many times during this show: In a word, classic.

 

  1. Guys and Dolls – Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, 4th March 1982

image(1138)image(1139)image(1140)A preview production of the show that has never really gone away since. Frank Loesser’s magnificent musical based on the writings and characters of Damon Runyon is full of the stuff of legend – and this incredible production by Richard Eyre quickly entered the annals of history as being Of The Best. I’ll never forget the audience erupting with ecstasy at David Healy’s finest career moment – his performance of Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat – so much so that Harry Towb, who had the next line as Lieutenant Branigan, simply gave up waiting to deliver it and joined the audience in demanding a reprise. With a dream team four main actors of Julia McKenzie, Julie Covington, Ian Charleson and Bob Hoskins, supporting cast including Barrie Rutter, John Normington and a young Imelda Staunton, this was always going to be one of the best shows anyone was ever likely to see. This production fired up some controversy along the lines of “should the subsidised theatre be creating commercial productions like this that could stand on their own two feet on Shaftesbury Avenue?” When it was a production of this quality, the answer was, unquestionably, yes.

  1. Another Country – Queen’s Theatre, London, 10th April 1982

image(1144)image(1129)image(1133)Julian Mitchell’s astonishing play about two social outsiders growing up in the public school system ran for ages and remains a landmark production, not only because it’s a riveting play, but because of the two young stars that were made from it – Rupert Everett in his first West End role and Kenneth Branagh, straight out of RADA. It wasn’t difficult to tell that these two would set the world on fire. Inspired by the real life story of Guy Burgess, the play went on to become a very successful film and is often revived. Another highly memorable and electric theatrical experience.

  1. Noises Off – Savoy Theatre, London, 15th April 1982

image(1135)image(1136)image(1125)Michael Frayn’s best known play had been running for just two weeks at the Savoy Theatre when I saw it, and since then I must have seen it at least another three or four times! A classic farce of backstage shenanigans with a hopeless cast rehearsing a dreadful sex comedy – and we see the first act of this awful play three times from three different perspectives and at three different points of its disastrous tour. One of the funniest plays around – and it still packs them in wherever it plays. With a superb original cast of Paul Eddington, Patricia Routledge, Nicky Henson, Roger Lloyd Pack and many more blistering names – just sensational.

Thanks for joining me down this theatrical memory lane. Next regular blog will probably be back to the holiday snaps and J is also for Jordan, and a week of exciting sightseeing in November 2008. Stay safe!

Review – Guys and Dolls, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 4th January 2020

82276430_471085450481862_4812180997384699904_nOur traditional post-New Year weekend in Sheffield as a Christmas present to Lord and Lady Prosecco just got bigger. This year, also joined by Professor and Mrs Plum, Lord Liverpool, the Countess of Cockfosters and their assorted offspring, twelve of us descended on the St Paul’s Place Pizza Express before hitting the Crucible to enjoy this year’s Christmas show, Guys and Dolls.

Follow the FoldGuys and Dolls was, is, and always will be, one of the great American musicals. Jam-packed with memorable songs, outrageous characters, a heart-warming plot and great dance opportunities, it’s guaranteed to bring a smile to the stoniest of faces and an entrechat to the most lumpen of feet. This is the fourth time I’ve seen the show, most memorably the first time in 1982 when I saw a preview of That Famous National Theatre production starring Julia McKenzie, Bob Hoskins, Ian Charleson and Julie Covington (so when I say starring, I mean starring). Least memorable was the 2007 touring production with Alex Ferns and Samantha Janus (as she was then). There was also a fabulous 2014 Chichester production with Peter Polycarpou, Clare Foster, Sophie Thompson and Jamie Parker. Comparisons are of course odious but irresistible; so I’ll try to ignore the earlier productions!

Sky and NathanIf you don’t know the story of Guys and Dolls, where have you been all your life? Inspired by the stories and characters of Damon Runyon, meet the sniffly song-and-dance artiste Miss Adelaide, whose symptoms get worse throughout the show due to her fiancé, Nathan Detroit’s, inability to commit. Detroit tries to organise an illegal crap game without Miss Adelaide’s knowledge – she wouldn’t approve – but the one thousand bucks, as demanded by the Biltmore Garage to host the game, he ain’t got. Meanwhile, at the Save-a-Soul Mission, Sergeant Sarah Brown is trying to attract penitent punters to her hymn gatherings, but without much success. Enter Gambler Maestro Sky Masterson, a man with charisma bursting out of his wallet. To meet the Biltmore’s demand, Detroit bets $1000 that Masterson won’t take a girl of his choosing on a date to Havana, Cuba. Masterson accepts; Detroit chooses Sarah Brown; and if you don’t know the rest of the story, I’m not going to tell you.

Luck be a LadyDesigner Janet Bird has created an intriguing set with walls that slide in and out of place, and with outer revolving tracks that suggest busy sidewalks, to leave a usefully empty space in the middle for crap games, Hot Box dances and mission hall meetings. Will Stuart’s excellent band are perched aloft, inside what looks like an attic bar (nice for them). Intricate choreographer Matt Flint, back from last year’s Kiss Me Kate, has risen to the challenge of creating those big set piece dance numbers that are often a feature of the Crucible Christmas show. The Crap Shooters’ Ballet followed by Luck be a Lady is powerful and hard-hitting, as it should be; even more entertaining is the marvellous Havana salsa scene, which tells an entertaining story of a couple out for the night, except that he dances with Sarah and she dances with Sky and by the end of the evening they’re having a full-blown argument – all to enticing salsa rhythms, of course.

In the Hot BoxRobert Hastie has assembled a tremendous cast who all give great performances throughout. Natalie Casey emphasises Miss Adelaide’s camp cutesiness with some wicked facial expressions and vocal deliveries and brings bags of fun to the role whilst still recognising the character’s genuine inner sadness. Alex Young is superb as ever as Sarah Brown, with her magnificent voice taking on Frank Loesser’s iconic songs with supreme ease, her eyes summing up all the imperfections of Sky Masterson’s character with an instant loving scorn. It’s a great portrayal of a good girl gone not necessarily bad, but revelling in her defences being down.

I Got the Horse Right HereThe remarkably versatile Martin Marquez (whose abilities range from musical comedy in Anything Goes, farce in Boeing Boeing to contemporary drama in Blasted) is a mature Nathan Detroit, hiding desperately from his responsibilities to Miss Adelaide. He’s a great singer and provides a more romantic interpretation of the song Sue Me than I’d previously encountered. Kadiff Kirwan impresses as the suave Sky Masterson and also sings and dances terrifically. I’d not come across his work before, but with a great stage presence, Mr Kirwan could definitely be One To Watch for the future.

Nicely NicelyThere’s another superb partnership between TJ Lloyd as Nicely Nicely Johnson and Adrian Hansel as Benny Southstreet; their rendition of the song Guys and Dolls is a highlight of the whole show and of course Mr Lloyd is brilliant in Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat. I’d enjoyed Mr Hansel’s performance in Hairspray several years ago but Mr Lloyd is new to me – both actors lit up the stage every time they came on and I can’t wait to see them again in the future.

General CartwrightElsewhere in the cast there’s a kindly performance from Garry Robson as Arvide Abernathy, with a moving performance of More I Cannot Wish You; an enjoyably intimidating Big Jule played by Dafydd Emyr; and a spirited Hallelujah of a performance from one of my favourite actors, Dawn Hope as General Cartwright.

Marry the Man TodayPerhaps a slightly curious staging choice came at the end of the cheeky Marry The Man Today, when Detroit and Masterson appeared on stage and stopped Miss Adelaide and Sarah Brown in their vocal tracks; rather than having the two women enjoy their moment of girlish fantasies they were forced to face the reality of their husbandly destinies in person, which made the female characters feel subservient to their men. The Countess of Cockfosters wasn’t impressed with this staging decision and on reflection I have to agree.

Guys and DollsNevertheless, although it’s almost a three-hour show the time simply flies by. Guys and Dolls maintains the high-quality tradition of the Crucible Christmas shows with its spectacle, skill and artistry, superb music and dance elements and provides plenty to talk about it the bar afterwards. Recommended!

Production photos by Johan Persson

Review – Guys and Dolls, Festival Theatre Chichester, 20th September 2014

Guys and Dolls 2014Wasn’t it Stephen Sondheim who said (and I think it was) that the best musical ever written is Carmen? Or maybe it was me. No, it wouldn’t have been me because my favourite musical of all time is A Chorus Line, and nothing is ever going to change me from that – inflexible though that sounds. But of all the other musicals ever written, a big contender for the title of Best Ever is without doubt Guys and Dolls, which fills your heart with happiness and pathos non-stop for two and a half hours and is jam-packed with a score that soars.

Guys and Dolls 1982It’s based on the Broadway-based short stories of Damon Runyon and tells the tales of two ladies. Miss Adelaide is the star at the Hot Box revue and has been engaged to Nathan for fourteen years. Unsurprisingly, she’s getting a bit fed up of her status, which has brought on psychosomatic sniffles. Nathan’s a bit of a lazy so-and-so and just makes his money from organising floating crap games – and although he’s promised Miss Adelaide that he’s stopped this reckless and illegal way of making a living, he hasn’t. Sister Sarah Brown is a prim but kind-hearted Salvationist at the Save A Soul Mission. If she doesn’t get more sinners to attend her meetings, the mission is going to get closed down. Enter inveterate gambler (and charmer) Sky Masterson, who wins a bet and the lady’s heart even though he’s not at all the kind of guy she’d imagined she’d want. Do Miss Adelaide and Nathan eventually get married? Does Sky arrange for all the local gamblers to attend the prayer meeting and convince Sarah that he’s the right guy for her? Of course they do!

The Oldest EstablishedAlthough it is undoubtedly a top-notch show, it’s not perfect – it breaks the Chrisparkle Cardinal Rule for a great musical, which is that every song must move the story or character development forward. There’s nothing worse than a musical where you have plot development then stop for a song, then more plot development, then stop for a song, and so on ad nauseam, mentioning no names (42nd Street). Guys and Dolls has two songs that are simply excuses for Miss Adelaide and the Hot Box girls to show us what they’re made of – the rather silly Bushel and a Peck, and the utterly brilliant Take Back Your Mink. They’re nothing more than dramatic interludes, but I break my Cardinal Rule and forgive them for that, due to the sheer entertainment value. There are also two sequences that seem rather dated today but fit perfectly to the “standard musical formula” of the time – this was written in 1950 – the ubiquitous musical ballet sequences. Think Oklahoma’s Dream Ballet or Carousel’s Billy Makes a Journey. However, they do have a purpose. The Havana sequence allows us to see Sarah Brown let her hair down, and the Crap Shooters’ Ballet serves as a lively aperitif to – indeed almost an extension of – Luck Be A Lady.

Take Back Your MinkChichester’s production of Guys and Dolls is a spectacular success. Beautiful to look at, thrilling to hear, and with some sensational performances that really take your breath away. Every department – lighting, sound, costume, choreography – excels. This was only the second time in all my years of theatregoing that I’ve seen this show – and it was Mrs Chrisparkle’s first. I remember with huge affection the National Theatre’s amazing production that I saw at a preview performance on 4th March 1982, starring a most glorious cast. I know it’s rude to compare, but it’s my blog and I’ll compare if I want to. Sadly, I may have to use the phrase “the late great” a few times in this paragraph. Miss Adelaide was played by Julia McKenzie, absolutely at the top of her musical skills and she was fantastic. Big Jule and NathanFor Nathan Detroit we had none other than the late great Bob Hoskins, and you can just imagine how much characterisation he gave it. Sarah Brown was the wonderful Julie Covington, who put such sincere expression into every scene, and Sky Masterson was the late great Ian Charleson – if only he had lived he would have undoubtedly been one of the greatest ever actors. Even dropping down the cast list there were some incredible names – Nicely-Nicely Johnson was the late great David Healy, beaming with happiness and brilliant throughout. Benny Southstreet was Northern Broadsides’ very own Barrie Rutter; Arvide Abernathy the late great John Normington; Harry the Horse was the amazing Bill Paterson; Brannigan was the late great Harry Towb; and Mimi in the chorus was played by someone called Imelda Staunton. With the help of a superb cast album, so much of that production is alive in my mind as if it were yesterday. So this Chichester revival had a lot to live up to – but without question it achieves it.

Sky and the gangSophie Thompson plays Miss Adelaide like she’s been waiting all her life to do it. I’ve only seen her once before, in Clybourne Park, where she gave a fantastic performance. But her Miss Adelaide is just wonderful. Delivering all the sadness as well as the humour in the brilliant Adelaide’s Lament, timing it to perfection with some daringly long pauses as you see the truth of her situation slowly occurring to her. There is an element of caricature to her performance, but then there’s more than an element of caricature about the whole character of Miss Adelaide, and it’s a perfect fit. She’s vivacious in the Hot Box songs, moving and funny in her arguments with Nathan, and just sublime with Sarah in Marry The Man Today. Quite simply a star performance.

Sit DownPeter Polycarpou plays Nathan Detroit with a downtrodden, can’t-ever-win attitude, which really emphasises the humour of his situation and character. He’s got natural stage authority and is a superb singer. His is a very different Nathan from Bob Hoskins’, who was more cheeky and chancy; Mr Polycarpou’s Nathan is quieter and wiser – less caricature, more real. As Sarah Brown, Clare Foster is a revelation, with an incredible vocal range and she switches from the prim and proper Sarah to the letting-her-hair-down Sarah really convincingly. I’d forgotten that we’d also seen her in Merrily We Roll Along, where she was extremely good, but here in Guys and Dolls, her performance is an absolute stunner. I was also very impressed with the way she kept up with the other sensational dancers in the Havana scene – choreographer Carlos Acosta couldn’t be a more appropriate choice. And Sky Masterson is played by the excellent Jamie Parker, who’s always rewarding to watch, and is perfect casting for this charismatic and enigmatic character.

Sarah and SkyThe biggest number of course comes from Nicely-Nicely Johnson leading the sinners in the rousing Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat. Harry Morrison gives it great attack and comic vitality, and sends it as way over the top as it can be, which is perfect for this tongue-in-cheek homage to being good without being godly. It went down a storm, as it always does. However, I was reminded of the 1982 version, which David Healy and the whole ensemble delivered so magnificently, that it literally stopped the show. Harry Towb came on as Brannigan to deliver his next line that moves us on from the song, and he waited, and he waited, but the audience wouldn’t let up with its noisy delighted applause, and in the end he threw up his hands and went off again while they all did a full encore. That was a theatrical magic moment. But comparisons are indeed odious, and that takes nothing away from Mr Morrison’s tremendous performance. He also does a fantastic job, with Ian Hughes as Benny, with the song Guys and Dolls, a really lively, funny, and engaging rendition of that number.

Marry the Man todayI loved Neil McCaul’s robust delivery of More I Cannot Wish You, very different from John Normington’s more sentimental delivery – I think I preferred Mr McCaul’s interpretation. And he gets a round of applause for his killer exit line. Very pleased to see him on stage again, I’ve not seen him since “Privates on Parade” in 1978. Nick Wilton (hilarious in the Menier’s Two into One earlier this year) is a wonderfully gruff gangster of a Harry The Horse, Nic Greenshields an amusingly imposing Big Jule, and the chorus ensemble are all just superb. As for the band, we had absolutely no choice but to stay behind to hear them finish their outro at the end of the show. Fantastic!

It’s a bit of a cliché to say that it would be a travesty if this doesn’t transfer, but, there, I’ve said it. If you were lucky enough to get to see it – wasn’t it great? If you didn’t see it – I bet you’re kicking yourself now.