Yet More Theatre Reminiscences – September 1979 to July 1980

Another twenty, as there are a few student productions here.

  1. Death of a Salesman – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 21st September 1979.

image(685)Michael Rudman’s strong production of Arthur Miller’s fantastic play was an absolute treat. With Alf Garnett himself, Warren Mitchell, I saw how a gifted actor can shake off the role for which he was best known and totally inhabit a brand new role with consummate ease. It was a mighty, emotional and stirring performance. image(686)I also remember very strong scenes between Mitchell and Stephen Greif who was brilliant as Biff. Doreen Mantle’s Linda was very quiet and subservient in a manner that might be seen as old-fashioned today. But it was a superb production and I loved it.

 

  1. Hello Dolly – Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 26th September 1979.

image(683)image(692)image(693)One of the most memorable productions I can remember, I went with the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle because she was a huge fan of Carol Channing, and from this production I could certainly see why. If ever an individual performer dominated proceedings – but all for the right reasons – this was it. From the moment she stepped on stage Ms Channing exuded warmth, fun, style and a determination that we were all going to have a terrific party, and boy did she deliver. With an excellent supporting cast led by Eddie Bracken as Horace and Tudor Davies as Cornelius, this had glamour, musicality and a sheer showbiz swell. Largely copying the original 1964 production, we both loved every minute of it.

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  1. Bent – Criterion Theatre, London, 1st October 1979.

image(687)I saw this with my friends Sue and Nigel because Sue particularly wanted to see it. On reflection it was a landmark production, breaking many boundaries in its serious and sensitive examination of the persecution of gay men in Nazi Germany. That said, it had image(688)plenty of humour too and was superbly directed by Robert Chetwyn with an extraordinary cast led by Ian McKellen. Its most famous scene is the non-touching sex conversation between McKellen’s Max and Tom Bell’s Horst – maybe a salutary tale for the future, it may be the only way people can have socially distanced sex in future! A very fine and emotionally charged play.

  1. Evita – Prince Edward Theatre, London, 2nd October 1979.

image(772)image(773)image(774)Evita had been running for over a year before I finally got around to seeing it; fortunately Elaine Paige was still in the role and I have to say, she was magnificent – I completely understood and agreed with the hype. Harold Prince’s production was on a very grand scale, and you don’t need me to tell you what a great musical it is. Gary Bond was a strong Che, as was John Turner as Peron. I still think the original concept album with Julie Covington is the best recording though.

  1. – Ballet Rambert – New Theatre, Oxford, 13th October 1979.

image(766)This was my first visit to a dance show, having admired dance on TV occasionally but not really enjoying it. I went with my friends Mike and Lin to see this triple bill of works by Christopher Bruce (Night with Waning Moon and Sidewalk) and Siobhan Davies (Celebration) and really enjoyed it. Amongst the dancers were soon-to-become favourites Lucy Pethune, Ikky Maas, Catherine Becque and Christopher Bruce himself. This was the slow start of what would become a love affair with dance!

 

  1. The Undertaking – Fortune Theatre, London, 3rd November 1979.

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I decided to take a few days away from University to go back home, and whilst there decided to take a couple of London theatre trips. First up was to see this curious but actually fascinating little play at the Fortune, with Kenneth Williams as a strangely disturbing undertaker overseeing the arrangements for a weird funeral. It was an extraordinary cast led by Mr Williams, including Reggie Perrin’s CJ, John Barron, Luton Airport’s Lorraine Chase, Mrs Meldrew Annette Crosbie and The Rag Trade’s Miriam Karlin. I had dinner in Covent Garden before the show and whilst having a little walk around afterwards almost literally bumped into Kenneth Williams, who was wearing a very seedy mac and looked down his tremendous nose at me with disdain. I didn’t mind – it was a celebrity bump. I can’t remember too much about the play apart from the fact that I enjoyed it a lot.

  1. Not Now Darling – Savoy Theatre, London, 5th November 1979.

image(724)An all-star cast graced the stage of the Savoy Theatre in this revival of Ray Cooney and John Chapman’s 1967 farce that had also been made into a film in 1973. image(725)This was very much the Ray Cooney show, as he co-wrote, produced, directed and appeared in it! I think this was the first time that I had seen a preview – front stalls at the Savoy for just £5 can’t be all bad. I cannot remember that much about the show – I think perhaps it already felt a little dated but it was performed with incredible gusto by Leslie Phillips, June Whitfield, Sylvia Syms, Derek Bond, and others, as well as the aforementioned Mr Cooney.

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  1. Mother Goose – New Theatre, Oxford, 7th January 1980.

image(782)image(719)Missing out a return visit to the Palace to see Jesus Christ Superstar again, and a Christmas trip to the New Theatre Oxford to see A Night with Dame Edna again (this time the tour), my next theatre experience was my first pantomime as an (albeit only just) adult – Mother Goose. In fact, I think this was the only time I’ve ever seen this particular panto which has rather fallen out of favour. I went with my friend Jon and his girlfriend Wendy, and we sat in the balcony of the New Theatre, which is rather a long way from the stage – but nevertheless it was good fun. Mother Goose was played by John Inman, who was at the height of his TV popularity, with archetypal country bumpkin comic Billy Burden as Farmer Giles.

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  1. Jubilee Too – Hampstead Theatre, London, February 1980.

image(780)I was invited to see this first night by cousin Gill, who was friends with the writer Stephen Jeffreys. Produced by Paines Plough, it contrasted the Queen’s 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations with the political underworld of the time. The cast were Denise Armon, Alister Cameron, Kate Saunders (now better known as a writer), Trevor Allan and Robert McIntosh.  Gill and I went to the after show party. I felt very privileged to chat to the cast members! Stephen Jeffreys was very helpful when I contacted him a few years later for assistance doing my thesis and he gave me a number of interesting ideas to explore. Jubilee Too, however, in retrospect, wasn’t one of his great successes.

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  1. Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance – Oxford Playhouse, 23rd February 1980.

image(777)image(779)A student production, by the St John’s Mummers, of John Arden’s famous military parable, featured, as Musgrave, a young Jon Cullen who I knew instantly would go on to be a fantastic actor – and so it has proved, better known by his full name Jonathan Cullen. Can’t remember that much about the production though.

 

  1. Salome/The Orchestra – Morden Hall, St Hugh’s College, Oxford, March 1980.

This double-bill of one-act plays was quite the talk of the town, even though I say it myself (I was the Stage Manager for Salome). Oscar Wilde’s play was given a new translation from the French by my friends Sue (who directed it) and Nigel, whilst other friends (Mike, Pete, Steve, Doug and others) appeared in it. My friend Lin directed The Orchestra. Given my involvement in this show, it’s particularly annoying that I cannot find my programme or the official photographs. “A total triumph” (Daily Telegraph). (In-joke).

 

  1. Twelfth Night – Oxford Playhouse, 14th March 1980.

image(734)image(735)An OUDS production, notable for a few interesting appearances. At the time I was good friends with Mark Payton, who played Sir Toby Belch, and I think gave a pretty strong performance. In the fairly uninteresting role of Fabian was a young chap from New College by name of Hughie Grant (it couldn’t have been long before he dropped the -ie from his name). He attended a party held in Mark’s college room that I remember quite vividly. The music for this production was composed by a young Rachel Portman, whose Oscar for the film Emma I saw on display in her downstairs loo about ten years ago (long story). It was directed by Jeremy Howe, currently editor of BBC’s The Archers.

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  1. Middle Age Spread – Lyric Theatre, London, 10th April 1980.

image(783)image(784)Roger Hall’s Middle Age Spread had been a big hit in New Zealand and did quite well in the West End too. Bringing together The Good Life’s Richard Briers and Paul Eddington, the play centred on a headmaster having an affair with a young teacher. Messrs Briers and Eddington were a dream team who gave great performances, but I remember at the time thinking that the play itself lacked a certain spark – it attempted to be Ayckbournian, but it didn’t quite make it. Nevertheless, it was still a good show.

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  1. Accidental Death of an Anarchist – Wyndham’s Theatre, London, 14th April 1980.

image(741)Dario Fo’s superb farce was very much the toast of the town and was given a brilliant performance by the young spirited company, Belt and Braces. Gavin Richards starred in and directed the show, as well as having adapted Fo’s original play. It was fast, furious and very very funny.  Mr Richards went on to have a varied and very successful career in theatre, TV and film. But I also have great memories of the terrific comedy playing by Gavin Muir as the two constables. As you can see, I received one of the Maniac’s calling cards – it was all in the punctuation, if you remember! Fantastic play that certainly deserves a revival.

  1. Born in the Gardens – Globe Theatre, London, 16th April 1980.

image(750)image(751)Determined to see as much Peter Nichols as possible, having really enjoyed Privates on Parade, I booked to see his latest play, Born in the Gardens, a four-hander with an excellent cast. It concerned a mother and son who lived together in a crumbling old house. It was Peter Nichols at his saddest, with some very tragic characters but great performances from Beryl Reid, Barry Foster, Peter Bowles and Jan Waters. Like Maud in the play, I still often refer to the microwave as the Michael-Wave.

  1. Annie – Victoria Palace Theatre, London, 17th April 1980.

image(748)image(749)I didn’t really want to see Annie, and I know that a 19-year-old chap on his own probably stood out like the proverbial spare prick at a wedding, but I thought I ought to, just to satisfy my general knowledge. It is a disarmingly brilliant show that bludgeons you into submission to like the little girls. How could you possibly not enjoy such superb child performances? I’m not sure which cast I saw, so Annie might have been played by Catherine Monte or Tracy Taylor, but she was very very good. The show had already undergone a change of cast so the meaty roles were Stella Moray as Miss Hannigan, Charles West as Daddy Warbucks, and, best of all, Matt Zimmermann as Bert Healy.

  1. An Evening with Dave Allen – New Theatre, Oxford, May 1980.

image(764)image(765)The famous Irish comic Dave Allen took his one-man show to Oxford for a week, and I couldn’t believe that none of my friends wanted to see him. So I went alone, and he was fantastic. Nothing more to say!

 

 

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  1. Krapp’s Last Tape and Endgame – Oxford Playhouse, 18th June 1980.

image(760)image(761)A double-bill of two of Samuel Beckett’s intriguing plays; but not just any old double-bill. Directed by Beckett himself, this was the San Quentin Drama Workshop’s productions, presented by the Goodman Theatre of Chicago. The man behind the Drama Workshop, Rick Cluchey, played Krapp and Hamm in both plays, with Bud Thorpe as Clov, Alan Mandell as Nagg and Teresita Garcia Suro as Nell. It was fantastic.

  1. Sisterly Feelings – Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, 2nd July 1980.

image(757)Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play was one of those clever occasions when a toss of a coin onstage determines which path the play will take. I can’t remember now whether it was Abigail or Dorcas who took Simon to the picnic, but I do seem to recall I saw the “Abigail under canvas” second act rather than “Dorcas at the races”. An exciting and fun affair, this had a tremendous cast with Dr Cameron himself, Andrew Cruickshank, Penelope Wilton, Michael Bryant, Michael Gambon, Anna Carteret, Stephen Moore and a young hopeful by the name of Simon Callow. Highly enjoyable.

  1. Private Lives – Duchess Theatre, London, 7th July 1980.

image(752)image(753)This Greenwich Theatre production of Noel Coward’s crackingly good play came with excellent notices but I found it rather stiff and starchy. Maria Aitken played Amanda and I think she made the character a little too unlikeable. Can’t remember much more about it, I’m afraid.

 

 

 

Thanks for sticking with this long post of theatrical memories! My next post will be back to the holiday snaps and some memories from a day in Dublin last summer. Stay safe!

Review – Hello Dolly, Leicester Curve, 30th December 2012

Hello DollyThis was our first ever visit to the Curve Theatre in Leicester. To be honest, it was actually the first time I’ve been to Leicester at all. Mrs Chrisparkle had been there for work once and so wasn’t quite as enthralled at the prospect as I was. Problems on the M1 meant we had to take the slow country route through deepest Leicestershire, which was very pleasant by the way, and we therefore arrived much later than anticipated, thus reducing my orientation tour of the city to about half an hour. Never mind, there’s always another time. Mind you, the parking experience didn’t help.

We arrived at the NCP Car Park next door to the theatre, and wended our way up its narrow lanes and tight corners until we found a useable space – cramped, but useable. Never in the field of human parking endeavour has anyone managed to make such a performance out of reversing into a parking space. Mrs C had to get out and guide me back and forth about seven times. I even had to hurl myself out of the car in a fit of rage to gauge precisely what tiny dimensions I had at my disposal. Eventually I could park no more and let the car stand at whatever position I had finally achieved. At that point we realised that the car park ticket which you collect on the way in, and which you use to pay on the way out, had gone missing. Where could it possibly have gone? I kid you not, gentle reader, we spent the best part of half an hour ransacking the car, lifting mats and carpets, setting the iPhone to torch mode to peer into its darkest recesses, flipping through map pages, searching the glove box, etc etc and etc, until eventually the ticket made its appearance in the most ridiculously inaccessible and remote position, curled up and wedged inside the metal runners that allow the passenger seat to move. I think it’s fair to say that we were both, officially, the biggest pair of prize plonkers ever to have attempted to use a car park.

The Curve itself is pretty stunning in many ways. Shaped from the outside – you guessed it – like a curve, it’s an arresting piece of modern architecture in an otherwise rather drab quarter. There are a number of bar and café areas, a fairly good supply of seating, helpful staff and a (necessary with those charges) scheme for paying only £3.95 at the car park. One very thrilling dimension, that we only saw as we were leaving, is an open side wall to the theatre where you can see the stage from the wings, as it were; where all the costumes and prop tables are stored and it’s a fascinating glimpse into the backstage world of the theatre. What of inside the auditorium? Well, on the up side, the seats are reasonably comfortable, and from our position in Row J of the stalls, you had an excellent sightline to the stage. There was also hugely generous legroom, so you could really stretch out and get comfy. It’s a very wide proscenium arch, which gives the impression of the auditorium being somewhat shallow, even though it goes back to Row V. On the downside, it’s a little undecorated and featureless inside, which makes it feel a bit municipal, a bit soulless. But on the whole I would say it’s a jolly fine venue and one I’m glad to add to our repertory.

Hello Dolly 1979“I thought this was going to be about Hello Dolly”, I hear you mumble. And so it is. I’ve only seen the show once before, back in 1979 when I accompanied the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane to see Miss Carol Channing in the role. She had a smile that stretched a mile – Miss Channing that is, not the Dowager. She was a dab hand at the comic business – I particularly remember how funny she was in the scene where Dolly insists on finishing her meal whilst everyone else is awaiting her in court. Carol ChanningImpossibly stagey and camp as a row of tents, she was just brilliant. She had the physical presence – and let’s face it, age – to suggest Dolly’s back catalogue of life experience; and an accent of pure Yonkers. Possibly because they were the same age, the Dowager looked on her as something of a role model, and it was a rare day that she didn’t find time to quote something about “snuggling up to your cash register” or “lose some weight, Stanley”. So I was very interested to see how Janie Dee, an extraordinarily versatile actress, would appear as Dolly.

Janie DeeShe’s very different from Miss Channing, but she’s also extremely good. Her Dolly appears much younger – which feels slightly wrong to me – but she is so winning and cheeky in her disposition, and her instant rapport with the audience is so overwhelming, that she absolutely assumes the role with natural conviction and spreads around the inherent joy of the show, much as Ephraim Levi told us you had to spread around manure. She’s good hearted and gutsy – and can sing beautifully, which comes as a splendid bonus. She looks great, and well deserves Horace Vandergelder’s “wonderful woman” compliment at the end. There really appears to be no end to Miss Dee’s talents.

Dale RapleyHorace is played by Dale Rapley, who gives a really good supporting performance; terrifically underplayed, for example, during “So Long Dearie” where he allows Dolly completely to overwhelm him. He’s got a good singing voice too – and gives a super, comic performance of “It Takes A Woman”. Again he feels a lot younger than I would expect Vandergelder to be; you wouldn’t have thought he would need a matchmaker to set him up with a choice of widows, at his age he should still be able to set his own agenda. Nevertheless it’s still very funny when he goes on his date with the lovely Ernestina – Kerry Washington superb as a voluptuous canary lookalike – and his eventual match with Dolly seems perfectly right.

Kerry WashingtonI’d not seen Michael Xavier on stage before – he plays first underdog Cornelius – but I’m not surprised he’s been nominated for all those Olivier awards. He has an amazing voice; loud, clear and expressive, perfect for this kind of show, and he brought great colour and likeability to the role. As second underdog Barnaby, Jason Denton had just the right level of believable goofiness, and the pair of them made excellent suitors for their two ladies.

Michael XavierLaura Pitt-Pulford is a marvellous Irene. It’s not that exciting a role, to be honest, and I remember in my youth whenever I played the soundtrack album, her song “Ribbons Down My Back” was always one I would skip. But I have to say I have never heard that song sung so beautifully as it is here by Miss Pitt-Pulford. For me, she made the song sound fresh but also wistful in a way that had always passed me by before. I would happily go back just to see her perform that song again. Ngo Ngofa’s Minnie Fay is full of fun, rather cute, and she and Barnaby will be a lovely couple.

Jason DentonOf course, what everyone remembers and awaits is the Waiters’ Gallop followed by Dolly’s staircase appearance and the huge number that is “Hello Dolly”. Expectations of this scene are so high that maybe it’s inevitable that there’s a slight sense of disappointment. The dancers are great, no question – and it’s also delightful that they used so much (if not all?) of Gower Champion’s original choreography (all that thigh patting and wavy hands in the air stuff); it’s just that the Curve stage is so wide, that I did not feel they occupied the area enough. This is a production with high values – the costumes are terrific, the sets are effective, even the props seem really good quality. The band are incredible and produce a superb sound. There just needed to be something else that gave the waiters’ scene an extra impact. Maybe they simply needed another six dancers – or a smaller stage. It’s still a really enjoyable scene and it went down very well with the audience, but I wanted just a soupcon more oomph. The cinematic style backdrop which suggested changes of scenes was also a little too small to have great impact, but the sets – and one’s own imagination – more than make up for it.

Laura Pitt-PulfordThe performance we saw had a few minor odd moments – Dolly’s handbag seemed to have a life of its own – getting left behind here, suddenly appearing there – and I am still not sure Dolly said hello to the correct Stanley – my powers of lip reading suggest Stanley said something to her like “why are you saying that to me” and he certainly didn’t look as though he needed to lose weight anyway. But these don’t matter with such a colourful and high octane show. I’d forgotten how good the majority of the songs are – especially in the second half – although the whole “Dancing” sequence in the hat shop has always left me cold. It took a good week after we’d seen the show for some of these songs finally to work their way out of my brain. Mrs C pointed out that the whole thing is very “hokey”, and of course she is right. Hokiness is its raison d’être. This is a very entertaining and extremely enjoyable production, and one that fully warrants the good box-office business it seems to be doing – but there are still some good seats available and it would be a great shame to miss it.

Ngo NgofaOn the way home Mrs C asked if Dolly and Horace really love each other, or is it just a marriage of convenience. With the sounds of “…and we won’t go home until we fall in love…” ringing in your ears during the finale, surely they must love each other. Mustn’t they? True, Dolly is an ace manipulatrix, and she certainly gets what she wants – Ephraim even gives her his sign of consent – so I expect she loves him sufficiently well to make a go of it. Horace, I am sure, is besotted. What do you think?