Let’s have a crack at some more theatre and dance memories! May to July 2007

  1. Ballet Boyz Encore – Milton Keynes Theatre, 2nd May 2007

Still trading under their name George Piper Dances – for perhaps their last time? – the Balletboyz returned for their Spring Tour with the show Encore. Unfortunately their dancer Oxana Panchenko sustained an injury during rehearsals and they had to change the programme substantially in order to provide a show to their paying audience – so only half of the expected programme could go ahead. So that night we saw Satie Stud, followed by Jjanke, and then Propeller (with Amy Hollingsworth dancing instead of Ms Panchenko) and then Michael and Billy had to bring back Russell Maliphant’s Torsion for the second half – but that was always a thoroughly enjoyable dance, so I don’t suppose we were particularly affected by the change!

  1. The Entertainer – The Old Vic, London, 7th May 2007

We went with our friends Paul and Pauline to see John Osborne’s famous play – the first time I’d seen it – with the huge attraction of seeing Robert Lindsay in the part of Archie Rice. Even fourteen years ago, The Entertainer was something of a period piece; let’s face it, few of us remember the Cheeky Chappie Max Miller nowadays. It’s still a landmark work though, and Mr Lindsay was as brilliant as you’d expect.

  1. Evita – Adelphi Theatre, London, 19th May 2007

This was my third visit to see a production of Evita, but there was such a vibe about how good Elena Roger was in the part that we thought we simply had to see it; and indeed she was. The evening was kind of ruined by a very noisy, drunk and fidgety couple behind us; they didn’t take any hints from the people around them that they basically needed to shut up, and at the end several punters from the nearby seats rounded on them in complaint. As a result of their behaviour, not much of the rest of the production has stayed in my head. Shame when that happens!

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater 2 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 6th June 2007

Always a delight to see NDT2, the young company of the Nederlands Dans Theater, on one of their regular tours. The programme consisted of Jiri Kylian’s Sleepless, then Lightfoot/Leon’s Sleight of Hand, and finally Alexander Ekman’s Flockwork. I entered a competition by Dance Consortium to win a signed programme – and I won! So a couple of week’s later they sent it to me – as you can see in the pictures. Sadly this was the last time we saw NDT2 until 2016.

  1. Coppelia – Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome, 9th June 2007

I’d always wanted to see a production of Coppelia, and this new production combined the original Petipa choreography with some new moves by Enrico Cecchetti and Peter Wright. Laura Purkiss danced the title role, with Nao Sakuma as Swanilda, Chi Cao as Franz and Michael O’Hare as Dr Coppelius. Highly enjoyable!

  1. Chicago – Milton Keynes Theatre, 13th June 2007

This was only my second time of seeing Chicago (and Mrs Chrisparkle’s first) and I knew it had undergone a huge structural revamp from its original 1970s production – so I wanted to see what the fuss was for myself. I don’t have much recollection of it – but we didn’t know any of the performers, and my guess was that it was about now that I started to realise that (shock horror!) I don’t really like Chicago as a show much – I dislike the way it celebrates the bad and mocks the good. But that’s just me!

  1. Kismet – English National Opera at the London Coliseum, 7th July 2007

I had been looking forward to seeing this show so much – I had seen Kismet only once before as a teenager and I loved it, and it was one of the Dowager Mrs C’s favourite shows too. The production was beset by problems with key personnel walking out and what we saw was an under-rehearsed, under-presented mess that rightly received shockingly bad reviews. Nevertheless, it was Kismet, and I still loved it! Michael Ball was Hajj the poet and Alfie Boe the Caliph.

  1. The Drowsy Chaperone – Novello Theatre, London, 21st July 2007

More shock bad reviews for a show that had done so well on Broadway and should have set the capital alight – but we really enjoyed The Drowsy Chaperone, a clever, well-presented show with an excellent cast, lots of humour and surprises. Elaine Paige was the Chaperone herself, with Steve Pemberton giving a terrific central performance as the Man in Chair, plus performers of the likes of John Partridge, Nickolas Grace and Summer Strallen.

  1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Oxford Shakespeare Company at Wadham College, Oxford, 28th July 2007

A two-show visit to the gardens of Wadham College – fortunately the weather was perfect – first to see the OSC’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed with all their usual brightness and humour; I particularly remember a lovely moment when Hermia is hauling her suitcases over the rough terrain and Demetrius is simply carrying his toothbrush. Great stuff as always.


  1. Romeo and Juliet – Globe Touring Productions at Wadham College, Oxford, 28th July 2007

In another part of the gardens, for the evening we saw the Globe Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet; and I’m afraid we didn’t like it much. Modernised but in a rather brutal and distancing way, we couldn’t get into it. A good cast nonetheless, including a young Richard Madden as Romeo… I wonder what became of him?!

Still More Theatre Memories – March to July 1978

Some good ones here!


  1. Half-Life – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 10th March 1978.

image(513)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.

  1. Murder Among Friends – Comedy Theatre, London, 15th March 1978.

image(505)image(506)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!

  1. The Rear Column – Globe Theatre, London, 17th March 1978.

image(509)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.

  1. Kismet – Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 22nd March 1978.

image(499)image(500)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.

  1. Ten Times Table – Globe Theatre, London, 10th April 1978.

image(490)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. image(491)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.


  1. Plenty – David Hare, Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 17th April 1978.

image(485)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!




  1. Macbeth – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Young Vic, London, 27th April 1978.

image(487)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!

  1. A Picture of Innocence – Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, 21st June 1978.

image(479)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. image(480)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.


  1. A Murder is Announced – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 15th July 1978.

image(466)image(467)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. image(457)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.

  1. Every Good Boy Deserves Favour – Mermaid Theatre, London, 17th July 1978.

image(462)image(464)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!

Theatre Censorship – 10: Indecency, Naked Girls, Sexual Shenanigans and La Ronde

Monna Vanna. National Theater, 1902 Márkus Emília (Giovanna).

Emília Márkus in Monna Vanna. National Theater, Budapest,1902.

The final category named by the 1909 Committee – and also the broadest – is “indecency”. This, frankly useless, word can mean anything to anyone. Primarily in this context it is applied to the use of nudity. In 1902, Maeterlinck’s Monna Vanna was banned because of its alleged “indecency”; in the scene which gave most offence, Monna Vanna enters the tent of the commander of the invading army when she is known to be “naked beneath her cloak” – as per the Stage Direction. Redford’s offence at this gave rise to much heated discussion: John Palmer in his 1912 book The Censor and the Theatres maintained that “naked beneath her cloak” was not intended to be synonymous with “scarcely dressed”, but was meant to emphasise the horror of the fate that Monna Vanna would meet within the commander’s tent, that of acceding unwillingly to sexual intercourse in return for the guarantee that the town’s inhabitants would be saved. Fortunately for Monna Vanna, the commander is a gentleman and does not take advantage of her.

Maeterlinck himself defended his play, which won great success in Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia, without arousing a thought of obscenity. Frank Palmer and Frank Fowell argued very angrily against its banning because of this notorious stage direction. After all, they reasoned, in their 1913 book Censorship in England, we are all naked beneath our clothes: “Are Englishmen incapable of passing, say, a bathing machine on the beach, or a hotel bathroom, without deriving harm from the thought that it perhaps contains a naked female?”

Edward Knoblock

Edward Knoblock

In 1912, shortly after Brookfield succeeded Redford as Examiner of Plays, he clamped down on an oriental revue, Kismet, by Edward Knoblock, which had been running at the Garrick Theatre for 255 performances, and which was later to inspire the 1953 musical of the same name. It included a scene called the “Sapphire Bath”, where an actress took off her gown and, seemingly naked, plunged into a moonlit pool. She was, in fact, wearing fleshings, but Brookfield nevertheless decided that the suggestion of her nudity was too realistic and insisted on her wearing more clothes. It is recorded that King George V and Queen Mary had enjoyed the show enormously.

Windmill Theatre

Windmill Theatre

During the First World War, entertainment in theatres wasn’t particularly avant-garde, challenging, or, to use that word, indecent. However, during the Second World War, the Windmill Theatre featured naked or semi-naked actresses on stage although they had to remain perfectly still in tableaux of unattainable beauty. Owing to the controversial nature of this subject, the Lord Chamberlain’s Office chose to issue a statement on the use of nudity on stage, which the 1966 Committee quoted in its report:

“i) Actresses in movement must not wear less than briefs and an opaque
controlling brassiere.

ii) Actresses may pose completely nude provided:
The pose is motionless and expressionless.
The pose is artistic and something rather more than a mere display of nakedness.
The lighting must be subdued.

iii) Strip-tease as such is not allowed in a stage play. The unresisted growth in recent years of so-called “Private Strip-Tease Clubs” has caused some complaint from public theatres where the Lord Chamberlain’s rules are enforced.

iv) To date requests for males to pose in the nude have not been received.”

Les Ballets Africains

Les Ballets Africains

In August 1960 the Lord Chamberlain’s officers attended performances of Les Ballets Africains in order to decided whether it was a play in mime, in which case the female dancers’ bare breasts were not permissible, or whether it was actually ballet, in which case the production did not come under the Lord Chamberlain’s jurisdiction. Much to their own relief, the officers decided that it was a ballet. The importance of this kind of distinction is an indication of the extraordinary anomalies which were involved in stage censorship.

As well as nudity, any frank approach to sexuality could come under the heading of “indecency”. The case of the censorship of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde (1896) is one of the most notorious in theatre history. The play consists of a series of ten dialogues, each one except the last containing a seduction leading to sexual intercourse – represented in the text by a row of dashes or asterisks – followed by the characters’ post-coital reflections. It was first performed in 1903 in Britain and immediately banned; it was not performed again until 1920, when it caused riots in Berlin and Vienna. Schnitzler withdrew it completely, refusing permission for any more performances, chiefly in order to protect his own suffering reputation.

Arthur Schnitzler

Arthur Schnitzler

There were four film versions made of the play, although largely ignoring Schnitzler’s original script, and a radio version by Frank Marcus was transmitted by the BBC. But, as a result of Schnitzler’s withdrawal of the play, no more performances were permitted until 1982, when the copyright expired fifty years after his death. Suddenly Britain was saturated with productions of the play by different companies. There are many ways in which this play might offend; it regards sexual intercourse as a thoughtless pursuit, usually denying it any association with love, and involving infidelity, cheating and subjugation; at the same time, it suggests that sex is the raison d’etre of life: in one sense true, but hardly an acceptable concept to the respectable people of the 1890s. In emphasising both its frivolousness and its seriousness, the play shows great insight into the reactions that sex can provoke.

Moreover, the play examines the way in which society demands that a superior constantly asserts himself over an inferior, and shows that it is the exertion of this pressure that gives rise to “love’s round”. The whore is tricked by the soldier; he selfishly seduces the grateful parlour maid; the young gentleman exercises his domestic superiority over the parlour maid; he patronises the young wife into yielding to him; the husband sleeps with his wife; the husband has an affair with the little miss, although it is she who dominates and manipulates him; the poet charms the little miss; the actress pampers the poet; the Count woos the actress; and finally the Count wakes up with the whore of the first scene. “La Ronde” has come full circle, but progress has been made; in the last scene the Count and the whore meet on equal terms: he does not treat her contemptuously like the soldier did, but insists on paying her.

La Ronde (1950 film version)

La Ronde (1950 film version)

The irony of this is, of course, that in the ranks of society, the Count and the whore are at opposite ends of the scale, yet this scene and that between the husband and wife are the only scenes containing anything resembling respect. This respect makes us admire the Count; our regard for him is also increased as he is the only character to have the good taste to have sex in private, before the final scene began. By the end of the play, this “uniqueness” is refreshing. The play is deeply satisfying in its structure; it appears to be a perfect circle, but the subtleties which show how relationships change between different people make it constantly surprising as well as very funny. There are no conceivable circumstances in which it would have been possible to alter this play to make it fit for public morals in Schnitzler’s lifetime.

In my next post, I’m going to concentrate in some detail on Peter Nichols’ ground-breaking play, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.