Not many more old theatre memories to go now… May to July 2009

  1. Oliver! – Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 2nd May 2009

It was TV’s search for a new Nancy, if you’ll pardon the expression, that first brought Jodie Prenger into the public’s eye, heart and affections, and our nieces insisted that we took them to see the show – and how could we resist? It was a superb production, not only with the divine Ms Prenger who was happy to say hello at the Stage Door, but also with Rowan Atkinson as Fagin, and Burn Gorman as a very threatening and underplayed Bill Sikes. We all loved it.

  1. Little Shop of Horrors – Milton Keynes Theatre, 13th May 2009

This was the successful Menier Chocolate Factory production that we hadn’t seen first time around but which undertook a big UK tour. Clare Buckfield was brilliant as Audrey, with Sylvester McCoy as Mushnik, Damian Humbley as Seymour and Alex Ferns as the dentist and everyone else. Very enjoyable.

  1. Alphabetical Order – Oxford Playhouse, 22nd May 2009

Michael Frayn’s early comedy of office politics, set in the cuttings library of a provincial newspaper, was given a good production by Christopher Luscombe, and starred Imogen Stubbs, Gawn Grainger and Ian Talbot. Can’t remember too much about it, but I know it was pretty good.

  1. Ayckbourn at 70, A Celebration – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 24th May 2009

To celebrate Alan Ayckbourn’s 70th birthday, the Royal and Derngate had a big Ayckbourn summer season, which involved either performing or reading all of his plays. We (somehow) got an invitation to the gala night, which included an interview with the great man on stage by Artistic Director Laurie Sansom, who had worked with him at Scarborough in his younger days. I must say, it was distinctly an honour to be there! And the subsequent productions of the plays that we saw there were all excellent.

  1. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 1st June 2009

Like Oliver! (four shows earlier) this was another show that followed on from a TV search show, but this touring production starred Craig Chalmers, who was one of the finalists in the search, as opposed to the Proper Winner (who I think was Lee Mead). Enjoyable, of course; it’s tough to do a production of Joseph and for it not to work.

  1. Just Between Ourselves – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 12th June 2009

The first of the big three productions from the Alan Ayckbourn celebration season, I remember seeing Just Between Ourselves in London in 1977 and absolutely loving its bitter sweet cruel humour. Mark Rosenblatt’s excellent production showed how well the play has stood the test of time, with a brilliant performance by Kim Wall as the appallingly insensitive Dennis and Dorothy Atkinson as his deeply troubled wife Vera. A wonderful production.

  1. La Cage aux Folles – Playhouse Theatre, London, 13th June 2009

Breaking my usual rule of not discussing shows I’ve seen before, but this production was so very different from the original Palladium presentation. This was another successful Menier production, transferred to the West End, and starring Philip Quast as Georges (although we saw his understudy, Robert Maskell), and Roger Allam as Albin – as far from Endeavour’s Inspector Thursday as it is possible to be. Extremely good.

  1. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers – Milton Keynes Theatre, 17th June 2009

I’d never seen the film but it was one of the staples of Mrs Chrisparkle’s childhood – and I remember it as being very refreshing and enjoyable, and with brilliant choreography from Chris Hocking. The cast was led by Steven Houghton and Susan McFadden.

  1. Private Fears in Public Places – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 1st July 2009

The second of the big Ayckbourn productions, Laurie Samson’s brilliantly inventive production had the audience sharing the Royal Theatre stage with the actors, seated on couches, or at a bar table, and so on. It made for an extraordinarily intimate theatrical event, and I found the whole thing completely thrilling. Sadly, from where we were sitting, we couldn’t see what monstrous videos Lucy Briers’ Charlotte was watching.


  1. The Winslow Boy – Milton Keynes Theatre, 8th July 2009

The Theatre Royal Bath’s touring production of Terence Rattigan’s timeless play starred Timothy West as Arthur Winslow in a role he was born to play. A very fine, moving production.

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 – La Cage Aux Folles, Milton Keynes Theatre, 12th August 2017

La Cage Aux FollesHere’s an old favourite that never fails to please. Mrs Chrisparkle and I first saw La Cage Aux Folles at the London Palladium in 1986 (she was Miss Duncansby then) with George Hearn and Denis Quilley in the lead roles, and wrestler turned actor Brian Glover (remember him?) as the ghastly Dindon. We next saw the Menier’s hugely successful production in 2009 at the Playhouse Theatre, with Roger Allam and Robert Maskell as Georges and Albin; and now the UK has its first ever touring production, which has been running all year and has finally reached Milton Keynes before its last two weeks coming up in Brighton.

LCAF They are what they areI’m sure you know the story – it’s based on the 1973 French stage farce by Jean Poiret, and the subsequent smash hit film which appeared in 1978. Georges runs La Cage Aux Folles, a St-Tropez nightclub of dubious reputation and glamorous girls (the Cagelles, who are really boys), headed by the one and only Zaza, who, from nine to five is Albin, Georges’ husband. On one aberrant night of bliss twenty-four years earlier, Georges had a fling with Sybil, an English muffin who trapped the helpless chap (that’s Albin’s account anyway) into a spot of how’s-your-father; result: little Jean-Michel, whom Georges and Albin have brought up as a fine, upstanding and (shock, horror) heterosexual young man in love with Anne. LCAF Not sure if Georges is going to win this oneThe good news is that Anne is also in love with him; the bad news is that Anne’s father is Dindon, the head of the Tradition, Family and Morality Party. He’s a bully and a bigot, and his party’s stated aim is to close down all the drag clubs in town. You see the problem. Les Dindons want to meet Jean-Michel’s parents before giving their blessing to the liaison. The problem’s getting worse. With Sybil nowhere on the horizon, how are Georges and Albin (or rather, Georges and Zaza) going to handle it? You’ll have to watch it to find out.

LCAF Georges et AlbinThe music and lyrics are by Jerry Herman – yes, he of Hello Dolly and Mack and Mabel – and for the most part the songs are amongst his finest. With Anne on my Arm has all the naïve and simple charm of My Fair Lady’s On The Street Where You Live; Look Over There is a delicate, heartfelt description of what it feels like when you love someone else so much, that just to look at them tells you all you need to know. And there are two great showstoppers that elevate the art of musical theatre into another sphere: the loud and proud self-assertiveness anthem I Am What I Am; and, my personal favourite, The Best of Times, with its huge positive energy, reminding us all to live life for the present, to do what you love and to love what you do. I’ve not been able to stop singing it to myself since Saturday.

LCAF CagellesI’ve been thinking about the best word to use to describe this show. Professional? committed? exciting? extravagant? It’s all these; but above all, it’s a truly lovely production. It’s full of heart, and positivity, and kindness, and warmth. Yes, there is glamour, which frequently gets its balloon burst when the wigs come off and we see the Cagelles backstage as just ordinary working guys; and yes, there is humour, most spectacularly with the cringe-inducing dinner with the Dindons. There is pantomime, which surprised me; for example, when Dindon tells his wife to get their bags, the audience all respond with a long “oooooh”; and when she refuses, we all cheer. But above all there is a moral force behind it that says love always wins; therefore, lovely strikes me as by far the best description!

LCAF Big revealThe cast have loads of fun making it as enjoyable for us the audience as possible. You have to hand it to the Cagelles – each and every guy is a fantastic dancer and incredibly effective in drag; you really do have to look twice – sometimes three or four times – to be sure they haven’t sneaked some girls in. Their singing and dancing ensemble works really well and I loved how they had their own characteristics; Jordan Livesey as Hannah sure knows how to crack a whip, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a high kick as that of Oliver Proudlock-John’s Mercedes. The original production had twelve cagelles; this has seven, and I think that works better because you get to know each one just a little bit more.

LCAF Albin et les CagellesPaul F Monaghan’s Dindon is a truly repellent git (or should that be gîte); gruff, pompous, and a marvellous bellower of the word “homosexual!” as an insult. I really liked his interactions at the dinner table when he was being treated to more and more of the wine – very nicely done. Su Douglas is also great as his mousey downtrodden wife who toes the line – up to a point. Samson Ajewole stole every scene as the effervescent Jacob, redefining camp and thoroughly deserving his huge round of applause. And what a tall chap he is! LCAF Albin et les Cagelles en rougeI really enjoyed Dougie Carter and Alexandra Robinson as Jean-Michel and Anne; Mr Carter brought simple plaintive emotion to his songs, and it would be a tough cookie indeed who didn’t feel a little ocular moistness at his reprise of Look Over There. The magnificent Marti Webb brings power and presence to restaurateur Jacqueline; you wish the character had more songs, but you’ll never forget the way she takes up the challenge with The Best of Times.

LCAF Albin et JacquelineBut, of course, at the heart of the show is the relationship between Georges and Albin, here superbly portrayed by Adrian Zmed and John Partridge. I have to confess I’d never heard of Mr Zmed before – but one look at his photo in the programme and Mrs C was very enthusiastic, having been brought up on TJ Hooker. He’s got a great singing voice and brings a touch of natural class and elegance to the role of Georges, as well as smartly underplaying the humour of the part. But the evening belongs to John Partridge as Albin – surely the role he was born to play. I loved how he gently Manchesterised the character – his “hurt” Albin was much more believable than I’ve seen the character played before. LCAF Cagelles in flightThere are plenty of opportunities for him to really express himself on the stage – his hilarious Masculinity scene for instance, where he goes delightfully over the top trying to be a credible “bloke”, and his La Cage Aux Folles number where he just about holds on to his character whilst Zaza gets up close and personal with the audience, and the orchestra. After that the audience has absolutely no pretension to “good theatre behaviour” for the rest of the show; we just went with the flow and did whatever we felt like in response to what we saw on stage. I would imagine that’s a different scene almost every time.

LCAF Albin et GeorgesBut it was Mr P’s performance of I Am What I Am that absolutely takes your breath away. My goose bumps and had goose bumps. I had no idea you could reach down and find such emotion in that song: a heartache that turns to triumph as Albin/Zaza redoubles his determination to live his life, his way, and to hell with the rest of us. Mr Partridge holds perfect control through this epiphany sequence. It closes the first half of the show and the audience go into the interval dazed with its brilliance.

The best of times is now. Or at least, for another two weeks. It closes in Brighton on 26th August. We loved it. If you can, go!

Production photos by Pamela Raith