Let’s have some more theatre memories! June to December 1986

As Tier 3 grows into Tier 4, and the new Covid variant spreads like wildfire and the UK is shut into quarantine, let’s remember some better times!

  1. Chess – Prince Edward Theatre, London, 24th June 1986

Miss Duncansby and I were both looking forward to seeing Chess so much, because we were already in awe of the album – and the show was a total triumph. Designed by Robin Wagner to a truly grand effect, everything about it was marvellous. Elaine Paige was riveting as Florence, Murray Head a fantastically irritating Trumper, and Tommy Korberg an immensely dignified Anatoly. We bought the souvenir brochure, we bought the T-shirts, we bought the VHS of the hit singles; we bought the concept. A real ten-out-of-tenner. Those front stalls seats were £18.50 each, the most I’d ever spent on a theatre ticket at the time. I sure knew how to show a girl a good time.

  1. Time – Dominion Theatre, London, 28th June 1986

And from the sublime to the ridiculous. Miss D was always a big fan of Cliff Richard, as was one of my colleagues at the time and her brother, so the four of us went to see this overblown monstrosity by Dave Clark – he of the “Five”. A science fiction musical; and – for obvious reasons – it didn’t spawn a succession of future musicals following that genre. There’s no doubt that Cliff was very good; as was the hologram of Sir Laurence Olivier, hovering, God-like, over the top of the stage. But everything else about it was absolutely dire. Looking through the cast list I see great names such as Jeff Shankley and Dawn Hope. Our friends loved it. We hated it. For ages the joke went “I see Cliff Richard is doing Time in the West End – for crimes against musical theatre”.

  1. Les Miserables – Palace Theatre, London, 10th July 1986

Moving past taking Miss D to see Noises Off at the Savoy, which I had already seen but insisted that she saw too (we both loved it, but it was a hot night and I was wearing a really nice tie which I took off and then left behind, never to be seen again), our next show was another big one – Boublil and Schönberg’s immense Les Miserables, which has never really gone away since it opened. We had some problems with this production – we sat in the front row of the Dress Circle which, although it was top price, always has been a desperately uncomfortable place to be, with infinitesimally tiny leg room. Plus, I had really painful gout that night which made the whole thing rather trying. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the show, but Miss D didn’t. On reflection I think we were both too young to appreciate it fully, and it was quite a few decades before we saw it again! The strong cast included Roger Allam as Javert, Alun Armstrong as Thenardier, David Burt as Enjolras, Peter Polycarpou as Prouvaire, Frances Ruffelle as Eponine, Dave Willetts as Brujon and the original Jean Valjean himself, Colm Wilkinson.

  1. Lend Me a Tenor – Globe Theatre, London, 12th July 1986

Ken Ludwig’s brilliantly clever and innovative farce was given a smashing production by David Gilmore, with a cast led by Denis Lawson, and also starring Jan Francis, John Barron and American opera star Ronald Holgate. A comedy of mistaken identity with a twist, an overdramatic opera star is incapacitated and is replaced by the producer’s assistant in the hope that no one will notice – but they do. I remember that we both laughed our socks off at this show; and it also had a very clever curtain call routine where they basically replayed the action of the entire show in less than a minute. It brought the house down.

  1. A Chorus of Disapproval – Lyric Theatre, London, 30th August 1986

Our next show was (for me) a return visit and for Miss D her first exposure to the joys of Side by Side by Sondheim which David Kernan had brought back to the Donmar Warehouse for a tenth anniversary season – and we both loved it. Our next “new” show was Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval, the National Theatre production that had transferred to the Lyric. The story of a blundering widower who makes himself indispensable in an amateur production of John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, this enormously successful play didn’t quite hit the mark with either of us – maybe you needed to be more au fait with Gay’s original. I remember Colin Blakely totally dominating the stage; I don’t have many other memories of it after that.

  1. Cats – New London Theatre, London, 9th October 1986

The longer you wait, the longer you’ll wait went the advertising strapline, and I had already waited about five years before finally booking to see a show that I was curious about but never really wanted to see. But it was our year of seeing The Big Shows, so we paid out the money and finally got it under our belts. My view of Cats has never really changed; as an audio/visual spectacle it’s immense, its choreography is startling, and it basically has a life of its own. It’s an exercise in excellence in many respects. However, it is also sadly quite boring. I really wish it wasn’t, but it is. Our cast featured Anita Harris as Grizabella, with Christopher Molloy as Victor and Richard Lloyd-King as Rum Tum Tugger. Way down the cast list in a teensy tiny role as a member of the Cats Chorus – one Stephen Mear, now famously the choreographer of Mary Poppins, Sunset Boulevard, Gypsy and many others.

  1. Double Double – Fortune Theatre, London, 10th October 1986

Rick Elice and Roger Rees’ comedy thriller was a little nugget of total entertainment, that started life at the Palace Theatre Watford and then moved to the Fortune for a deservedly successful stay. A two-hander starring Rula Lenska and Keith Drinkel, it kept us guessing all the way through, and just as you thought you knew precisely what was going on, a brilliant coup de theatre leaves you gobsmacked at the end. I’ve just bought the script online because I really want to understand how they put this play together! Some of the photos are of the original cast – Roger Rees and Jane Lapotaire.

  1. Phantom of the Opera – Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, 17th October 1986

Continuing the theme of 1986 being the year of The Big Shows, they don’t come much bigger than this. I leapt at the chance to get great seats as soon as the production was announced, and so it was that we had seats in the middle of Row B of the stalls for its third night. A very starry affair, with Irish comedian Dave Allen sitting behind us and Australian Premier Malcolm Fraser a few seats along our row.

You don’t need me to tell you what an extraordinary night at the theatre this was. Michael Crawford as the Phantom, Sarah Brightman as Christine, Steve Barton as Raoul, John Savident and David Firth as the two Messieurs who own the theatre. I was perhaps a little surprised at how blancmangy the falling chandelier appeared directly from below as it gently descended above our heads – but that would be my only quibble.

  1. Janet Smith and Dancers – Civic Centre, Aylesbury, 7th November 1986

Perhaps a much less glamorous night out, but still thoroughly entertaining, we saw the excellent Janet Smith and Dancers troupe at the Civic Centre for the princely sum of £3.50 for great seats. I’m surprised that Janet Smith and her husband Robert North didn’t make a longer lasting impact on the world of contemporary dance, but they created some fantastic dance pieces, some of which were on the bill that night. The programme was: Still No Word from Anton, One Fine Day at Court, Near and From Far and finally Fool’s Day.

  1. Woman in Mind – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 10th December 1986

Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play was a staggeringly brilliant examination of a woman’s descent into madness, played exquisitely by Julia McKenzie and with a superb supporting cast including Martin Jarvis and Josephine Tewson. This play impacted us very strongly (as I believe it did many people) and it’s without question one of Ayckbourn’s finest moments. We loved it; but it’s also incredibly upsetting.

Review – Les Miserables, Curve Theatre, Leicester, 10th November 2018

Les MiserablesI wouldn’t say the first time we saw Les Miserables that we hated it, but we certainly didn’t get it. It was 1986. We were too young, too wet behind the ears and, frankly, not enough things had gone wrong in our lives to be able to appreciate it. Then, a few years ago, at the suggestion of Mrs Chrisparkle’s boss at the time, we chanced to find ourselves at the Imperial Theatre in New York to see the new high pizazz production that was described as Les Mis for the American Idol Generation.

Killian DonnellyI’d love to be able to put the New York/Leicester production (because they are more or less the same) up against the original 1980s London production and see if and where they differ. I sense that Laurence Connor and James Powell’s version is somehow more in-your-face and no-holds-barred than Trevor Nunn and James Caird’s. Just like when we saw it in New York, this production is outstanding, no two ways about it. Instant ovation, that seemed to go on for hours; great performances, set, musical direction, everything about it is superlative. The cunning projected backdrop that recreates the scenes in the sewers, or makes you think the students are marching towards you, works so well; but no better moment than when Javert falls to his death (oops spoiler alert) and moves from vertical standing up to horizontal splashing down purely by means of optical illusion. It’s absolutely brilliant.

JVJI could save myself a lot of time by simply referring you to my 2015 review of the production because the only difference is substituting the slightly smaller Leicester stage for the grandeur of the New York Imperial. All the great effects are the same – the lighting in the barricades scene, the pure heroism of Red/Black, and the emotional charge of moments such as Bring Him Home and I Dreamed a Dream.

EponineComparisons are odious when it comes to performances. When we saw it in 2015, the management had clearly hired the best cast money could buy and they were all extraordinary, no exceptions. The UK touring production also has a fantastic cast but, in comparison, I felt they hadn’t all entirely grown into it yet. To be honest, the performance I saw still counted as a preview; and to compare that to a Broadway cast a few months into their run is probably not entirely fair. When we saw it in Broadway, we cried at Fantine’s death, Bring Him Home, and the final scene. We continued crying as we left the theatre. We resumed crying (embarrassed now) on the streets, walking back to our hotel. We threw ourselves on the bed and started crying all over again. THAT’S how emotional it was. In this production, I started to cry during Bring Me Home but got my cool back before the song had finished. Admittedly, when Fantine re-appeared to welcome Jean Valjean into heaven, I dissolved completely; but I was fine again by curtain call. If I compare the number of minutes spent in tears between the two performances then New York wins hands down on the emotional front.

Great setOur Jean Valjean was Killian Donnelly, a great actor with a tremendous voice, whom we enjoyed in Kinky Boots a couple of years ago. He really brings out the kindness and altruism of the role, largely as a result of exploiting his extraordinarily delicate tone when he sings. Some actors could take to this with bombast and turbo power, but Mr Donnelly makes it his own through sheer subtlety and grace. Javert, his arch-opponent, is played by Nic Greenshields, whose physical presence is so perfect for a dominant and domineering role. His is a powerful performance, both in the singing and the emotions. One thing that really works perfectly is how the two actors/characters both age during the show. Les Miserables spans the decades, so it makes sense for them both to become greyer as time goes on, and Mr Donnelly in particular gradually starts to shuffle and to stoop so that you really get the impression of an old man running out of time.

ThenardiersThere were excellent supporting performances by Tegan Bannister as Eponine and Katie Hall as Fantine, full of emotion and superb singing. Martin Ball gives us an almost pantomime villain performance as Thenardier, with the always terrific Sophie-Louise Dann as his ghastly wife. Harry Apps makes a remarkable professional debut as Marius – such a pivotal role, as you have to be both young and naïve yet mature enough to want to marry Cosette, and he pretty much nailed that; and Will Richardson cut a truly heroic figure as the inspirational Enjolras. I don’t know which child actors appeared in the show we saw, but whoever played little Cosette was absolutely perfect; and the friendship between Ruben Van Keer’s Grantaire and Gavroche was also very tenderly portrayed.

Marius and EnjolrasI had huge – and I mean huge – expectations of this show, having been blown over by the New York production, and I reckon they were 98% met; and it’s only going to get better and better as the tour progresses. After Leicester it travels to Dublin, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, Milton Keynes and Newcastle. No hesitation in recommending it whole-heartedly; take lots of tissues.

Review – Les Miserables, Imperial Theatre, New York, 18th July 2015

Les Mis, New York, 2015Cramming as much fun into a weekend in New York as possible, our next theatre trip was to see the brand new revised Les Miserables at the Imperial Theatre. I love discovering new theatres, and I really like the fact that the Imperial hasn’t been renamed! It was built in 1923 and has played host to a raft of top quality, significant American musicals over the decades. Oh Kay, The Desert Song, Song of Norway, Annie Get Your Gun, Call Me Madam, Gypsy, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, all started their lives here. In relatively recent years it’s become more international with Chess, Billy Elliot and of course two engagements of Les Miserables. Any resident ghost here is going to have a songbook repertoire as long as your shroud.

Les Mis, London, 1986In the grand summer of 1986, together with the then Miss Duncansby, we overdosed on West End shows to our heart’s content, booking up all the big attractions of the time in one fell swoop and devouring them between May and October that year. One of those was Les Miserables, at the Palace Theatre; my ever resourceful archive of programmes tells me we saw it on 10th July 1986 occupying Seats A 29 & 30 in the Dress Circle. Jean Valjean was played by Colm Wilkinson (Ireland’s 1978 Eurovision singer), Javert was Roger Allam, Thénardier was Alun Armstrong, and the minor cast was littered with great names-to-be of the West End like Dave Willetts, Peter Polycarpou, Frances Ruffelle (another Eurovision connection) and Jackie Marks.

Do you hear the people singThose seats; has anyone sat in the front row of the Dress Circle in the Palace? Not good. You feel they ought to be great, but the leg room is infinitesimally tiny. Les Mis is a long show, and, with nowhere to put your knees, it feels much, much longer. At the time I used to suffer from gout occasionally – that was one such occasion. I was in such pain that I couldn’t hobble to the underground station and had to get a taxi from outside the theatre. So it’s fair to say my mind was on other things. As for Mrs Chrisparkle (Miss D) – well she will probably be the first to admit that she was perhaps just a little too young and spirited to appreciate the finer nuances of French revolutionary despair. We liked many of the songs – what’s not to like? But neither of us had any desire to see it again.

Imperial TheatreMany years later (2012) the film came out and re-sparked our interest, and I must say we really enjoyed it. So we have often thought about reappraising our rather jaded memories of Les Mis, and this new, re-orchestrated, re-designed version in New York, seemed like the perfect opportunity. It’s been described as “Les Mis for the American Idol generation”, which very nearly put me off completely. I had horrible visions of “I Dreamed a Dream” being interrupted by whoops and cheers every time there was a pause in the vocals. But I needn’t have worried. Les Miserables is a show so full of heart and integrity, sadness and valour, that the audience is stunned into reflective, appreciative silence during the performance, only to let rip with enthusiastic applause at the end of each number. And that is how it should be!

Ramin KarimlooIt’s a complicated plot, that unravels over decades, and summarising it would be a feat of fine temporal engineering. Suffice to say it’s the story of Jean Valjean, sentenced to 19 years in prison – for stealing bread, and then for trying to escape – but finally released on parole and, 8 years later, reinvented as M. Madeleine, wealthy factory owner and local mayor. Episodically he encounters the sad and abused factory worker Fantine, her daughter Cosette, duplicitous innkeepers the Thénardiers, and their daughter Eponine, revolutionaries Marius (in love with Cosette) and Enjolras, and little street urchin Gavroche. The thread linking Valjean’s lifelong story is his running enmity with Javert, the police officer who blindly pursues him seeking justice for Valjean’s escape. If you need a fuller account I suggest you check Wikipedia.

Jean ValjeanWell, what can I say? The show is absolutely stunning. You’re gripped from the first scene and it doesn’t let up until the instant standing ovation at the end. Mrs C and I took bets as to when we would finally need to fumble for the tissues – and we plumped for Bring Him Home for both of us. Fat chance! I was blubbering at the death of Fantine. That means I didn’t even get past Side One of the double album. Pathetic. There are some incredibly vivid scenes; Valjean carrying Marius through the sewers and encountering Thénardier was electric with movement, atmosphere and eeriness; and the back projection effect for the death of Javert was simply extraordinary. No simple hurling himself off the bridge onto an unseen mattress, this took suicide into another dimension. It’s a complete “hats-off” to the set and image designer, Matt Kinley. Paule Constable’s lighting also played a major part in the visual brilliance of the show – in the barricade scenes, I loved how flashing images between the gaps gave the impression of bombardment and attack; and the brief tableau for the death of Gavroche was agonisingly moving and impactful. The music is as strong as ever, and James Lowe’s orchestra demands your attention just as much as the injustice-filled plot and the extraordinary performances.

Andrew LoveFor yes, many of the performances are absolutely extraordinary. Surely for any musical theatre actor, the role of Jean Valjean must be the most desired of all. Is there a more heroic character anywhere in musical theatre? Starring as JVJ is Ramin Karimloo, personally chosen by Andrew Lloyd-Webber to play the Phantom in Love Never Dies, but also a much-loved performer as the Phantom and Raoul in the original Phantom of the Opera, as well as having played Enjolras and Marius in previous productions of Les Mis. I’d not seen Mr Karimloo before but what a superb performer he is. His voice is magnificently expressive and he has amazing control and elegance to his singing. He really projects the dignity and natural authority of Valjean; and I was right, I didn’t survive his performance of Bring Him Home, I was stifling sobs from the word go.

Erika HenningsenThe other performance that really surprised me with its emotional power was that of Erika Henningsen as Fantine, in her Broadway debut. When I think of the show in general, I think of Fantine as something of an also-ran; “I Dreamed a Dream” is a very nice song, but its impact has lessened over the years owing to its having been covered so many times by so many people. Think again. Miss Henningsen’s voice cuts through the Paris fog with immaculate clarity and beauty, and her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” reinstated it for me as a classic. She performed Fantine’s death scene with such sweet sadness that it shocked me; and when she returns at the end to help guide the dying Valjean to the other side it was almost unbearably moving. If you heard that voice beckoning you to heaven, you’d go like a shot.

Brennyn LarkFor our performance, the role of Javert was played by the understudy, Andrew Love. What a find! As strong and as determined a Javert as you could hope to see, with a fantastic voice that expresses all of the character’s bitterness and obsession. His performance of “Stars” was sensational and he had an uproarious reception at curtain call – definitely One To Watch. We also had a superb Enjolras in the shape of Wallace Smith, who really looked the part and had all the charisma needed to encourage us to man the barricades. His “Red/Black” sequence sent a shiver down your spine. Brennyn Lark cuts a truly tragic figure as Eponine, with a warm and sensuous voice that gets to the heart of the character in a way that I don’t think I’ve heard before. On My Own is a stunning song, and she gave it immense depth.

ThenardiersThe much needed comedy (tinged, of course, with depravity and cruelty) comes from the Thénardiers, performed with terrific verve by Gavin Lee and Rachel Izen. Mr Lee is a musical actor of great skill – we saw him in Mary Poppins a number of years ago and he absolutely lit up the stage in that show, tippetty-tapping all the way around the proscenium arch. His Thénardier is a light-footed, angular, mischievous villain, schmoozing his way around the bar, always on the lookout for a little jewellery to thieve; exchanging knowing glances with the audience, and constantly crossing the boundaries of decency. It’s a very athletic performance, full of physical comedy, but with no sacrifice of the splendour of his singing voice; toe-curlingly brilliant. He is matched by Miss Izen (whom I first saw decades ago in the original London cast of A Chorus Line) as his wretched partner-in-crime, a hideously overblown fashion victim, making the most of the coarse humour of the part, but still with a great voice and wonderful stage presence.

Samantha HillSamantha Hill invests Cosette with child-like glee and enthusiasm for her new-found love, a sweet singing voice and genuine devotion to Valjean. I’m not sure if Chris McCarrell as Marius had a slight sore throat as I felt his rendition of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables was so reflective and so introverted, that it maybe lacked the emotional edge of some of the other performances. And a big shout out to 7-year-old (and that is young!) Athan Sporek, our Gavroche, a cheeky little imp unafraid to swagger where angels fear to tread; his gesture to the captured Javert brought the house down.

Chris McCarrellThis production is so overwhelmingly moving that, not only did we continue blubbing on the way out, we started again on the street, and, an hour or two later back in the hotel room, at the mention of the final scene, we started off all over again. It’s the combination of the purity and clarity of the voices with the obviously sad story and the emotionally charged melodies that creates a magic package that plays havoc with your tear ducts. Unbelievably good; staggeringly effective. A magnificent production.

Wallace SmithP.S. In the interval, I bought one diet coke, one sparkling water and two small bottles of still water. $25. TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS! What’s American for “Yeravinalarfincha?

P.P.S. They really do things differently in America don’t they? Unusually, there was a long queue for the Gents toilet (I mean the male restroom) during the interval. Along a corridor, up some stairs round a corner and into another room. One usher was barking out instructions which queue to join for which toilet, Athan Sporekdepending on whether you were male or female. As he was doing so, he noticed someone trying to get on to the side of the stage in order to take a photograph. Of course, no question, this is bad theatre etiquette, and I understand someone had to ask him to stop, but did we really need this usher to yell out: “SIR!! GET DOWN SIR!!” louder than any of the cast? I was expecting the poor theatregoer to have been shackled in Guantanamo Bay before the curtain call. When I finally neared the end of the queue for the toilets, I discovered another usher was beckoning people a few at a time to turn the corner into the Gents itself. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, QUICKLY!!!” he shouted, as he looked at me. I was shocked at being treated like an errant schoolchild. I’ll walk into the Gents at my own pace, thank you very much. Some people need to go on a remedial respect course. Manners maketh theatre staff.

Review – West End Eurovision 2014 – The Final Battle – Dominion Theatre, 22nd May 2014

West End Eurovision 2014Our second time of seeing West End Eurovision – our first one, in 2011 was a complete hoot. Unfortunately it’s always held on a Thursday night and there’s work the next day unless you plan very carefully. So that’s what we did this year. It’s being called “The Final Battle”, with a very sad threat of there being no more in the future – I guess they must be very arduous to organise. I’m always amazed at the keenness and competitiveness behind it all. “Battle” is indeed a suitable word.

drinks receptionIt’s all done to support the Make a Difference Trust, who do great work to support people living with HIV and AIDS. The event involves the casts of many West End shows, all coming together to perform a Eurovision song, which gets voted on by the star jury, their peers from the other shows, and us, the rabble in the audience. Before the night, they’ve already filmed their idents – little introductory movies for each performance – which you can still see on youtube. Vote for your favourite and the MAD Trust receive £1. I voted for my favourite five (Mr Generous). After you’ve seen the performances, you are then invited to turn on your mobile phones (really? Did anyone actually turn theirs off?) and vote for your favourite performance. Apparently the whole thing raised £66,000 this year for the charity, which is not bad going.

Everyone arrivingWe paid extra for the VIP seats, primarily because we wanted a good view of the show, and of course we were happy to donate more to support the very good works of MAD Trust, but also in the hope of doing some star-spotting. More on that later. But with our bronze coloured VIP wristbands gleaming, we made our way up the stairs to the Studio at the Dominion, where the Drinks Reception was to take place. And a very jolly affair it was too. There was a brief address by chairman David Pendlebury, where he welcomed us all, introduced us to the jury members (of whom only Rylan Clark was actually there, resplendent in his Conchita Wurst outfit), told us all to have a great night and suggested that it might – just might – not be the last of these events. Yes, you heard it here first. (Unless you were there too.) We kept on bumping into David Pendlebury during the course of the evening and he seems a jolly nice chap.

The JuryFuelled with a second plastic mug of cava, we made our way to our seats – and they were pretty magnificent. Middle of row G, on the central aisle, fantastic views. I knew that some of our Eurovision friends were also going to be there, so we scouted around and found them for some pre-show hugs and quips. Back in our seats, awaiting the slightly-later-than 11.30pm start (there was no way all those people were going to make their way from the bars to their seats by 11.30), Mrs Chrisparkle was overawed with the incredible vibe in the place. It felt so exciting. The atmosphere was electric.

Making Your Mind UpOur host was the superb Richard Gauntlett. I don’t think I’ve seen him before, but he was excellent at keeping everything fast moving and really funny. Our competitors (over 230 of them apparently), he said, were all backstage more nervous than Max Clifford looking for the soap. The resident cast of We Will Rock You came on for the opening number of the night, “The Show Must Go On”. Ironic, said Mr Gauntlett, considering it’s closing on Saturday week. I’ve never had the remotest interest in seeing We Will Rock You – but I have to say, it was a pretty stunning start to the show.

Ding A DongHe then introduced us to the judges, Rylan Clark, Lesley Joseph, Caroline Quentin and Graham Norton. They all sat in the box to the left, like the Muppets’ Statler and Waldorf going on a double date. They were very enthusiastic all night, and came up with some wonderful lines. Culture snob that I am, I really expected not to like Rylan, who I’d never seen before; but I must be honest, I thought he came across as a really likeable funny guy.

Rock 'n' Roll KidsOnto the contest proper, with the first of nine entries – the cast of Once performing Bucks Fizz’ Making Your Mind Up. It started off as a typical spoof of the group, dressed in the same colours, ripping off the skirts, but then went AWOL as a troupe of leprechauns joined in, fiddles and Irish dance routines blazing. Michael Flatley would turn in his grave. Very entertaining, with nice musical interludes from Riverdance and We Will Rock You.

Flying the FlagNext up was cast of The Book of Mormon performing Teach-In’s Ding-a-Dong, the 1975 winner for the Netherlands. The perfect choice in many ways, given the Mormons’ predilection for doorbelling activities. Their ident, as The Real Housewives of Uganda, was brilliant, and their live performance carried on with the same characterisation. Flinging babies (not real ones) about as props, they did a lovely version of the song, first accompanied by some dancing missionaries, then by tribal dancers – it was like 1976 and Ipi Tombi all over again. Of course, being from the Book of Mormon, this was never going to be devoid of foul language and dubious taste – and in the end the Real Housewives of Uganda removed their traditional costumes to reveal their late night Kampala nightspot little black dresses. Really funny – the audience loved it.

CongratulationsOur third act was The Commitments cast performing Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids, Ireland’s winning entry from 1994. Graham Norton showed himself up by confessing he’d never heard it or of it. Back to Fan Camp for you sir. Unfortunately there was a false start with this one, as the microphones on stage failed. It would have been great if it had been Bandido (Spain 1990 – if you know the song, you’ll get the reference). It started with some evocative shadow dancing, but then got infiltrated by characters from other shows to great comic effect. A Mormon elder, a Mamma Mia Abba-type, Jean Valjean, Billy Elliot and the Phantom (probably more) all ended up singing together. By about this stage you realised that the standard of entries was extremely high.

Disco TangoAfter a short appearance by Harriet Thorpe, telling us more about the good work of the Trust, it was back to the show and, probably my favourite of the evening, the cast of Les Miserables performing Flying The Flag, Scooch’s Magnum Opus for the United Kingdom from 2007. It started with a lone barricader plaintively emoting about flying the flag – of course, it’s the French flag (they are Les Mis after all), which was followed by an invasion of BA type air crew doing all the usual moves with even a message from Captain Cameron Mackintosh on the video wall. The inventive use of the French flag throughout made it unquestionably Les Mis, but alongside this archetypal British comedy song, it made a terrific combination.

Jan JanThe cast of the Phantom of the Opera took to the stage to perform Congratulations – and after the high energy of all the previous entries, this one had a slightly less showbizzy feel to it, although they also chucked in elements of Riverdance and there was also a massive Rubik’s cube on stage for some reason. Congratulations though was an appropriate choice to celebrate performer Philip Griffiths’ record as the longest running performer on the West End stage – 34 consecutive years I believe. Then we had the cast of The Bodyguard performing Disco Tango in the original Danish, Tommy Seebach’s magic little ditty from 1979. Quirky, comic and somewhat surreal, it’s not often you get to hear Beverley Knight singing in Viking. Maybe because it wasn’t in English there wasn’t quite the opportunity to represent the lyrics in the performance, but still it was very enjoyable.

Marry MeAfter the interval, where Mrs C and I met more Eurovision friends and decided to stick with sparkling water to help our overall health, we returned to see the cast of Wicked perform Jan Jan, Armenia’s 2009 contribution. Never one of my favourite songs, but this looked beautiful, with atmospheric lighting and glistening blue overcoats giving way to spangly white outfits. This led on to a frankly bonkers Marry Me (Finland 2013) from the cast of Billy Elliot; great choice of song, lots of humour, a disassociation of costumes, all frantic and frenetic. I think the jury were a bit puzzled by that one. The last entry of the night was the cast of Mamma Mia performing Waterloo – which sounds a bit unadventurous, considering Waterloo is the finale number in their show – but was actually hysterical. Like the Commitments entry it featured characters from other West End shows breaking in on the act. So, to accompany four Abba lookalikes, you had the Jersey Boys performing their version of the song, Miss Saigon’s helicopter, Ugandan villagers, Rachel from The Bodyguard and even a cavorting naked man from the chorus of Hair.

Waterloo with Jersey BoysI can’t quite recall the running order but it was about now that director Andrew Keates took to the stage, to give a very brave and honest speech about directing the play “As Is”, which concerns living with HIV, and how he hoped the play might encourage some people to get tested for the condition and if they are positive, to get the necessary treatment. The honesty was that he himself had not been tested, but took his own advice and discovered that he too was HIV positive. So it was a very personal plea for everyone to look after their own health by getting tested and seeking the medical help if they need it. Unfortunately he was interrupted by the most inappropriate heckle of the year, on a completely unrelated issue, which had us cringing in our seats. Even if they had a genuine grievance, there’s a time and a place – and that wasn’t it. But it didn’t dent the emotion and starkness of Mr Keates’ message.

SoniaAfter Beverley Knight drew the raffle (I lost again), it was time for our Eurovision guest act, Sonia, who proved she can still belt out a good hit. Not only did she perform her second placed 1993 entry, Better The Devil You Know, she also sang You’ll Never Stop Me From Wanting You. This moved us on to the voting, which was pretty tight, with the Book of Mormon in 3rd place and a tie for the top between Mamma Mia and Les Miserables. Apparently they don’t do Countback to identify an ultimate winner, so it’s not like real Eurovision. The performers from the winning shows all came back on stage and it was clear that they regarded their achievement with huge pride – and so they should.

Final scoreboardIt was a good 2.30am when it was all over. But of course, it wasn’t, as there was still the post-show party to be enjoyed. When we went in 2011, the party was held at a distant bar, some fifteen minutes trudging through the streets of Soho trying to find the place, and no one was quite sure where it was. Then we had to queue for entry, whilst celebs walked on through, which kind of rankled As I Had Paid For My Entry In Advance With My Ticket Price. Still, there were quite a lot of interesting people to gawp at and eavesdrop on – Sheridan Smith, Denise Welch, Denise van Outen, for example.

After show partyThis time, we had been told in advance that the party would also be held at the Dominion – we should make our way out of the theatre then back to the front where we would find the way in. There only seemed one way back in – through the theatre foyer, where heavies at the door were inspecting our wristbands. Ours were bronze, but everyone else’s appeared to be red. I also noted that the stairs to the Studio, where we had gone for the reception earlier, were now roped off. I thought no more of it, and we spent the next hour or so happily wandering around the foyers watching all these beautiful young people (cast members and their friends I guess) getting rat-arsed, and posing with the winning trophy. I did wonder though, where the other people were. Where was Graham Norton? And Caroline Quentin? I’d seen Aljaz and Janette from Strictly Come Dancing at the Drinks Reception, but they weren’t anywhere to be seen, until I noticed them emerging down some stairs and leaving at about 3.15am. The next day I saw a happy picture online of Graham Norton and Harriet Thorpe sharing champagne, and that’s when I realised that there are VIP parties and VIP parties, and that some VIPs are vipper than others!

I really hope this isn’t the last of the West End Eurovisions, as it’s a splendid tradition, everyone has a great time and it raises a lot of money for a very important cause. Now – the question is, shall we book to see West End Bares? Not been before and, let’s face it, it sounds fun!