Another ten theatre memories? OK then – five plays and five dances … May to December 1997

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater 2 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 31st May 1997

Passing over a jolly visit to the Moscow State Circus at the Battersea Big Top, our next show was a tour from NDT2, whom the programme refers to as “Europe’s Foremost Contemporary Dance Company”, and they were certainly a contender for that title. The Youth Department of the Netherlands’ NDT1 main company, this was the first time we had seen them and we were bowled over by their skill and artistry. The programme was Jiri Kylian’s Songs of a Wayfarer, Hans van Manen’s Solo, Johan Inger’s Mellantid, and finally, Nacho Duato’s Jardi Tancat. All the members of this amazing company have gone on to have rich and varied careers in the world of dance.

  1. The Return of Sherlock Holmes – Middle Ground Theatre Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 10th June 1997

Middle Ground returned to the Wycombe Swan with Ernest Dudley’s adaptation of Conan Doyle’s collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, directed by Harry Landis. Leading the cast as Holmes was Michael Cashman, now a Life Peer in the House of Lords. It also featured Frederick Pyne and Nicholas Smith who had appeared in Middle Ground’s previous production at the Wycombe Swan. I can’t fully remember, but I think this had a very poor audience and as a result the atmosphere was a bit lacking. Great cast though.

  1. Mrs Warren’s Profession – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 23rd June 1997

Safe pair of hands Alan Strachan directed this touring production of Shaw’s third play, one of his Plays Unpleasant, largely a vehicle for another safe pair of hands, Penelope Keith, to be versatile on stage. I think we all know what Mrs Warren did for a living. The excellent support cast included Charles Kay and Denis Lill. Very enjoyable.

  1. Lettice and Lovage – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 30th June 1997

We’d missed the West End production of Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage and so I was keen to see this touring production, although I was uncertain of the casting of Hinge and Bracket in the two main roles – much as I loved them as an act. I needn’t have worried; they fitted in perfectly, and it was an excellent production, directed by Graham Watts.

  1. Laughter on the 23rd Floor – Oxford Playhouse, 28th August 1997

Moving past that year’s Pendley Festival offering – Macbeth, our next show was a production of Neil Simon’s comedy Laughter on the 23rd Floor, with a fantastic cast led by Frank Finlay, also featuring Sandra Dickinson, Peter Polycarpou and John Challis. It was Simon’s recreation of 1950s TV comedy, where he cut his writing teeth. I only wish I could remember more about it!

  1. The Woman in Black – Fortune Theatre, London, 30th August 1997

Only ten years after it opened in London, we finally got to see this extraordinary play – and have seen it three times since then. Perfectly located in the Fortune to accentuate the intimate, claustrophobic terror of the story, it boasted two excellent performances from Robert Demeger and David Pullan. Still going strong! Nothing’s going to stop this one.

  1. Carmen – Czech National Ballet at the National Theatre, Prague, 30th September 1997

We took the opportunity to discover some Czech ballet whilst on holiday in Prague, and a visit to the National Theatre is a very rewarding experience if you should ever find yourself there. To say that it was avant garde is to underestimate its oddness. Any production of Carmen that starts with a naked dwarf jumping around isn’t going to lend itself too much to the original. Nevertheless, we kind of enjoyed it. Kind of.

  1. Cinderella – Adventures in Motion Pictures at the Piccadilly Theatre, London, 11th October 1997

As soon as Matthew Bourne’s follow up to his incredibly successful Swan Lake was announced, I snapped up tickets. Set in London during the Blitz, his Cinderella featured a dashing pilot and an angel – as well as some of the roles you might normally expect with this story! Nothing was ever going to beat Swan Lake and maybe I was slightly disappointed because of that – but this was a fine performance of an innovative new dance show, and the cast list was superb – Adam Cooper, Lynn Seymour, Sarah Wildor, Scott Ambler, William Kemp and many more great dancers from the Bourne stable!

  1. Rambert Dance Company – 97/98 Season Programme at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 18th October 1997

Never missing up a chance to see Rambert, this programme started with Paul Taylor’s Airs, followed by Christopher Bruce’s Stream (which we had seen the previous February) and finally Didy Veldman’s Greymatter. The dancers included Paul Liburd, Vincent Redmon, Glenn Wilkinson, Hope Muir, Sheron Wray, Rafael Bonachela, Mattew Hart, Steven Brett, Didy Veldman, Laurent Cavanna, and my favourite from that era, Marie Laure Agrapart. Wonderful as always.

  1. The Nutcracker – Vienna Festival Ballet at the Civic Centre, Aylesbury, 4th December 1997

You don’t think of combining Vienna Ballet with Aylesbury, but they were there and it was a very enjoyable performance of this Christmas favourite; although I doubt whether many of the dancers had been any nearer to Vienna than Weston Turville. A crowd-pleaser though!

Review – Lettice and Lovage, Menier Chocolate Factory, 21st May 2017

Lettice and LovagePeter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage first hit the stage way back in 1987 as a star vehicle for Maggie Smith. I knew that we had seen the play before but I was darned if I could remember seeing la grande dame in the role – I am sure I would have remembered. I can just imagine how she would have grasped it with – well everything you can grasp with.

LAL guidingMove forward another twenty years and none other than Sir Trevor Nunn has directed a spanking new production in the intimate charm of the Menier Chocolate Factory and cast two theatrical favourites – Felicity Kendal and Maureen Lipman. Perfect for this almost two-hander, theatrically genteel boxing match between the guide who embellishes the history of the dullest Stately Home in the country to make it remotely interesting, and the battleaxe from the Preservation Trust who sacks her.

LAL being firedTo be honest, it’s a very slight play and I’m surprised that both Sir Trev and the Menier were that interested in reviving it. It doesn’t do much to illuminate the human condition, although it does appeal to the YOLO generation, as Lettice and Lottie cast care to the wind and become the least likely pals since Margaret Thatcher and Eric Heffer. The play did remind me of the late Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle who for several years post-retirement was a room warden at the National Trust’s property at Waddesdon Manor, and who took great delight in finding out as much about the treasures on display as possible – but there’s nothing more challenging than being asked a question to which you don’t know the answer, and having a fertile imagination can make the experience even more enjoyable!

Lettice and LottieFortunately, this production benefits from two totally delightful performances which make the two and a half hours plus absolutely fly by. No linguistic contortion is too strained for Felicity Kendal’s Lettice, as she recollects the dear old days of supporting her mother and father on the stage, an eccentric Bohemienne to her fingertips, concocting potent jugs of 16th century punch distilled from lovage and eye of bat. Similarly, Maureen Lipman wallows in her opportunity to be the frosty frowsy bossy boss, ridiculing her underlings, putting up with no nonsense, but just wondering if it is time to (nearly literally) let her hair down. Maybe the excellence of the two main performances highlights the patchiness of some of the supporting ensemble, not that that spoils your enjoyment of the play.

LetticeSlight, but funny; you won’t talk about the characters’ motivations or the thematic structure of the play on the way home, but you might well crack up reminiscing about Miss Lipman’s wonderful drunk act or Miss Kendal’s heartier-than-thou ham-Shakespearean verbal dexterity. If ever they cast Women Behaving Badly, they need look no further. The entire run is now sold out, but I doubt if this production, unlike some of the Menier’s other recent successes, would warrant a transfer. Sorry guys, if you’re not already booked, you’ve missed it.

LottieP. S. We didn’t see the original production. I remember now – we saw a production in 1997 with two other Dear Ladies who gave it an equally good grasp – yes, Dr Evadne Hinge and Dame Hilda Bracket. And if you can remember what Hinge and Bracket were like in their prime – I can confirm they were really very funny.

Production photos by Catherine Ashmore