Another plunge into history…
- Poppie Nongena – Riverside Studios, London, April 1984
This arrived at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith with much expectation, and, although I can’t remember too many details about the show, I know I really enjoyed it and so did my friend Dave who came with me. Based on Elsa Joubert’s acclaimed novel, which has only recently also been made into a film, it tells the story of a South African woman born in the 1930s and the journey of her life. Poppie was played by Thuli Dumakude who won the Laurence Olivier Award for Actress of the Year in a New Play for this performance. The cast and crew had all come to London following the successful original production of the play in South Africa.
- Mr Cinders – Fortune Theatre, London, 14th May 1984
This hugely successful little production had already been playing for over a year when I finally saw it. Written in 1928 by Clifford Grey and Greatrex Newman, with music by Vivian Ellis and Richard Myers, this is a Cinderella story with the roles reversed – Mr Cinders is the downtrodden menial help and the Prince Charming role is a young, forceful woman. This production started at the King’s Head theatre then quickly transferred to the Fortune, originally with Denis Lawson in the main role, but I saw it shortly after a cast change and Jim was played by Lionel Blair, and Jill by Carole Brooke. I remember it being absolutely charming, beautifully played, very funny and a completely winning little show. Looking back, I wonder how on earth they crammed a cast of twenty on the tiny Fortune stage. But they must have somehow!
- 42nd Street – Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 28th July 1984
I’m always keen to see the big names of musical theatre history, so I was really looking forward to seeing this giant of a show, staged at my favourite London theatre, with my friends Mike and Lin and Lin’s mum Barbara. I was so disappointed – in fact, I was really bored by it and pretty much hated it. Despite a fantastic cast led by Georgia Brown, it commits the cardinal sin that only a musical can: it tells a bit of story, then everything stops for a song. Then it picks up the story, then it stops again. There’s no flowing movement. It’s all façade and no sincerity. Happy never to see this show again!
- The Ratepayers’ Iolanthe – Phoenix Theatre, London, 1st September 1984
Ned Sherrin and Alistair Beaton adapted Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe to reflect the current political wranglings between Tory PM Margaret Thatcher and the London GLC’s leadership by Labour Ken Livingstone. The result was a very clever and witty political parody and I enjoyed it a lot. Looking back, it was a tremendous cast of West End stalwarts: Gaye Brown, Lorna Dallas, David Firth, Doug Fisher, David Kernan, Michael Robbins, Gay Soper, Dudley Stevens, Sally Bradshaw, Myra Sands and Jenny Wren. Very much a thing of its time, there’s no way this would ever be revived!
- Little Shop of Horrors – Comedy Theatre, London, 24th November 1984
Moving over a production of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap at the Bournemouth Playhouse starring Gareth Hunt as Sidney Bruhl (only because I’ve already mentioned the original West End production) my next show was the original London production of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s Little Shop of Horrors, the cult classic ridiculously funny musical with an out of control man-eating plant. This had already been running for a year when I saw it, and had undergone a change of cast with Ellen Greene leaving the role of Audrey, and now being performed by Claire Moore; and on the matinee that I saw, Audrey was performed by her understudy Susie Fenwick. The cast also included some other great performers, including Barry James, Harry Towb, David Burt and Dawn Hope. Huge fun, brilliant staging – including at the end when plant tentacles dropped down from the ceiling and brushed the heads of everyone in the stalls, much to our combined surprised horror!
- Stepping Out – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 24th November 1984
Richard Harris’ delightful and successful play about a group of women who learn to tap dance together won the Evening Standard Play of the Year award before being made into a film. Thoroughly enjoyable play, given a very good production directed by Julia McKenzie. Barbara Ferris and Diane Langton led the cast. Not much more to say, really!
- Trumpets and Raspberries – Phoenix Theatre, London, 15th December 1984
After Accidental Death of an Anarchist I was a huge fan of Dario Fo and this production of his 1981 play was a must-see. Another of his left-wing farces, it starred Griff Rhys-Jones playing the dual roles of Agnelli, the head of Fiat Motors, and Antonio, who rescues Agnelli from a kidnap attempt. When Agnelli’s face is reconstructed to look like Antonio – typical farce ensues. Very funny and thoroughly enjoyable, with a great supporting cast including Gwen Taylor and Gavin Muir.
- The Hired Man – Astoria Theatre, London, 2nd February 1985
Passing over a concert by Jacques Loussier at the Royal Festival Hall that I saw in January 1985 with my friends John and Paul, the next show I saw was the brilliant – and still frequently performed (I’m pleased to say) The Hired Man, Melvyn Bragg and Howard Goodall’s adaptation of Bragg’s own original book, charting the life of John and Emily, high up on some fell, Jackson, who betrayed John’s friendship by a dalliance with Emily; and, as time goes by, the adventures of May and Harry their children, culminating in Emily’s death and John’s return to working on the land. A production whose strength came from, not only the brilliance of the material but the simplicity of its staging; and I remember being completely blown away by a mesmerising performance by Paul Clarkson as John, who I always thought would go on to be the biggest thing in the West End – but it didn’t quite work out that way. Oh – and the music is sensational. One of the best shows ever.
- She Stoops to Conquer – National Theatre, Lyttelton Theatre, London, February 1985.
Giles Block’s wonderful production of Oliver Goldsmith’s classic, this was a riot starring Tom Baker and Dora Bryan, Tony Haygarth and Hywel Bennett. This had enjoyed a lengthy and successful tour and would go on to appear in some more regional theatres before finally closing. Great fun!
- Me and My Girl – Adelphi Theatre, London, 25th February 1985
The Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle was always a sucker for anything nostalgic about the good old days of London, so a show featuring The Lambeth Walk would always be high on her priority list. We both really enjoyed this fantastic production, which breathed new life into an old show and has kept it in the public’s wish list ever since. A great cast album too!
Heading the cast was the amazing Robert Lindsay who revealed song and dance abilities I had no idea he had, and he continues to give great performances to this day. Emma Thompson was a delightful Sally, and with a supporting cast including names like Frank Thornton, Ursula Smith, Robert Longden and Richard Caldicot, this was always going to be a great production. Low down the cast list was Rosemarie Ford, who would become better known as Bruce Forsyth’s assistant on the Generation Game (what’s on the board, Miss Ford) and who would also become known as Mrs Robert Lindsay.