Carrying on with the theatre memories – October 1981 to April 1982

Come on in, the water’s lovely!

  1. The Killing Game – Apollo Theatre, London, 29th October 1981

image(1193)image(1194)image(1199)Thomas Muschamp’s The Killing Game was an intriguing thriller with a military air; it had something of the Conduct Unbecoming to it, if you remember that old play. Given the fact that he apparently wrote dozens of plays, Mr Muschamp’s oeuvre seems to be largely forgotten today. I remember this as being a riveting and exciting drama that kept me guessing throughout. An excellent cast but I particularly remember Hannah Gordon being superb.

  1. The Mitford Girls – Globe Theatre, London, 4th November 1981

image(1185)image(1186)image(1178)Another two-show day, this started off with Ned Sherrin and Caryl Brahms’ musical about the six Mitford sisters, the socialite, not socialist, family who got in with the Mosleys and the Hitlers and suchlike in the first half of the twentieth century. Nicely done, but it left me a bit cold – although, maybe that was the point? A great cast starred Patricia Hodge, with terrific stalwarts including Gay Soper and Julia Sutton – not to mention Oz Clarke. It even had “dances supervised” (whatever that means) by Anton Dolin. I remember feeling grateful that I had another show to go on to; and, indeed, it didn’t last long in the West End.

  1. Anyone for Denis – Whitehall Theatre, London, 4th November 1981

image(1181)John Wells’ Chequers-based farce was a complete hoot, with a fantastic central performance by Angela Thorne as Maggie Thatcher, although I always found John Wells’ own impersonation of Denis as rather over the top.

image(1182)I still cringe when I think of the publicity photo with Ms Thorne and Mr Wells and the real Thatchers – Denis obviously found it hilarious, but The Iron Lady had a smile full of individually gritted teeth.

A fascinating example of political satire that could never have been allowed whilst Theatre Censorship was in action. Creatively different programme, too!

  1. Children of a Lesser God – Albery Theatre, London, 5th November 1981

image(1171)image(1172)image(1175)On a second two-show day, I first saw Mark Medoff’s stunning play about a relationship between two members of staff at a school for the deaf, which garnered several awards on both sides of the Atlantic. The main roles were taken by the deaf actor Elizabeth Quinn and the hearing actor – and Shoestring himself – Trevor Eve. I remember it as a gripping and riveting watch, chock-full of terrific performances, and indeed it was later made into a very successful film.

  1. Roll on 4 O’clock – Palace Theatre, London, 5th November 1981

image(1162)image(1163)image(1168)The Palace Theatre is an awfully big place when there aren’t that many people in the audience so this third night performance of Colin Welland’s amusing but overwhelmingly alarming play about teachers coping with life as teachers and homophobic bullying amongst the boys felt a bit surreal. Primarily I went to see it because I wanted to see what Windsor Davies was like on stage – and he was brilliant. I remember him rousing up the first few rows of the stalls so that we all stood up to sing a hymn just before the curtain fell for the interval. Enjoyable, but I was expecting more. Also appearing as members of staff were Shaun Curry, Bernard Gallagher and Clive Swift, and amongst the boys, Nick Conway went on to have a very successful acting (and teaching) career.

  1. Pass the Butler – Globe Theatre, London, 6th February 1982

image(1156)image(1157)image(1149)A farce by Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle, and with a massive cast headed by William Rushton, John Fortune and Peter Jones, directed by Jonathan Lynn, should have been a thing of joy. But I remember it as being sadly shallow and full of horribly easy laughs, and, whilst it was certainly superficially funny at times, it didn’t have anything like enough oomph to become memorable. Can’t win them all – my next four shows were all sensational.

  1. On the Razzle – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 20th February 1982

image(1152)I saw this with my friend Ian – I’m not quite sure why he wanted to see it, but I’m glad he convinced me. Adapted by Tom Stoppard from Johann Nestroy’s 1842 comedy Einen Jux will er sich machen, which was also adapted into The Matchmaker and Hello Dolly, this was a brilliantly funny farce with maniacally lively characters, a superb script and some fantastic performances – Ray Brooks, Felicity Kendal, Dinsdale Landen, Joan Hickson, and above all, Michael Kitchen who was on fire for this show. image(1137)A farce of mistaken identities, romantic entanglements, an actress playing a boy and anything else Stoppard and Nestroy could chuck at it. I note that of the three child actors playing the Ragamuffin, one of them was Adam Woodyatt (aka Ian Beale). As Michael Kitchen said many times during this show: In a word, classic.

 

  1. Guys and Dolls – Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, 4th March 1982

image(1138)image(1139)image(1140)A preview production of the show that has never really gone away since. Frank Loesser’s magnificent musical based on the writings and characters of Damon Runyon is full of the stuff of legend – and this incredible production by Richard Eyre quickly entered the annals of history as being Of The Best. I’ll never forget the audience erupting with ecstasy at David Healy’s finest career moment – his performance of Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat – so much so that Harry Towb, who had the next line as Lieutenant Branigan, simply gave up waiting to deliver it and joined the audience in demanding a reprise. With a dream team four main actors of Julia McKenzie, Julie Covington, Ian Charleson and Bob Hoskins, supporting cast including Barrie Rutter, John Normington and a young Imelda Staunton, this was always going to be one of the best shows anyone was ever likely to see. This production fired up some controversy along the lines of “should the subsidised theatre be creating commercial productions like this that could stand on their own two feet on Shaftesbury Avenue?” When it was a production of this quality, the answer was, unquestionably, yes.

  1. Another Country – Queen’s Theatre, London, 10th April 1982

image(1144)image(1129)image(1133)Julian Mitchell’s astonishing play about two social outsiders growing up in the public school system ran for ages and remains a landmark production, not only because it’s a riveting play, but because of the two young stars that were made from it – Rupert Everett in his first West End role and Kenneth Branagh, straight out of RADA. It wasn’t difficult to tell that these two would set the world on fire. Inspired by the real life story of Guy Burgess, the play went on to become a very successful film and is often revived. Another highly memorable and electric theatrical experience.

  1. Noises Off – Savoy Theatre, London, 15th April 1982

image(1135)image(1136)image(1125)Michael Frayn’s best known play had been running for just two weeks at the Savoy Theatre when I saw it, and since then I must have seen it at least another three or four times! A classic farce of backstage shenanigans with a hopeless cast rehearsing a dreadful sex comedy – and we see the first act of this awful play three times from three different perspectives and at three different points of its disastrous tour. One of the funniest plays around – and it still packs them in wherever it plays. With a superb original cast of Paul Eddington, Patricia Routledge, Nicky Henson, Roger Lloyd Pack and many more blistering names – just sensational.

Thanks for joining me down this theatrical memory lane. Next regular blog will probably be back to the holiday snaps and J is also for Jordan, and a week of exciting sightseeing in November 2008. Stay safe!

Review – Noises Off, Garrick Theatre, 27th December 2019

81545680_1065869243748312_2955591279569797120_nSome shows never go away. Sometimes that can be regrettable; sometimes remarkable; on a few occasions, totally wonderful. Noises Off, I’m delighted to say, falls into that third category. Michael Frayn’s marvellous farce, that never progresses our hapless cast of TV B-listers past the first act of Robin Housemonger’s clearly pathetic Nothing On, stars TV’s Dotty “I can ‘ardly ‘old me lolly up” Otley – and she’s sunk her life savings into this “investment”. Will she get a return on her risk? Will she buffalo.

DottyThe date – 15th April 1982; I had a front row seat at the Savoy for the newly opened Noises Off, starring Paul Eddington and Patricia Routledge; and I thought it was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen or was ever likely to see. Four years later, and still at the Savoy, I introduced young Miss Duncansby (now Mrs Chrisparkle) to the joys of Stephanie Cole and Hugh Paddick in the cast; from then till now, we still love to intone our own posh-voiced ladies and gentlemen, would you please take your seats, as the performance will begin in one minute instructions, at the drop of a hat, whenever the moment sees fit. In 2008 we saw it again at the Milton Keynes Theatre, with Maggie Steed on fine form, and it had lost none of its spark. And now it’s back again, and so are we, revelling both in the comedy of today and the nostalgia of yesteryear.

LloydAnd it’s great to see that the cast of TV’s On the Zebras has-beens is still as useless as ever. At first we see them struggling through the Dress (“we’re all thinking of it as the Tech, Lloyd love”) Rehearsal before the opening at the Grand Theatre, Weston-super-Mare; then we see them at daggers with each other during a vengeful midweek matinee at the Theatre Royal, Goole; and finally in exhausted devastation during the final performance at the Municipal Theatre, Stockton on Tees.

Belinda and FrederickNothing On is clearly a dreadful little play, the last vestiges of the mildly titillating sex comedy genre that soared in the 60s and 70s with masterpieces (and I mean that) like Boeing Boeing, No Sex Please We’re British and There’s a Girl in my Soup. Today these have dated very badly – and in fact the recently planned tour of Boeing Boeing has had to be cancelled due to poor advance sales. Shame really, as it’s an exceptionally funny and beautifully structured play. I daresay Feydeau would have struggled to get bums on seats if he was writing nowadays. When Noises Off first hit the stage in 1982, that style was already on the way out, but still familiar, and thus ripe for Frayn to satirise mercilessly. I would not be remotely surprised if any twenty-something theatregoers seeing Noises Off today hadn’t got a clue as to what Nothing On was all about.

GarryApart from taking the mick out of those old sex comedies, Noises Off assembles a relatively ghastly cast of creative types with recognisable foibles, weaknesses, idiosyncrasies and so on. The faux-polite leading lady, the tense and irritable ingénu, the arrogant director, the well-meaning buffoon, the old sot; they’re all there, thrust together in a survival battle. And this creates Noises Off’s great strength; it’s utterly hilarious. Every possible theatrical disaster that could befall that woeful cast happens with dire consequences; to anyone who’s ever been on a stage it’s your worst nightmare come true. Physical pratfalls, mental and physical violence, drunk colleagues, nosebleeds, missing/not working/broken props/scenery, inappropriate affairs and jealous lovers all vie for prominence. And, whilst on the face of it, you might suspect it would be too forced, too unreal, too slapstick, too unsubtle to be taken seriously – in fact it’s such a superb piece of writing, requiring a high level of choreographically excellent performance, that only the most sour-faced misery-guts wouldn’t bellow with laughter ecstatically through it. That second Act, in particular, is simply a perfect nugget of comic genius. I was slightly sorry that this current production, directed by Jeremy Herrin, has done away with the visual “duck” joke in Act Two. If you remember it from previous productions, I’m sure you’d too be disappointed that it’s missing. If you’ve never seen it before then I’ll not explain it – suffice to say that it can be made even funnier.

It's all going wrongAlthough it’s a play that’s always attracted star performers, there are few plays that require greater ensemble skills and attitude, and the cast do indeed throw everything at it to make it succeed. Meera Syal plays Dotty as a rather sweet old thing, until her anger is riled, that is; Lloyd Owen’s Director Lloyd is a sorely-tried, hard-nosed kind of guy – very tired, very unhappy and more acerbic than I remember from previous productions. Lisa McGrillis emphasises all of Brooke’s vacant automaton acting to terrific effect, and there’s very nice support from Adrian Richards as the long-suffering Tim, the Stage Manager. But, for me, the best characterisations come from Sarah Hadland as the kindly and impossibly positive Belinda Blair, and Daniel Rigby as the tongue-tied, gently seething Garry Lejeune.

BrookeIt’s the perfect show for a holiday season; strenuously funny, and with plenty of excellent performances to admire; and you can pick and choose just how much you want to extrapolate from it about the nature of human existence to the extent that you can be bothered. Consider it deep, or consider it shallow, there’s loads to enjoy here, and I’m glad we caught it again before it closes on 4th January.

Production photos by Helen Maybanks