Still more theatre memories? December 2002 – June 2003

  1. Contact – Queen’s Theatre, London, 28th December 2002

A wonderful combination of dance and theatre, Susan Stroman’s Contact was a huge hit in the US, but British audiences didn’t seem to get it. Mrs Chrisparkle and I loved it, and we still have a framed poster in our hall to this day! The superb cast included Michael Praed, Leigh Zimmerman, Sarah Wildor and Craig Urbani. Fantastic!

  1. George Piper Dances – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 18th February 2003

The return of the George Piper team – aka the Balletboyz of the future – to the Swan Dance season gave us four short pieces to enjoy; William Forsyth’s Steptext, Matthew Hart’s Other Mens Wives, Lightfoot/Leon’s Sigue, and Russell Maliphant’s Torsion. As before, the group consisted of William Trevitt, Michael Nunn, Oxana Panchenko and Matthew Hart. Superb as always.

  1. Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 1st March 2003

New Adventures, as Matthew Bourne’s company had now become, brought us Bourne’s vision of Tchaikovsky’s famous Christmassy ballet, which has become a firm family favourite all around the world. The story is now transplanted to Dr Dross’ Orphanage for Waifs and Strays, with the wonderful Scott Ambler as Dr Dross/King Sherbet, Emily Piercy as the Matron/Queen Candy, Saranne Curtin as Sugar, Ewan Wardrop as Fritz, Etta Murfitt as Clara and Alan Vincent as the Nutcracker himself. We took our nieces and they loved it.

  1. Madame Butterfly – Northern Ballet Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 5th April 2003

We took the Dowager Mrs C to see this because she loved the music to Madame Butterfly, although we weren’t sure she’d appreciate the dance much; but we all loved it. A superb dance rendition of Puccini’s romantic opera that tugged the heartstrings more than you could possibly imagine. Desiré Samaai was an extraordinary Butterfly, Jhe Russell a brilliant Pinkerton, and the whole show was just fantastic.

  1. The Dance of Death – Lyric Theatre, London, 19th April 2003

Richard Greenberg’s new adaptation of Strindberg’s play starred Ian McKellen and Frances de la Tour; and I remember that as you entered the auditorium, both were on stage, ignoring each other, moping about in a very gloomy, Strindbergian way. A very strong production, if not a song-and-dance every minute, and beautifully acted, as you would expect.

  1. Hamlet – Arc Dance Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 28th April 2003

Kim Brandstrup’s dance version of Shakespeare’s tragedy had Lee Boggess as Hamlet, the legendary Kenneth Tharp as Claudius and Joanne Fong as Gertrude. If only I could remember it better, because I am sure it was excellent!





  1. Paul Taylor Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 6th May 2003

An enviable chance to see the world famous Paul Taylor Dance Company of New York, performing three great dance works – Roses, The Word and Company B, all of which were choreographed by Paul Taylor. Company B was danced to the music of the Andrews Sisters, and was very similar to the dance Rum and Coca Cola choreographed by Janet Smith – I’m not sure who borrowed from whom! We knew we were privileged to see this show.

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater 2 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 7th June 2003

We always took the opportunity to see NDT2 whenever we could, and this show had four terrific dances. Johan Inger’s Out of Breath, followed by two Lightfoot/Leon pieces, Shutters Shut and Subject to Change, and finally = as they so often did – ending up with Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. Brilliant as always.


  1. Corpse! – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 13th June 2003

Gerald Moon’s well-trodden old comedy thriller about a brother trying to murder his twin starred Peter Duncan, Colin Baker, Louise Jameson and David Warwick. Can’t remember too much about it, but I suspect it was a little creaky.

  1. The Vagina Monologues – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 27th June 2003

Eve Ensler’s ever popular play for three women had played in the West End for two years and was on a very long UK tour. Part of the fun was seeing which stars would be in it, as the cast kept evolving. For our performance, we saw Tamara Beckwith, Jenny Jules and Su Pollard, and they were all excellent. A very entertaining, and thought provoking show, that still tours today.

More theatre memories? OK but they’re mainly dance! September 2000 to May 2001

  1. BBC Proms in the Park – Hyde Park, London, 9th September 2000

I wasn’t sure if I should add this or not, but then if I’m including Proms inside the Albert Hall, why not include Proms in the Park outside the Albert Hall! The perfect alternative to getting those hotly contested last night tickets, we enjoyed a beautiful day in the sunshine with picnic and champers, plus great entertainment from Bjorn Again, The Chieftains, Georgie Fame, Julian Lloyd Webber, Willard White and Angela Gheorghiu. All topped off by the BBC Concert Orchestra, and hosted (of course) by Terry Wogan. Fantastic!

  1. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Milton Keynes Theatre, 12th September 2000

Every show by the Trocks is different, even if they do the same dances as before! This programme started with Les Sylphides; then after an interval, Cross Currents, Go for Barocco and The Dying Swan, finally ending up with Paquita. All as skilful and stunning as they are hilarious. The terminal fowl was executed, as usual in those days, by Ida Nevasayneva. Nothing more to say!

  1. Defending the Caveman – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 15th September 2000

Rob Becker’s beautifully written one-man play was toured the world over by Australian Mark Little, at the time best known for his appearances in the TV soap Neighbours. Defending the Caveman is a really clever show that highlights the differences between men and women, presented from a man’s point of view, but always respectful and entertaining. Great stuff!

  1. Rambert Dance Company Autumn & Winter Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 6th October 2000

Back again for another helping of Rambert, with a slightly unusual programme of two longer dance pieces: Mats Ek’s She was Black and Christopher Bruce’s Sergeant Early’s Dream. Dream was performed to live music from the Sergeant Early Band. The fantastic (slightly smaller than usual) group of dancers included favourites Hope Muir, Glenn Wilkinson, Vincent Redmon, and Simon Cooper.

  1. Graham Norton – Lively – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 8th October 2000

After seeing Victoria Wood a few years earlier, this was our second foray into the world of stand-up comedy on stage, and Graham Norton’s comedy gig was absolutely excellent. He had the also excellent Jo Caulfield as his support act. At the time he was just gathering success with his So Graham Norton TV show – little did we know how he would grow to dominate the TV and radio for decades!

  1. Richard Alston Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 24th October 2000

Our third trip to see Richard Alston’s annual tour, the programme featured a selection of Alston’s pieces set to classical musical. Waltzes in Disorder, with music by Brahms, was followed by Tremor, with music by Shostakovich, and finally The Signal of a Shake, set to music by Handel. The line up of dancers included Martin Lawrance, David McCormick and Diana Loosmore.

  1. Mark Baldwin Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 14th February 2001

A four month gap till our next show, a Valentine’s night trip to the Wycombe Swan to see the Mark Baldwin Dance Company in a programme of works all choreographed by Baldwin: Danses Concertantes, The Bird Sings with its Fingers, and The State. This show was a collaboration with the full scale orchestra, Sinfonia 21. Among the dancers was Laurent Cavanna, whose work we had admired when he danced with Rambert.



  1. Jekyll and Hyde – Northern Ballet Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 30th March 2001

Another trip to see strong modern ballet with the contemporary twist of the Northern Ballet, in a dance version of the famous story choreographed  by Massimo Moricone. Jekyll was danced by Hironao Takahashi and Hyde by the late Jonathan Ollivier. I confess I don’t have too many memories of this.

  1. Moscow City Ballet perform Swan Lake – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 1st May 2001

Classical ballet on a grand scale, the Moscow City Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece had all the little touches you would expect from this company that brings the atmosphere of the true Russian ballet on its regular tours.

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater 2 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 20th May 2001

Another visit to see NDT2 touring, at the time one of favourite dance companies – the youth department of the NDT. The programme started with Dream Play, choreographed by Johan Inger, to music from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; then Said and Done, a new dance from Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon to the music of Bach; and finally crowd pleaser Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, set to fun 1950s tunes. A brilliant and memorable night’s dance.


Another bunch of theatre memories? Why not! February to June 1998

Rather weak on the detail of some of these, but here goes anyway!

  1. Faking It – Motion House Dance Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 10th February 1998

The first show in that year’s Swan Dance festival at the Wycombe Swan, we saw Motion House Dance Theatre’s exciting and punchy piece of contemporary dance, that the programme describes as being “about power games, the struggle for pole position and the many faces we don in order to hide our vulnerabilities.” Sounds great, and I think it was! The all-female company consisted of Caroline Bridges, Penny Collinson, Ruth Jacombs, Isabelle Martinez and Lisi Perry.

  1. Dance Bites – The Royal Ballet at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 7th March 1998

1998’s Dance Bites programme featured five short pieces, immaculately performed as always. First up was Horseplay, choreographed by Tom Sapsford, and danced by Michael Nunn (a Future Balletboyz founder), Jonathan Howells, Justin Meissner and David Pickering. Then we had Highly Strung, a solo danced by Jerry Douglas, choreographed by Matthew Hart to music by Debussy. After the first interval came Dream of Angels, choreographed by William Tuckett (the other Balletboyz founder), and danced by Leire Ortueta, Michael Nunn and Sarah Wildor. Then came Words Apart, choreographed by Cathy Marston, and performed by 12 dancers; then after the second interval, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, choreographed by William Forsythe, and danced by Deborah Bull amongst others. Always a privilege to see.

  1. Tartuffe – Mobil Touring Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 14th March 1998

Mobil’s show that year was a very lively and enjoyable production of Molière’s Tartuffe, with Stephen Tompkinson perfectly cast in the main role, and also starring Simon Williams as an Orgon full of bluster, plus Isla Blair and Maria Charles giving great support. However, my main recollection of this production was Mr Tompkinson (unforgivably in my mind) completely dissing the audience during curtain call, by chatting ostentatiously to the other cast members and never making eye contact with us or acknowledging our presence. I don’t know what we had done to deserve that, we had been respectful and laughed in all the right places.

  1. Romeo and Juliet – Northern Ballet Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 17th March 1998

Northern Ballet brought their production of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Massimo Moricone and directed by Christopher Gable, with design by Lez Brotherston, who continues to be the best at the job today. I remember this being a very grand and elaborate affair, with dance and production values of the highest quality. Romeo was danced by Denis Malinkine, and Juliet by Jayne Regan. Very enjoyable.

  1. Kind Hearts and Coronets – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 16th April 1998

Giles Croft adapted and directed this touring production of the famous film for Charles Vance productions. Very enjoyable, if I remember rightly, with Robert Powell as Louis Mazzini and Colin Baker as the D’Ascoynes. But it wasn’t the kind of production to stick in the mind!

  1. Dein Perry’s Tap Dogs – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 24th April 1998

This lively entertainment was already a huge international success and their visit to the Swan Dance festival was very well received. I remember it as being a blistering attack on the senses – not only from a dance point of view, but also, frankly, the clashing racket they made with their dustbin lids and all sorts of other noisy ephemera! Very enjoyable, but after a while I did start to find it slightly repetitive and just – ever so slightly – boring. But I know I was in the minority!

  1. And Nothing But the Truth – VTol Dance Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, April 1998

And Nothing But the Truth was billed as a Murder Mystery set to dance, and it was a highly entertaining piece of contemporary dance – although I can’t remember whodunit. The company was Christine Devaney, James Hewison, Kieron Jecchinis, Marcia Pook and Karl Sullivan, and the show was devised by the company under the auspices of Artistic Director Mark Murphy. Very nicely described in the programme: “Back from the dead, our host Jake takes us into a nightmare landscape blackened by murder. Four characters, Christine – The Wife, Karl – The Husband, Marcia – His Lover and James – The Neighbour; find themselves in a complex maze of lies, infidelity and pillows.”



  1. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 1st May 1998

This was our first ever exposure (and that’s probably the right word) to The Trocks and they have gone on to be amongst our very favourite companies of all time, whom we see whenever we can. This programme was a true classic, starting with Swan Lake, Act II, a Mystery Pas de Deux (as always), Vivaldi Suite, The Dying Swan (executed by Comrade Ida Nevasayneva), and ending with Paquita. It goes without saying that the quality of dance from this company is always of the highest exceptional quality, but it’s mixed with their wonderful feel for the comic potential in classical ballet (and, occasionally, contemporary dance). This wonderful company featured at the time a very young Robert Carter (Olga Supphozova and Yuri Smirnov), Associate Director Tory Dobrin (Margaret Lowin-Octeyn and Adam Baum), the brilliant Paul Ghiselin (Ida Nevasayneva and Velour Pilloux) and Manolo Nolina (Fifi Barkova and Igor Slowpokin). Some of those names just kill you.

  1. Cruel Garden – Rambert Dance Company at the Apollo Theatre, Oxford, 7th May 1998

I was looking forward to seeing Lindsay Kemp’s iconic production so much, but it was completely ruined by the fact that our view of the stage was obliterated by the very high- positioned conductor standing right in front of our seats. If it had been described as obstructed view or a lower price I would have understood (and indeed, booked different seats) but there was no such warning. The theatre management were unhelpful to my plight and as a result I’ve never been back to this theatre. I genuinely can’t comment on the show as I couldn’t see it.

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater 2 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 2nd June 1998

Having enjoyed NDT2 so much the first time we saw them, it was a no-brainer to book to see them on their return visit. The programme was: Grosse Fuge, choreographed by Hans van Manen, Un Ballo, choreographed by Jiri Kylian, Sans Response by Patrick Delcroix, and finally Paul Lightfoot’s Sad Case. Sheer joy from the NDT youth department.

Review – Northern Ballet, The Great Gatsby, Milton Keynes Theatre, 16th April 2013

The Great GatsbyScott Fitzgerald’s fantastic book came out in 1925 and rarely goes away. Last year we saw the daylong marathon that was Gatz – the bold experiment of a dramatised reading of the book in one fell swoop; for me not entirely successful, but certainly worth the attempt. And this year we have David Nixon’s dance version for Northern Ballet, set to the music of the late Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. We’ve seen a few of their productions in the past, all of them excellent, especially Romeo and Juliet, which had both of us sobbing into our Sauvignon Blancs. But rather like Gatz, this Gatsby is a jolly good stab at re-interpreting the book in another format, and like Gatz, doesn’t quite work.

Victoria SibsonNevertheless there are plenty of aspects of the performance that are a sheer joy and well worth the ticket price. Primarily, you go to a dance to see dancers dance, right? On that level it works like a dream, as the company are in really good form, their technical ability stands out a mile and they must be amazingly fit to sustain those energy levels throughout the show. Other senses are appealed to as well; the costumes are superb, especially the ball gowns of the partying ladies and Myrtle’s stunning first act creation. The orchestra are superb, and recreate Bennett’s jazz, Charleston and other film music with intensity and excitement.

Benjamin MitchellThere are some particularly excellent set pieces. All the dance party scenes are lively and engaging, especially when Myrtle loosens up to Irving Berlin’s When The Midnight Choo Choo; Myrtle’s death is a vivid and startling piece of dance drama; and the entrance of guests to the Theme from Murder on the Orient Express is fun and feelgood. I loved the use of the sliding panels at each side of the stage to give extra entrance and exit spaces, and also to suggest a deeper stage than that provided at Milton Keynes; all part of excellent design by Jerome Kaplan.

Martha LeeboltSo what’s the problem? It’s twofold, IMHO. It’s a brilliant book, written with such control and detachment. It’s not really about Gatsby; it’s not really a romantic novel about Gatsby/Daisy/Tom/Myrtle; rather it’s a somewhat cerebral examination of the outsider, Nick Carraway, and how he never quite fits in with society around him, playing at romance with Jordan but shying away when his cold interior is threatened, and observing the savagery of other relationships from a safe clinical distance. Gatsby himself is an enigma, an illusion; and it’s hard to engage emotionally with such characters. For all its beauty and elegance, there’s not a lot here to hang your heart on. At moments of high drama and sadness in the dance, Mrs Chrisparkle likened herself to Diana Morales, who, when faced with the death of Mr Karp, felt Nothing. Because it is a rather unemotional book, the dance lacks a little splash of passion.

Kenneth TindallWhich brings me on to the choreography. For the majority of the characters, it seemed to me, David Nixon has provided some elegant and attractive gliding moves; specifically lots of twirling – not pirouettes on the spot, but the kind of spinning where they move over a large area of stage; lots of open arms at second position; lots of ladies’ legs being gracefully lifted and placed back down on stage at 90 degree angles. These are all beautiful moves, and they were all exquisitely performed. The only problem is that towards the end of the show I began to find the choreography rather samey. I wanted some variation, something quirky to stand out. The only two characters whose choreography had a different vibe were Myrtle and George, and as a result I found them much more interesting to watch; earthy, raw and physical, unembellished, unsophisticated and honest. Victoria Sibson gave a fantastic, expressive performance as Myrtle, shining with exuberance in the first act, desperate and restrained in the second; and she was matched perfectly by Benjamin Mitchell’s George whose Act One routine with the tyre was so confidently executed and whose Act Two grief had boundless athleticism.

Hannah BatemanAnother quibble I had with the choreography was that the show seems to want to follow the original story so faithfully that, from the middle of the second half on, the dance gets bogged down in the minutiae of the story-telling. Individual passages from the book seemed to be expressed in dance form in such a precise way that you felt inadequate if you couldn’t understand every nuance, every dance conversation. I would have preferred a broader brush technique for these scenes – but maybe that’s just me.

Giuliano ContadiniThere’s no denying the great performances from Martha Leebolt as Daisy, beautiful and flirtatious with Gatsby whilst risking the wrath of the brutish Tom, danced with great charisma by Kenneth Tindall, whose “slapping Myrtle” scene got a round of applause that disconcerted Mrs C. Hannah Bateman invested the character of Jordan Baker with warmth and charm, and she can make a golf swing look sexy. Giuliano Contadini was an immaculate Nick Carraway, who delivered some very deft dance moves in a way that made them look really easy; and Tobias Batley was Gatsby; measured, aloof, and technically fantastic.

Tobias BatleyDavid Nixon’s adaptation stops eight ninths of the way through the book – Gatsby’s death makes for a startling final curtain. In one sense it was a shame he couldn’t show the final chapter and reveal what subsequently happens to George, or Tom, or Nick, or Jordan. Considering the rest of the story had been so faithfully represented, I did feel it was a sudden ending that didn’t resolve all the issues. But maybe this just goes to show that The Great Gatsby is not an easy work to adapt. It was a pretty full house and the appreciative applause lasted long and loud. There is a lot to admire in this production and is certainly worth seeing; and even if it doesn’t succeed on all levels it’s still an inventive and enjoyable production and you come away in awe of the skill of the dancers.