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.

West End Eurovision, Piccadilly Theatre, London, April 21st 2011

West End EurovisionHaving heard so much about these shows in the past, I was determined this year we would get tickets. And what a great idea that was, as this terrific show combines my two great loves of Theatre and Eurovision, and it’s clear from the audience that I am not alone!

It’s all done to support the Make a Difference Trust, who do great work to support people living with HIV and AIDS. This year, the casts of eleven west end shows came together to compete to win the coveted trophy. Gaby Roslin, with Denise van Outen Each show has to perform a Eurovision song – and not one that has been done in previous years. It’s an opportunity for their creative talents to work wonders, either making something completely new out of a well known song, or painstakingly observing and mimicking an original performance. Graham Norton The top two entries this year were great examples of both. Additionally, each show has an “ident” – a short film put together by each cast to introduce their song. There’s an additional voting prize for the best ident.

This year the glamorous proceedings were hosted by Gaby Roslin, looking resplendent and taking fun control; and the celebrity panel of judges were Graham Norton, Sheridan Smith and Justin Lee Collins. Sheridan Smith Each West End show entering also had a two-person judging panel, but of course in time honoured tradition they could not vote for their own show. I wonder where they got that idea from?

Justin Lee Collins Anyway the minutiae of these details are far less entertaining than the show itself. It’s bizarre to read in the programme, for example, “The Phantom of the Opera” perform “Diggi-loo Diggi-ley”, but perform it they did, right down to the golden shoes and the magic and wonder. “Wicked” created a Big Fat Gypsy Wedding version of “Aven Romale”, the 2009 Czech entry. “Dirty Dancing” took Carola’s “Captured by a Love Storm”. Diggi Loo Diggi Ley And there were many more. The cast of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” took Iceland’s “This is my Life” and used lots of bare chests and black leather.

Aven RomaleHowever, definitely the favourite of the audience was “The 39 Steps” taking Finland’s 1976 entry “Pump Pump” by Fredi and Friends. This was delightful because of the precise way their performance echoed the all-hallowed original. Fredi was there in his black outfit, slightly less plump than I remember him, This is my Lifebacked with his girl singer/dancers, the keyboard player and the two other backing performers, one of whom was perfectly decked out as the gormless guy in the grey jumper back in 1976. It was really funny, but really musical too and it completely won the audience over.

Pump Pump It didn’t however win. That honour went to probably the second favourite of the night, “Legally Blonde”’s version of Verka Seduchka’s “Dancing Lasha Tumbai”. Introduced by the evening’s winning ident, we got to know a little about Ukraine’s sensational star Dr Belond, and his creatively ludicrous sex-change clinic. Dancing Lasha Tumbai Dr Belond, who had a surprising resemblance to my best performance by an actor in a musical award winner and his team gave a fantastic performance that had everyone in hysterics from start to finish.

Dr Belond There was even a guest performance by Bucks Fizz, at least the three of them who aren’t Bobby G. Eurovision legends, looking great, singing…err.. a bit out of tune really. But no one cared. It was Bucks Fizz, goddammit!

If I’m honest, I think the show dragged a little during the voting but it was gone 1.30 am and I’m not one for staying up too late. But apart from that it was a marvellous evening and I cannot understate the commitment and creativity of these performers who did the whole night for charity.

Bucks Fizz Mrs Chrisparkle and I were fortunate to have VIP tickets, don’t you know, which not only gave us access to a free glass of champagne in a roped-off area of the bar before this show started, but also entry to the after show party. The only way we could work out the location of the party was to follow all the Beautiful People on the way out of the theatre wearing similar wristbands. Once we got there, it was a bit crowded so any chance of a relaxed chat with Bucks Fizz over their back catalogue was never going to happen. We did however get glimpses of Sheridan Smith (tiny but well built), Denise van Outen (tiny and slim) and Denise Welch (relatively tiny but bigger than the other two put together). It did feel quite daring for the two of us to be in such highly regarded company (although it’s not the same time we’ve been to the same party as Sheridan so there), but sleepiness took over and after a short time we night-bussed it back to our Travelodge.

Definitely look out for this event in the future!