Still More Theatre Memories – March to July 1978

Some good ones here!


  1. Half-Life – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 10th March 1978.

image(513)Passing over yet another trip to see A Chorus Line, I chose my next show because I wanted to see Sir John Gielgud on stage, and, if my memory serves me right, he was every bit as good as you would expect.

This meaty play had transferred over from the National Theatre’s Cottesloe and enjoyed a successful run – unsurprisingly. Gielgud played an elegant, noble, mannered gentleman coming to terms with the last years of his life. It was moving and funny at the same time. The excellent cast also featured Hugh Paddick, Diane Fletcher and Avril Elgar.

  1. Murder Among Friends – Comedy Theatre, London, 15th March 1978.

image(505)image(506)This comedy thriller had flopped on Broadway but came to London following a successful tour of South Africa the previous year. Written by Bob Barry, of whom I have heard nothing before nor since. It starred Moira Lister and Tony Britton, and I have some vague memories of it, but nothing substantial. It was very enjoyable though. The programme suggests that you enjoy a three course meal at their restaurant before the show for £2.70 including VAT. Bargain!

  1. The Rear Column – Globe Theatre, London, 17th March 1978.

image(509)Having really enjoyed Otherwise Engaged when I first started seeing West End shows on my own a couple of years previously, I thought I should definitely try this new play by the same author, Simon Gray – whose career I continued to follow with great interest.

The Rear Column had an impressive pedigree; directed by Harold Pinter, and starring Van der Valk himself, Barry Foster, as well as Clive Francis, Jeremy Irons and Young Winston, Simon Ward. It involved a stranded band of soldiers in the Congo, awaiting the return of Stanley (of Dr Livingstone I presume fame). It was a pitifully small audience because it received lousy reviews and failed to ignite the interest of the public. It closed after about six weeks. But I really enjoyed it – I was thoroughly gripped by the whole story and performance.

  1. Kismet – Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 22nd March 1978.

image(499)image(500)I saw this show with the Dowager Mrs C because she loved the songs, and I was curious to see how they would fit into the show format. Bitter sweet memories of this show, because a) I absolutely loved it, and it remains one of my favourite musicals of all time and b) the meal we had before the show went through me like a dose of salts and I had to miss Baubles Bangles and Beads as a result of a desperate rush to the stalls Gents toilet. I ended up with a horrible skin rash for a week or so due to the food poisoning. Grrrr!!


John Reardon was Hajj and Joan Diener, who had played the role in its original Broadway production, was Lalume. All the critics agreed that one important role was seriously miscast – I think that was Clifton Todd as the Caliph, who just didn’t seem right at all – but best of all was the brilliant Christopher Hewett as The Wazir. And we never went to that restaurant again.

  1. Ten Times Table – Globe Theatre, London, 10th April 1978.

image(490)Unexpectedly quickly arriving into the West End due to The Rear Column’s early demise, this latest comedy by Alan Ayckbourn featured ten bickering characters on the same committee. They’re attempting to re-enact some ghastly local event and, unsurprisingly, it all goes horribly wrong. image(491)The excellent cast was led by Paul Eddington and also had Julia McKenzie, Benjamin Whitrow, Tenniel Evans and Christopher Godwin, whom I met at the Royal and Derngate’s celebration for Ayckbourn’s 70th birthday a few years ago, and was able to tell him how much I enjoyed his performance. He was gobsmacked that anyone would have remembered it. A very good show, a typical crowd pleaser of the time.


  1. Plenty – David Hare, Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 17th April 1978.

image(485)I had already started to devour David Hare’s plays by reading almost everything he’d written to that date, so when I saw there was a new Hare coming to the National, booking for it was a no-brainer. A fascinating and uncomfortable play starring Kate Nelligan as Susan Traherne, a wartime secret agent coming to terms with her dull life of today. The great cast also included Julie Covington, Stephen Moore and a young Lindsay Duncan. I thoroughly enjoyed it – a serious, meaty play with lots to think about. This was also the last play I saw as a “child” – as I turned 18 before I saw my next one!




  1. Macbeth – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Young Vic, London, 27th April 1978.

image(487)And what a significant production to start my adult theatregoing life! I don’t know how I managed to get tickets for this, but I did. Trevor Nunn’s pared back, stark, gimmick-free production was just sensational. Look at this for a cast: Macbeth – Ian McKellen; Lady Macbeth – Judi Dench; Macduff – Bob Peck; Banquo – John Woodvine; Porter – Ian McDiarmid; Malcolm – Roger Rees; and so on.


Fortunately the production was filmed and you can still buy a copy today. Without doubt the best production of a Shakespeare tragedy I’ve ever seen, in the trendy but simple environment of the Young Vic, sitting on those old wooden benches. Two hours that flew by!

  1. A Picture of Innocence – Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, 21st June 1978.

image(479)For five weeks in the summer of 1978 I stayed with relatives, whom I’d never met before, in Toronto, for a bit of a Gap Year break. I intended to travel around, go to New York, and so on, but I loved Toronto so much that I didn’t want to leave! Whilst I was there I decided to see what was on at the theatre, and I discovered this eminently British production of a new comedy by Robert Morley and John Wells. image(480)The Picture of Innocence in question is a formal portrait of some respectable gentlemen who also liked to dress up as women. I remember it being a very funny play – although I didn’t particularly get the sense of shock that the Toronto matinee-goers experienced at the sight of men en travestie. A great cast led by Robert Morley, also included Basil Brush’s Uncle Derek Fowlds, Kenneth Griffith and a young Susie Blake. Whether or not they were hoping for a West End transfer I don’t know, but it didn’t happen.


  1. A Murder is Announced – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 15th July 1978.

image(466)image(467)Agatha Christie’s famous book adapted for the stage by Leslie Darbon was proving a great success, and had already been running for nine months by the time I saw it. Dulcie Gray played Miss Marple and she looked every inch the part. Dinah Sheridan took the lead role of Letitia Blacklock. image(457)I remember an excellent comedy turn from Ursula Mohan as the ghastly cook Mitzi. Because I knew the book, I already knew whodunit, which detracted from seeing the play a little, but it was still fun.

  1. Every Good Boy Deserves Favour – Mermaid Theatre, London, 17th July 1978.

image(462)image(464)I saw this with my friend Claire on one of our Monday night out nights out. Tom Stoppard’s fascinating collaboration with Andre Previn created this moving and inventive story of a Russian dissident confined in a mental hospital for his anti-state beliefs and writings. There he meets a fellow inmate who believes he has a symphony orchestra in his head. The play starred John Woodvine, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Windsor and John Carlisle, performed in tandem with the full Mermaid Chamber Orchestra. Very different, very telling, and very memorable.


Thanks for joining me on this trip down memory lane. Tomorrow it’s back to the holiday pics and G is for Germany and a day in Munich in 1989. Stay safe!

Review – Plenty, Crucible Studio, Sheffield, 19th February 2011

David Hare SeasonHaving seen Racing Demon on the Saturday matinee, we went the whole hog and stayed for David Hare’s Plenty in the Studio theatre for the evening performance.

I remember seeing the 1978 National Theatre production of Plenty with Kate Nelligan. That is, Kate Nelligan played Susan Traherne in the original production; she and I didn’t have an interval ice-cream and share a kebab after the show. My memory of that production is that it was a very strong play, with an excellent sense of story-telling, and with a super central performance by Ms Nelligan. It’s very interesting to see it again 33 years later (gasp!) especially alongside Racing Demon. Plenty is a much less mature play. I think there are aspects of it where David Hare deliberately sets out to shock, rather than let his characters tell their story in their own way. It chooses to jump about with time, maybe has some gratuitous bad language, and nudity that you could probably do without; but it’s still an enjoyable play to watch and work out your feelings about the characters.

Plenty Susan Traherne, the young Secret Intelligence officer who clearly “had a good war”, is at the centre of the play that follows her subsequent career and life through the post war years; years that were promised to be a time of Plenty, but for Susan it was a mixed bag. At times and in some aspects of her life she could claim to be very successful, but as she gets older, and she suffers a decline in her mental health, she turns into something of a failure. Much has been made of her mental instability; is it an allegory of the decline in Britain’s power? Is her mental health in any way caused by the activities of the British government and society in general? For me, no. At first she is a bright positive achiever, when everything goes her way. But when she starts to get thwarted – viz. doing a job she feels is beneath her and her transaction to get pregnant with a man she barely knows, and which is unsuccessful – she starts to lose her way. And her childlessness goes to influence much of her future, and that of those around her.

Hattie Monahan Hattie Monahan plays Susan head-on, full of determination. Full of fear in her young war days, full of confidence in her early postwar days, full of manic glee as she declines in the late 50s and 60s. It’s a hard role, she’s rarely off stage, and she does it well. But the supporting cast almost take on that “supporting” role deferentially – which I wasn’t sure about. They help her with costume changes on stage between the scenes, which is a nifty way of getting it done, but I don’t think it should imply they are of lesser importance to the production. I have to say I was uncomfortable with the curtain call. All the cast except Ms Monahan come on stage and take their bows, then they all applaud as Hattie joins them and takes a separate series of bows. But it’s an ensemble piece. I don’t think it requires that differentiation between star and others, and it felt at odds with the otherwise egalitarian nature of this theatre.

Kirsty Bushell Alice, her friend, of whom she is sometimes jealous, sometimes dependant, is played with mischievous charm by Kirsty Bushell. The episodic nature of the piece allows the character of Alice to develop alongside Susan and they make a decent contrast. I thought she very nicely conveyed the almost patronising way one sometimes accidentally adopts when dealing with someone with mental health issues. It was like a bland kindness, but sincerely meant. Edward BennettThe other major role is that of Raymond Brock, Susan’s husband, who comes in and out of her life at different times and whose promising diplomatic career she ruins. Brock is played by Edward Bennett, who we saw in the titular role of the notable RSC production of Hamlet when David Tennant was the troubled Dane but then went off sick and Laertes took over the role at short notice. He was excellent in Hamlet and is excellent in this, giving some humanity to the otherwise stiff and starchy diplomatic staff; barkingly angry with his wife as she embarrasses him at social events.

Mrs Chrisparkle found herself talking to a lady next to her during the interval, who turned out to be Edward Bennett’s Auntie. His dad was sitting behind us. It was almost a family gathering in the stalls. In the first scene Brock is fast asleep naked and Alice picks up and holds his penis. I told you Hare was in a mood to shock. How embarrassing to have that done to you in front of your Auntie. I could never be an actor.

Whilst the seating is not as comfortable in the Studio as it is in the Crucible main house, the Studio is still a very engaging small space in which to stage an intimate piece. Plenty lends itself very well to this small area, even though as a play it has big staging moments – an airdropped spy coming in with his parachute attached for instance – and it’s a rewarding, thoroughly decent production, giving the audience lots to consider on their way home. You do feel sorry for Susan, who ended the war with the hope of “days and days like these”, but who had too much too young and basically fizzled out. You have to admire David Hare’s ability to create gripping characters.