Not finished yet – decades still to go!
- Shut Your Eyes and Think of England – Apollo Theatre, London, 2nd December 1977.
With another of those classic sex comedy titles, I hoped this would be a rival to No Sex Please We’re British. But sadly it fell far short of that achievement. Written by No Sex Please’s Anthony Marriott and Ray Cooney’s writing partner John Chapman, this saucy but not-that-funny farce had much to commend it in the cast – Donald Sinden, Frank Thornton, Jan Holden, Madeline Smith, and many more – but you always know that when a comedy involves a Sheik you’re on dicey ground. Amusing, but distasteful in a way better examples of genre managed to avoid, and essentially disappointing.
- The Comedy of Errors – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, 21st December 1977.
A very memorable theatrical experience for me and one I still frequently relive by watching the DVD that you can easily buy today! Trevor Nunn’s production featured music by Guy Woolfenden and had a cast to die for. Judi Dench, Roger Rees, Michael Williams, Mike Gwilym and John Woodvine all on cracking form, and a terrific supporting performance from a young Richard Griffiths, whom we would not let leave the stage at curtain call, until he made a I need a drink hand gesture to us all. The characterisations are spot-on, the vigour and dynamics are electric, the songs tuneful and memorable, and I still hold it as my second favourite theatre production of all time.
I saw this show by myself, shortly before Christmas, and I was anxious. Maybe it was because I had just left school, with my university place secured, so I told myself I was now an adult (although I was still 17), I don’t know. I was having panic attacks. I needed to go to the toilet about three times before it started, so that I knew I couldn’t possibly be caught short. I was breathing deliberately in case I forgot to breathe (yes, I know. It was teenage anxiety). I had a front row seat so I knew that if anything were to go wrong, like having a surprise heart attack, I would be very visible and everyone would look at me. But when the magic of the show kicked in, all my anxieties were forgotten, and I’ve never had that level of pre-theatre nerves since. Plus, at the end of the show, the cast shook hands with the front row! So I got to shake hands with Judi Dench and Mike Gwilym, whose early retirement from the stage remains a complete mystery to me – he was terrific. A profoundly wonderful show.
- The Guardsman – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 24th January 1978.
I stayed with my Nan in her flat in London, near Manor House tube station, for a week of independent London sightseeing, and during that week saw a couple of shows at the National, both with my friend Robin. First was this adaptation of Molnar’s The Guardsman by Frank Marcus. My prime reason for going was to see Diana Rigg on stage for the first time, but the production also had terrific names such as Richard Johnson, a young Brenda Blethyn, and David Schofield. Enormously entertaining, with the cast on great form.
- The Country Wife – Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, 26th January 1978.
This was the first time I’d seen a professional production of a Restoration Comedy (at school they had done a production of Vanbrugh’s The Relapse which I enjoyed a lot) so I thought I should dip my toes further into the Restoration pool. And it was an excellent dipping. Horner was played by Albert Finney, in whom I was still in awe after his Hamlet from two years previously. The cast also included notables such as Robin Bailey, Kenneth Cranham and Ben Kingsley, would you believe. But the performance that both Rob and I enjoyed the most was from Elizabeth Spriggs as Lady Fidget, a delightfully pompous yet soft-centred and vulnerable characterisation. Another great night at the National.
- An Inspector Calls – Shaw Theatre, London, 1st February 1978.
J B Priestley’s enduring time play was given a heavy, portentous and thoroughly traditional production by James Roose-Evans in the atmosphere-less Shaw Theatre. I’d seen the play on TV before but was disappointed by how leaden this evening was. This was the first of four shows that I saw with my friend Sandra, in the hope that something might kindle from the experience. It didn’t.
- The Point – Mermaid Theatre, London, 8th February 1978.
Harry Nilsson’s children’s musical was given a fun and upbeat treatment, and starred two of my favourite people from my childhood, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz from The Monkees. To be honest, the show was a bit of a slog at times, but its light-heartedness kept it afloat. The King was played by Noel Howlett who used to be Headmaster in TV’s Please Sir. Enjoyable, but essentially for kids.
- Privates on Parade – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Piccadilly Theatre, London, 10th February 1978.
A classic amongst productions. Peter Nichols’ brilliant comedy play mixed with Denis King’s fantastic musical pastiches remains one of the best nights out in the theatre you can get. Denis Quilley’s Acting Captain Terri Dennis was such an amazing characterisation, but you also had Nigel Hawthorne’s wonderfully stuffy Christian Major Flack for balance. Moving, hilarious, musical and thought-provoking, this show had/has it all. And I am still very likely to break out into some of the songs from this show. Mr Quilley’s Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward, Vera Lynn, Carmen Miranda and Bud Flanagan had to be seen to be believed, but the entire, sensational cast were on fire.
- The Lady from Maxim’s – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, 17th February 1978.
This Feydeau farce was given a new translation and treatment by John Mortimer, and had a stonkingly good cast led by Stephen Moore, with Edward Hardwicke, Sara Kestelman, Michael Bryant and Ruth Kettlewell. I regret that I can’t remember that much about it, but I know I enjoyed it.
- An Evening with Quentin Crisp – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, February 1978.
I went to see this with my friend Mark who thought that in years to come it would be a talking-point that he had met The Naked Civil Servant himself. I have a few memories of the evening; the first half was Mr Crisp delivering a comedy lecture about himself, and then in the interval, audience members could write down any questions they had for him which he would answer in the second half. Also, during the interval, you could queue up to get his autograph in the bar – which we both duly did. It was all very civilised and gently amusing.
The only question I remember from the audience was “where did you get that shirt?” which Mr Crisp was rather nonplussed by. We were in the circle – it might even have been the upper circle – and I remember there was a large party of young men in the row behind us who were hooting with laughter at everything Mr Crisp said; they had a wonderful night. I looked at them a couple of times and recognised the man in the middle of the group, who was obviously the ringleader. It was a young Christopher Biggins.
- Cause Célèbre – Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, 27th February 1978.
There were two cause célèbres on offer; the first, the story of the trial of Alma Rattenbury for the murder of her lover, and the second, the fact that Terence Rattigan had penned a new play, but that he had died before it reached the stage. I remember this as a riveting play – the first time I had seen a courtroom drama and you should never underestimate how exciting they can be. Glynis Johns was superb as Alma Rattenbury, and Lee Montague and Bernard Archard were fantastic as the opposing barristers. Further down the cast list was a relatively unknown Sheila Grant. A gripping night at the theatre.
Thanks for joining me for these theatrical memories. On Monday, it’s back to the holiday snaps and F is for France, and a day in St Tropez in 2013. Stay safe!