Yet Another Bunch of Theatre Memories – April 1983 to March 1984

It’s been a while since I checked out the old shows, so try these for size!

  1. Key for Two – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 20th April 1983

Key For TwoJohn Chapman and Dave Freeman’s farce had already been running for about eight months when I finally saw it. A fantastic cast headed by Moira Lister and Patrick Cargill, this was a typical 80s sex comedy, the like of which you rarely see today. I don’t have very strong memories of it, but I’m sure it was thoroughly entertaining!

  1. Fiddler on the Roof – Apollo Victoria Theatre, London, 19th July 1983

It was still traditional that I would go and see a summer show with the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle, and she was very keen to see this production, as it starred the one and only original Tevye, Topol. And it would indeed be an incredibly privileged experience to see this star in the role for which he was synonymous. The production followed the original 1960s direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins. Very enjoyable, as you would expect. Thelma Ruby was an excellent Golde, and Maria Charles a memorable Yente.

  1. Underground – Prince of Wales Theatre, London, 27th July 1983

I don’t think this thriller by Michael Sloan, directed by Simon Williams, got great reviews, but I really enjoyed it – it definitely raised a respectful cap to Murder on the Orient Express, if you get my drift. Set on a tube train in London that slowly grinds to a halt and goes no further, it was also a chance to see some famous and well-regarded TV stars. The cast was headed by Raymond Burr – yes A Man called Ironside – and Peter Wyngarde – yes Jason King – as well as Alfred Marks, Gerald Flood, Elspeth March and Freewheelers’ Ronald Leigh-Hunt. I’m pretty sure this didn’t last long but I have very fond memories of it.

  1. Happy Family – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 9th September 1983

Giles Cooper’s final play, originally produced in 1966, had a strong cast of four – Stephanie Beacham, Ian Ogilvy, Angela Thorne and James Laurenson; and was directed by Maria Aitken. Based on the contradictory motivations of a dysfunctional family, I can’t remember much about it, but I think it was pretty good. According to my ticket stubs, I saw this with three other people, but I haven’t a clue who they were!o

  1. May Days – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Theatre, London, October 1983.

David Edgar’s political reflections from England 1945 to England and Russia 1981, this follows the allegedly typical swing from left-wing young people becoming right-wing older people; not sure how accurate that is today. One of Edgar’s grandly sweeping plays, I remember feeling that it was outstanding at the time but, on reflection, the memories of it have faded. John Shrapnel, Antony Sher, Alison Steadman, Lesley Sharp and the late Bob Peck made it an outstanding cast.

  1. An Evening for El Salvador – Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London, 4th December 1983

I went to see this fundraising revue for the El Salvador Solidarity Campaign with my friends Mike, Lin and Dave. An amazing line-up included favourite comedy group at the time The Joeys, Emma Thompson, Julie Christie, The Flying Pickets, and Peggy Seeger and Ewan McColl. Oh, for the days of being a lefty activist.

  1. Tchaikovsky Evening with the London Symphony Orchestra, 26th February 1984

Missing out my second trip to see the brilliant Poppy once it had transferred to the Adelphi, my next show was a classical night at the Barbican, with the London Symphony Orchestra under the impressive baton of Claudio Abbado, and the Band of the Irish Guards. This programme of Tchaikovsky music included extracts from Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Nutcracker, but concentrated on the Piano Concerto No 1 with soloist Anthony Goldstone, and culminated with the 1812 Overture. I remember it being thoroughly entertaining!

  1. Ballet Rambert – A Programme at Sadler’s Wells, London, 15th March 1984

I saw this performance by Ballet Rambert with my friends Mike and Lin. The programme consisted of Frederick Ashton’s Capriol Suite and Five Brahms Waltzes in the manner of Isadora Duncan, Christopher Bruce’s Concertino, and Robert North’s Entre dos Aguas. At the time Rambert was under the direction of Robert North, who also danced in the programme – as did current director Mark Baldwin, plus great names such as Catherine Becque, Lucy Bethune, Frances Carty and Ikky Maas. It was thrilling!

  1. Blondel – Aldwych Theatre, London, 23rd March 1984

Tim Rice and Stephen Oliver’s brilliant musical about the 12th century minstrel Blondel, and Richard the Lionheart’s European escapades. Paul Nicholas took the main role, and excellent he was too; Stephen Tate was a very kingly Richard I, and the now disgraced Chris Langham as the Assassin. I quickly bought the soundtrack album because it has some great comedy songs. Tim Rice has continued to fiddle with this show and it’s now called Lute! although it’s somewhat gone to ground. I really enjoyed it.

  1. Snoopy the Musical – Duchess Theatre, London, 29th March 1984

Larry Grossman and Hal Hackady’s delightful musical was great fun, totally charming, and pure escapism. In a very intimate and simple setting, it was one of those delicate theatre moments that was fun and didn’t pretend to be anything it wasn’t. A brilliant cast who would go on to do even better things included Mark Hadfield as Linus, Teddy Kempner as Snoopy and the late great Robert Locke as Charlie Brown.

Review – Rambert2 and Ghost Dances, Sadler’s Wells, 8th November 2018

Rambert2 and Ghost DancesIt’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen Rambert, and a full nineteen years since we last saw Ghost Dances – which was the prime motivator for coming to see this revival at Sadler’s Wells. Over the decades it has remained my absolute favourite dance and – whilst being fully aware that this sounds completely pretentious – I truly consider it one of the cultural foundations on which my whole life has been based. I first saw it way back when, in the seas of time, with my friends Lord Liverpool and the Countess of Cockfosters – a mere slip of a thing we were – so it was only right that we invited them to join us for what would be their first time of seeing it in 36 years. How the hell can it be that long ago?

Grey MatterBut there’s a twist with this programme from Rambert – they’ve created Rambert2, a company for 18 to 25 year old dancers. It’s good for companies to keep evolving, suiting the needs of the age and the tastes of the dance fan base; and there are other dance outfits – Nederlands Dans Theater springs instantly to mind – who have a “young persons” troupe as well as their standard company. When we first saw NDT2 we were totally blown away by their vigour, commitment, skill and enormous sense of daring and fun. Would the new Rambert2, who dance the first, second and fourth dances in this programme, be the same?

More Grey MatterThe proof of the pudding is in the dancing! The first dance of the evening was Grey Matter, choreographed by Benoit Swan Pouffer, Rambert’s Guest Artistic Director whilst they find a replacement for Mark Baldwin. This is not, incidentally, to be confused with Didy Veldman’s Greymatter that she choreographed for Rambert in 1997. The programme notes remind us that Grey Matter refers to our brain cells, and that the dance is about a person who loses sight of their memories, and a community grows around them giving them support. However! I have to say, I didn’t get that narrative from watching the dance at all. For me, the costumes of the dancers suggested to me that they were all individual pieces of brain matter; neurons, electrical impulses, even infected material that the other healthy brainy globules united to crush. They were all individual parts of a functioning brain; supportive, defensive, communicative. The young dancers were on fine form, and gave a great performance. The lighting also added a huge amount of atmosphere and suspense; the choreography amused me, but I couldn’t actually put my finger on ascribing a style to it. Definitely exhilarating, and extremely curious.

E2 7SDNext up was Rafael Bonachela’s E2 7SD. He created it in 2004; it’s obviously a postcode so I checked it out with Google Maps and it takes us to Horatio House, Horatio Street, Hackney. Seems pretty random; maybe like the random conversations that form part of the street soundscape that accompanies this modern duet, performed with robust conviction by Meshach Henry and Darlyn Perez. To me this felt like the several stages of a big argument, with a number of “I love you but I hate you” moments. I admired it enormously, but I have to say I didn’t emotionally engage with it.

Ghost DancersThen came, for us, The Big One. Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances, danced by the (fractionally) more mature Rambert dancers, to traditional folk music from South America. Originally created as a response to the horrors of the Pinochet regime in Chile, three eerie and cruel ghost dancers stalk the land, watching and waiting for the chance to eliminate members of the community with a simple crush of the head, or a callous mimicry of their dance movement. No one is exempt from their power; but no one stays dead for ever, as the people continue to fight back to lead their ordinary lives and maybe one day overthrow the tyrants. My personal favourite section is Papel de Plata, where a chirpy young man leads some girls a merry dance by lovin’ and leavin’ them as young men are sometimes wont to do, only to be taken by the ghost dancers before he’s had a chance to ask the fourth girl out. Lord Liverpool and the Countess of Cockfosters confessed they had tears throughout Dolencias, their favourite section – but then they knew they would. The music was played live by band of six, including the traditional instruments played by Forbes Henderson, who played for the original production all those years ago, and was a member of the group Incantation, who brought the South American sound into the British charts in the 1980s.

Ghost DancesIt was a stunning performance all round, most notably from the trio of Ghost Dancers, Miguel Altunaga, Joshua Barwick and Liam Francis, who were most maliciously ruthless in their extermination of their fellow countrymen. But everyone performed with a tremendous sense of story-telling and an awful lot of heart. We all absolutely loved it.

Killer PigFinal dance of the evening, and back to the young blood of Rambert2, was the fabulously named Killer Pig, which is what you get if you push Peppa just an oink too far. A cluster of eight dancers crowd in a corner of the stage, almost like this is the area where they go to get their batteries recharged, before they’re off and cavorting all over the place, much of the time on tiptoe but moving as if they’re wading through hot mud, the girls dressed discreetly in vests and hot pants, the boys in what looked disarmingly like oversized diapers. It’s a challenge on every aspect, but the pulsating rhythm and the commitment of the dancers carries you away with them. The incessant hyperactivity was broken up a couple of times by some brief solos, one of which, by Salome Pressac, absolutely took our breath away. Much of the time Hua Han takes centre stage, and he shocks you with his extraordinarily flexible limb-work. After a while I got the sense that the dancers were trying to outdo each other by attempting parodies of classical ballet stances and elements, but this is one of those dances that if you try to follow a narrative, you’re really leading yourself up the garden path. Whatever, it went down huge in Sadler’s Wells, and we all absolutely succumbed to its flashy fun.

The thirteen dancers who make up Rambert2 are certainly a spirited, energetic and talented group; it would be fascinating to see them perform something a little more lyrical next time. Their tour (without Ghost Dances, alas) continues into next year, visiting Norwich, Exeter, Belfast, Guildford, Oxford and Winchester.

Recent production photos by Foteini Christofilopoulou.

Review – Rambert Dance Company Spring Tour, Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury, 11th February 2016

RambertIt’s been a couple of years since we’ve caught the Rambert team doing their thing so I thought their Spring Tour would be a perfect opportunity to catch up. Killing two birds with one stone, we also finally got round to visiting the new Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury – I say new, but it actually opened back in 2010. No excuse really, as I normally go to Aylesbury twice a week to see how the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle is getting on. Verdict? On the plus side, the seats are very comfortable, the sightlines are good from the stalls, parking is easy, and it had a busy and good-natured vibe. On the down side, it’s a bit municipal, and not remotely intimate; there would be plenty of smaller shows that would be absolutely lost in that environment. And the décor inside is….shall we say….individual.

Enough of that, let’s talk about Rambert. Their Spring Tour features seven modern dances, none of them premiered before September 2014, which certainly shows that as a breeding ground for new work it’s doing amazingly well. Our programme showcased three of them, each by a different choreographer, and each with live music – which was played with pizazz and gave an extra dimension of exhilaration to the performances.

The Three Dancers First up was The 3 Dancers, choreographed by Didy Veldman. Mrs Chrisparkle and I always used to watch out for her work when we first started seeing a lot of dance about 25 years ago – yikes, where have the years gone! And it’s a pleasure to see she’s still creating great work. The inspiration for this piece came from Picasso’s The Three Dancers, but she also drew on other aspects of his life when creating the content. The music is by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin and reminded me of Philip Glass’s work for the film Koyaanisqatsi – slightly less menacing perhaps, but equally haunting.

3 DancersGiven that it’s called The 3 Dancers, I was amused by the subversion of having six dancers on stage – a group of three in white, shadowed by another three in black. As you transfer your gaze from one group to the other, prompted by the lighting cues, you see the other group finishing off the movement that the first group started, giving it a great sense of flow. Soon the two groups integrate and then break off to form different duets. I was very impressed by the strength and precision of the first duet by Miguel Altunaga and Stephen Quildan, and by the puppet/manipulator characterisation in the second duet by Liam Francis and Daniel Davidson. The choreography was exciting and engrossing to watch, with wide arm and leg gestures stretching out in sweeping rotations. At various points the dancers were joined on stage by what appear to be enormous shards of glass shooting down from the sky. One of them made a beeline for one of the dancers who escaped from its clutches by means of deft choreography. It’s not obvious how those shards relate to the picture; perhaps they represent piercing blows to Picasso’s heart as he reflects on the fates of his three friends portrayed in it. Still, it’s a very stirring and thought-provoking piece, with much pent-up power, and beautifully performed; and it was definitely my favourite of the three items on the programme.

Strange CharmThe second dance was The Strange Charm of Mother Nature, choreographed by Rambert Artistic Director Mark Baldwin. It was inspired by a visit to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN – yes science and art can come together – and I believe the dancers represent the particles used in the collider. It’s set, first, to Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks and then Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 3; Stravinsky reconfigured Bach’s notes to create his piece, just as the collider takes the particles and subsequently bashes all hell out of them. So you could say that the dance and the music are two ways of expressing the same concept.

Strange Charm of Mother NatureVisually it’s stunning, with the dancers wearing a sequence of full-length, multi-coloured bodysuits, and the choreography is athletic, frequently frantic, with the dancers performing both solo and in groups. Whilst it looked great and definitely showed off the dancers’ incredible skills, I nevertheless found it difficult to appreciate the vision of this piece – I couldn’t quite understand what it was all about, even though I had read the programme notes. Sometimes that doesn’t matter – but in this case I eventually decided that the whole didn’t quite add up to the sum of all its parts. I also found the change of music during the dance strangely disturbing. The Bach sounded to me like a musical non-sequitur after the Stravinsky – possibly because it always reminds me of the Trocks performing Go For Barocco, which I’m sure is not the kind of impression Mr Baldwin meant to give. Mrs C disagreed with me and found the whole dance exciting and satisfying throughout.

Transfigured NightOur final piece was Transfigured Night, choreographed by Kim Brandstrup to Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht. The inspiration for this work is a narrative poem by Richard Dehmel where a woman confesses to her lover that she is pregnant with another man’s child. Nevertheless, her lover forgives her, continues to love her and says he will love the child as his own. The dance is broken into three sections where you see three possible outcomes following a devastating disclosure. The first, concentrating on the fear of being abandoned as a result; the second, where everything is forgiven and forgotten; and the third, a compromise between the two, where despite the relationship being damaged, the lovers continue together as best they can. Or, as Mrs C succinctly put it: Relate, the ballet.

Kim Brandstrup - Transfigured NightI really enjoyed the concept and the structure of this work, with the desperate couple dancing both together and apart, making clear those moments of support and abandonment, and with nameless hordes of others dancing in the background, doubtlessly spreading rumour or name-calling. Miguel Altunaga and Simone Damberg Würtz were particularly moving as the couple in scenarios 1 and 3, broken up by a less tragic form of choreography for scenario 2, danced by Liam Francis and Hannah Rudd. If I have a criticism it would be that, to me, there wasn’t that great a difference in atmosphere between the situations in scenarios 1 and 3, and dynamic and attractive though it was, by the end of the dance I felt it was a little repetitive. Mrs C had already decided that she’d had a long enough day and decided to snooze out the last half of this particular dance. Personally, I didn’t feel it was snoozeworthy; but I did get her point. I think maybe it would have been better if Transfigured Night and The Strange Charm of Mother Nature had been reversed – you would then have had the slightly more challenging dance in the middle of the evening and the more traditionally crowd-pleasing at the end. But, hey, what do I know?

Rambert’s Spring Tour continues to Aberdeen, Mold and Brighton until March. Innovative, musically rewarding, technically strong, at times challenging – everything contemporary dance should be.

Production photos taken from Rambert’s website.

Review – Rambert Dance Company, Mixed Bill of Four Elements, Rooster, Dutiful Ducks and Sounddance, Sadler’s Wells, 24th May 2014

Rambert Does RoosterThe appeal of booking to see this programme by Rambert could be summed up in four words – The Return of Rooster! My fantasy contemporary dance show programme would be a night of Christopher Bruce works – in this order, Swansong, Ghost Dances and then Rooster. I can remember seeing Rooster several times, at High Wycombe and Oxford – but a trawl through my programme collection came up with just one occasion – October 1995 in Wycombe, with a fantastic cast that included Christopher Powney (now Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet School), Marie Laure Agrapart (who now has her own dance company in France, and with whom I was in love, sadly she didn’t know it), Paul Liburd (now teaching at the London Studio Centre) and Vincent Redmon (not sure what he’s doing now).

Rambert 1995There was a time – about when Mark Baldwin took over as Artistic Director – that I felt Rambert slightly lost its way. We kept faith with them, and went to see them whenever we could, but sometimes the dance skills were not as great as in the 80s and 90s. I don’t attribute this to Mr Baldwin – he’s a great choreographer and we used to love seeing his own dance company’s productions at that time. Maybe they just got the Millennium Bug. That’s when Richard Alston’s company really took over for me as being the company You Just Had To See.

Rooster 1995But I’m delighted to say that Rambert were on top form with this mixed programme of old favourites, and although there has been some criticism that Rambert are rehashing old stuff and not creating new work – which may be a justified observation – there’s no doubting that Sadler’s Wells was packed to the rafters with a very enthusiastic audience last Saturday night. The first piece was Lucinda Childs’ Four Elements, first performed by Rambert in 1990, her work rarely seen in the UK. Each of the four elements makes up each of the four sections of the dance, so I’m not quite sure why some people were so confused as to when it was all over, applauding when only a couple of the elements had been completed – cue for my pompous disapproval of people applauding too early. Mrs Chrisparkle rather appreciates it when people applaud early, as it shows that the audience are really enjoying it and can’t contain their enthusiasm. She’s much more charitable than me.

Lead Rooster 1995Four Elements is visually spectacular, with costumes representing dominos, playing cards, a skeleton and – I think – picnic blankets, reflecting similar designs in the backdrops behind the dancers. Water, the first section, had all the dancers together in a series of movements that left me in mind of Olympic gymnasts performing the Floor Exercise. The second section, Earth, had just the women dancers performing largely the same kind of movements as in the first part. The third section was Air, just men this time, randomly entering the stage from the wings individually, each with a mixed up sequence of small leaps, large leaps and skips. If the first scene was the Floor Exercise, this was the Triple Jump. It was entertaining to watch, but it wasn’t until the last scene – Fire – that the whole dance worked for me, which brought together the three previous elements combined with the dancers dancing together for some of the time, but definitely solos at the end. All in all, it was an enjoyable piece, if ever so slightly soporific to watch.

SounddanceAfter the first interval it was time for Rooster. I was really surprised to find they hadn’t scheduled it to end the evening. Performed to a soundtrack of great Rolling Stones hits, it’s a satirical look at the chauvinistic 1960s male, how he preens and panders to himself, how he mistreats women, and how he often doesn’t get the upper hand. It’s a wonderful combination of humour, colour, sex and Christopher Bruce’s inimitable choreography and it always makes me whoop with joy.

Sounddance soloThe characters aren’t named but there’s a “lead rooster” who is the first to pose slowly into place, and he seems to be in charge of the rest of the guys. He was danced by Miguel Altunaga and he is absolutely brilliant. He starts off the “Little Red Rooster” sequence and also features in some other numbers, notably “Sympathy for the Devil” at the end. Particular highlights for me were a spectacular “Paint it Black” with a fantastic performance by Dane Hurst and a fabulous trio of menacing girls danced by Hannah Rudd, Carolyn Bolton and Patricia Okenwa; a beautiful Ruby Tuesday with a very sensuous and wistful performance by Antonette Dayrit; and – always a pleasure – a superb duel/duet between Vanessa Kang and Adam Blyde (I think) in “Play with Fire”, where the lavish red boa inevitably takes on a life of its own.

Dutiful DucksChristopher Bruce has re-staged it slightly and brought the choreography up to date in a few places – I noticed the three Paint It Black girls in the finale adding a disco element to their dancing; and Dane Hurst did a bit of “shootin’ from the hip” gun action during one of his routines. Both of these were enjoyable additions. If I had any criticisms it would be that the guys who have to catch Ruby Tuesday in their arms and then toss her in the air like a pancake slightly telegraphed their moves so that they were visibly static in place to receive her long before it was necessary – a slight distraction, I felt. I also thought the performance of “Not Fade Away” was a little less manic than I remember it, which slightly reduced its impact. But these are very minor quibbles on what always has been and remains one of the most exhilarating 25 minutes of dance you can ever hope to see.

Four ElementsAnother interval took us into Dutiful Ducks, a short male solo choreographed by Richard Alston and danced superbly by Dane Hurst to a backing track of a nonsensical jumbling up of alliterative words. It’s fun – but it’s only a curtain raiser to the final substantial piece, Merce Cunningham’s Sounddance. Here we have another alienating soundtrack, a scribble of noises that partly resemble that teeth-on-edge scraping chalk on a blackboard sound, the amplified crumpling of crisp packets and a severe drain clearance problem. It’s extremely disconcerting to listen to, but the accompanying dance is as beautiful and as eloquent as you could wish for. If you removed the scribble and replaced it with, say, a Brandenburg Concerto, the dance and the music would intertwine beautifully. It’s the juxtaposition between the formal elegance of the dance and the modern racket that gives this piece great force and energy. Very crisp and accurate footwork, it showed the company at its absolute best. I would still have preferred the evening to end with Rooster though. The applause at the end of Rooster way surpassed that at the end of Sounddance. Maybe we were all Rooster fans, returned for a Rooster reunion. It kind of felt like it. Nevertheless it was a great evening of dance and we all loved it.

Four ElementsP. S. Interesting theatre etiquette issue. As we were all taking our seats at the beginning of the evening, a lady (not very tall) and a gentleman (average height) went to sit in the row in front of me and the lady to my right. The lady went to sit in front of me, the gentleman went to sit in front of the lady to my side. Their bottoms had barely touched the padding when the lady to my right interrupted them and very firmly asked them if they would swap sides so that the lady was in front of her and the gentleman was in front of me. That way she would see the stage better. The lady in front had no problem in changing sides. However, this meant that I got the bigger bloke in front of me – and as I hadn’t been party to the arrangements I got a bit narked by this. So I said “actually, I preferred it the way it was”, to which the lady to my right, who hadn’t looked at me at all yet, said “but you’re much taller so it won’t affect you”. She had no idea if I was tall or short to be honest. I said that I would bob my head around and try to see past him. As it happened, it didn’t really inconvenience me, but I did rather resent how she went about it. She should have said to the people in front, “would you mind swapping sides so that I can see better”, and then turn to me and say, “that is, if that’s ok with you?” To which I would have said, of course that was no problem. But instead she decided that she was going to saddle me with the bigger bloke and that was that. Mrs C thinks I’m starting to get very cantankerous in my old age.