Another bunch of theatre and dance memories? Who knew! August to December 2007

  1. Pygmalion – Oxford Playhouse, 31st August 2007

One of those calamitous occasions when you arrive at the theatre in good time for a Friday night performance and they’ve already run out of programmes for the entire week’s run – sigh. It makes it very hard to remember the finer details. But the photocopied cast list does remind me that this production performed Shaw’s original concise text, first published in 1916, excluding the extra scene he wrote for a film made in 1938. The late Tim Pigott-Smith was an excellent Henry Higgins, with Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery as Eliza, Tony Haygarth as Doolittle, grandes dames Barbara Jefford as Mrs Higgins and Una Stubbs as Mrs Pearce, and the excellent and up-and-coming Edward Bennett as Freddy. Directed by Peter Hall.

  1. Forgotten Voices – Oxford Playhouse, 7th September 2007

Based on the oral testimonies of First World War veterans and collected by the Sound Archive of the Imperial War Museum, this play by Malcolm McKay tells the story of five survivors – four men and one woman – whose memories provide a vivid and moving first and account of the Great War. An excellent endeavour, to capture these memories in a play so that they need never be forgotten. The superb cast included Rupert Frazer, Belinda Lang and Matthew Kelly.

  1. BBC Proms in the Park – Hyde Park, London, 8th September 2007

Another of those blissful assemblies in Hyde Park, and an excuse for picnics and champagne, whilst being entertained by the likes of Lesley Garrett, Dick and Dom, Chico, T-Rextasy (who are ace), opera star Juan Diego Florez and top of the bill, Will Young. All presented by Sir Terry Wogan. A great fun night.

  1. Donkeys’ Years – Milton Keynes Theatre, 28th September 2007

It’s always fun to see another production of Michael Frayn’s delightful Donkeys Years, a show that relies on the camaraderie of its actors playing the parts of old ex-students returning for their college Gaudy. But this production didn’t work that well because I thought it wasn’t very well cast – even though individually it was full of excellent actors. Ian Lavender came across as too young to play Birkett, the old porter, as did Mark Hadfield as Headingley. Snell is meant to be a wretched no-hoper but Norman Pace gave him too much smartness; and Sara Crowe just felt wrong as Lady Driver! Never mind!

 

  1. Visiting Mr Green – Oxford Playhouse, 5th October 2007

One of those nights at the theatre when you know you’re in the presence of a masterclass of perfection acting.  Warren Mitchell was absolutely stupendous as the old man in Jeff Baron’s brilliant play about the developing relationship between the young executive who nearly kills Mr Green in a car accident and then has to spend six months visiting him as a form of restorative justice. Every bit as good as you would imagine it was.

  1. Rambert Dance Company World View Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 13th October 2007

Rambert’s tour for 2007 was called their World View Tour, because it featured the works of Australian, French Canadian, and American choreographers. The programme for the night started with L’eveil by company member Melanie Teall, then Gran Partita by Karole Armitage, a revival premiere of Christopher Bruce’s wonderful Swansong, and then finally Andrée Howard’s Lady into Fox, originally premiered in 1939. Wonderful as always.

  1. Half a Sixpence, Birmingham Hippodrome, 20th October 2007

Not the amazing Cameron Mackintosh production that wowed everyone about five years ago, but a Bill Kenwright production starring Gary Wilmot as Arthur Kipps, and full of joy and delight he was too – Kipps is the role for a true song-and-dance man to shine as Tommy Steele did originally, Gary Wilmot did in this production and Charlie Stemp would in due course. Elsewhere in the cast was the wonderful Gaye Brown as Mrs Walsingham. Always a fun and entertaining show, although the recent production has rather eclipsed the memory of this one.

  1. The Producers – Milton Keynes Theatre, 1st November 2007

I was expecting this big show to be an illustrious success but it rather left me cold, I’m afraid. I’m not a huge fan of Joe Pasquale, but he was excellent in the part of Leo; in fact, the best performance was from Russ Abbot as the flamboyant Roger DeBris. My main memory is spotting Joe Pasquale at the deli counter in the next-door Waitrose.

  1. Richard Alston Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 27th November 2007

Never one to miss the annual visit of the Richard Alston Dance Company, this year’s show featured four excellent pieces: Fingerprint, Nigredo, Brink and Gypsy Mixture. The super company included Martin Lawrance, Pierre Tappon, Anneli Binder, a young Hannah Kidd and the great Jonathan Goddard.

  1. Aladdin – Birmingham Hippodrome, 23rd December 2007

Moving on past another trip to see the amazing Chichester production of Nicholas Nickleby in two parts, all on one day at the Milton Keynes Theatre, our next show was the panto for Christmas 2007, Aladdin, starring John Barrowman in the title role. Fun for all the family, of course, but I thought this Qdos panto lacked a little pizzazz. I wasn’t overkeen on the Grumbleweeds as the policemen (although our nieces loved them); I was looking forward to seeing Don Maclean as Widow Twankey and he certainly put on a good show. I actually think most laughs came from the wonderful facial expressions of Masashi Fujimoto as the Emperor. Good, but not great.

I reckon this is going to be another theatre memories blog post! June to November 2005

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater 2 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 21st June 2005

NDT2 were back for another of their unmissable tours, so as always, we didn’t miss it! The four pieces were Jiri Kylian’s Sleepless, followed by Hans van Manen’s Simple Things, then Lightfoot/Leon’s Shutters Shut, and finally Lightfoot/Leon’s Skew-Whiff. As it was a school night, I doubt if we stayed for the post show talk. But it would have been a brilliant night.

  1. The Merry Wives of Windsor – Oxford Shakespeare Company at Wadham College, Oxford, 9th July 2005

The start of what was to become a tradition for nearly every year since, this was our first visit to Wadham College to see an open-air production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. The OSC have always had a brilliant knack of creating something magic in a garden, and this production still has us laughing sixteen years later – one of the best productions of a Shakespeare comedy I’ve ever seen. At the heart of it, a brilliant performance by Dermot Canavan as Falstaff, but with only Mistress Ann played by a woman, there was a massive amount of cross-dressing fun to be had, and the thought of David Chittenden’s Dr Caius, together with his fishy (don’t ask) still makes us roar today.

  1. Naked – George Piper Dances/Ballet Boyz – Playhouse, Oxford, 9th July 2005

Having seen open air Shakespeare in the afternoon, we plumped for contemporary dance in the evening, with the George Piper Dances, now almost jettisoning that name in favour of the Ballet Boyz. Naked was a full length dance, the first to be choreographed by the Boyz themselves, and also featured their regular dancer Oxana Panchenko, with Monica Zamora, Yvette Halfhide and Thomas Linecar. My memory is that it was a very strong work – but, before you ask, no one was naked.

  1. Macbeth – Oxford Shakespeare Company at Wadham College, Oxford, 6th August 2005

Our visit to see Merry Wives was so enjoyable that we booked to see the other show that OSC were doing alongside it, Macbeth. The same cast, putting their amazing inventive skills to very different purpose. Here, the most extraordinary performance was by Paul Dinnen as Lady Macbeth – but they were all sensational.

  1. The Importance of being Earnest – Playhouse, Oxford, 20th August 2005

Erica Whyman’s summer show for the Oxford Playhouse was her charming production of Wilde’s classic; my memory is that the lesser roles outclassed the major roles. Anna Calder-Marshall’s Miss Prism was a joy, as was Christopher Godwin’s Canon Chasuble.

  1. Mamma Mia! – Prince of Wales Theatre, London, 27th August 2005

Six years after it opened in the West End, we finally got to see Mamma Mia! – I was never sure if I was going to enjoy it or not – I like Abba, but I was dubious about how the songs would organically accompany a story without being contrived. I needn’t have worried. It was a wonderful show; extremely funny, superbly performed, and remarkable uncontrived! We had a few understudies for our performance – and Kelly Rainford knocked it out of the park as Tanya. A great night’s entertainment.

  1. Jasmin Vardimon’s Park – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 14th October 2005

I’d heard of Jasmin Vardimon but had never seen any of her work so we decided to give Park a try – and oh my word what a terrific piece of contemporary dance it was. I quote from the programme: “Park is a place of refuge. Floating like an island in the urban ocean, Park is the backyard for worn out beliefs and redundant ideologies. In this playground, Vardimon and her eight dancers create a new hybrid of metaphors and tales, a collage made from these remnants. Park becomes the place were the individual escapes the everyday in order to play.” All I can say is, I’d love to see it again.

  1. Le Parc – Paris Opera Ballet at Sadler’s Wells, London, 16th October 2005

Whenever we go to Paris we always try to catch the Opera Ballet at the Palais Garnier. So it only seemed right that we should go to see them when they came to the UK! Angelin Preljocaj’s Le Parc was a beautiful mixture of the classical and contemporary; the latter comes in and out to subvert the former throughout the show, which makes it a challenging but very entertaining show.

  1. Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake – Milton Keynes Theatre, 28th October 2005

I shouldn’t have included this revisit to see Swan Lake – which was actually the second time we’d seen it in 2005 – but I couldn’t resist it. The show had changed slightly from the original; the young prince/schoolboy role had gone, and the disco scene had renewed itself – perhaps not for the better, but we’re used to the new version now. Alan Vincent was the Swan and Simon Wakefield the Prince.

  1. Rambert Dance Company Autumn Tour – Milton Keynes Theatre, 4th November 2005

Back for another shot of Rambert – like NDT2 they were unmissable. The programme for the evening started with Michael Clark’s Swamp, then Rafael Bonachela’s Curious Conscience, followed by Mark Baldwin’s Constant Speed. Wonderful as always.

More theatre and dance memories? You’re insatiable! July 2004 – June 2005

  1. Jerry Springer The Opera – Cambridge Theatre, London, 10th July 2004

Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas’ scurrilous, sacrilegious and totally hilarious musical probably gave me the most laughs in a show until I saw The Book of Mormon. A wonderful parody of the Jerry Springer TV show, this upset people near and far – which is always a good indication that it takes its place in history. Fantastic performances from Michael Brandon as Springer and particularly David Bedella as Satan/Warm up Man. We adored it from start to finish.

  1. Jesus Christ Superstar – Birmingham Hippodrome, September 2004

I don’t usually write up shows in this blog if I’ve already seen them before, but I include this production of Jesus Christ Superstar because of the two extraordinary performances by Glenn Carter as Jesus and James Fox as Judas. A show on a grand scale that was absolutely stunning.

  1. Rambert Dance Company Autumn Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 7th October 2004

Passing over a rather forgettable touring production of Blithe Spirit at the Milton Keynes Theatre, starring Penelope Keith as Madame Arcati, our next show was Rambert’s Autumn tour, featuring four pieces. First up was Frederick Ashton’s Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, as restaged by Lynn Seymour, and danced by Melanie Teal. Then came Kim Brandstrup’s Songs of a Wayfarer, Ian Spink’s reworking of Ashton’s A Tragedy of Fashion and Michael Clark’s Swamp. Always skilful and inspiring.

  1. Richard Alston Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 2nd November 2004

Our annual trip to see Richard Alston’s show, this performance featured three dances: Brisk Singing, Shimmer and Gypsy Mixture. Star dancers Martin Lawrance and Jonathan Goddard on top form. Amazing as always.

  1. Jekyll and Hyde The Musical – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 25th November 2004

I remember there being a blaze of excitement and anticipation about this musical written by Leslie Bricusse, starring Paul Nicholas as the dually-tormented hero/anti-hero. It had opened in the US in 1990 but had taken fourteen years to reach the UK. Fully expecting to get a West End run, for some reason it just didn’t click – and it’s still not reached the West End to this day. Very lavish, great production values – good performances, but something was definitely lacking.

  1. Matthew Bourne’s Highland Fling – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 24th February 2005

Passing over the Watermill’s highly rated production of Sweeney Todd at the Ambassadors, and a tenth anniversary production of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake at Sadler’s Wells, our next show was said choreographer’s revival production of his early hit Highland Fling, “a romantic wee ballet” which reenvisages La Sylphide in a disco and council flat in Glasgow. Huge fun, terrifically inventive, and with a great cast of dancers including James Leece and Hannah Vassallo.

 

  1. Losing Louis – Trafalgar Studios, London, 26th February 2005

Simon Mendes da Costa’s black comedy was a bit of a hit and miss affair with the critics but we thoroughly enjoyed it. Great performances from Alison Steadman and Lynda Bellingham.

  1. Carmen – Oper Leipzig at the Opera House, Leipzig, 23rd April 2005

We took a long weekend at the exciting German city of Leipzig, and decided to pay a visit to the Opera House to see a production of Carmen. The theatre was quite municipal, but the production was very enjoyable – in French with German surtitles, which was a linguistic challenge.

 

  1. Grupo Corpo – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 3rd May 2005

Dance Consortium brought the Brazilian dance group Grupo Corpo to the UK for a tour, featuring two dances, O Corpo and Lecuona. The pictures look really exciting – what a shame I can hardly remember this at all!

  1. The 2005 Russian Spectacular – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 3rd June 2005

A slight misrepresentation of the truth, as this Russian Spectacular featured the White Russian Central Band from Belarus, and Belarussian military singers, as well as dancers from the Bolshoi and the Belarussian National Folk Dance Academy. An evening of Cossacks and Kalinka – I loved it. It was to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Victory in Europe, so it’s safe to say they came in peace. Massive fun.

And another bunch of theatre memories come along… September 2003 to January 2004

Six dance, four theatre

  1. The Immortals – Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome, 27th September 2003

Our first visit to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet in their base at the Birmingham Hippodrome, The Immortals consisted of three separate ballets on that godlike theme. First was Apollo, choreography by Balanchine to music by Stravinsky; then came The Sons of Horus, music by Peter McGowan and choreography by BRB’s very own David Bintley; then finally Krishna, set to music by Hariprasad Chaurasia and choreography by Nahid Siddiqui. The company included Principals Robert Parker and Nao Sakuma, Asta Bazeviciute and Molly Smolen, Chi Cao and Iain Mackay, Tiit Helimets and Dominic Antonucci. A wonderful, lavish production on a grand scale.

  1. The Graduate – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 3rd October 2003

The Cambridge Arts Theatre touring production of Terry Johnson’s adaptation of the famous Dustin Hoffman film starred Glynis Barber as the seductive Mrs Robinson and Andrés Williams as the easily seduced Benjamin Braddock. I remember enjoying it, but also thinking that it could have had more oomph; I confess I can’t remember why.

  1. Giselle – Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome, 4th October 2003

Back at the Birmingham Royal Ballet for another show with the BRB, this time the full length ballet Giselle, based on Petipa’s original choreography and with extra choreography by David Bintley. We took our goddaughter, her brother, her mother and her grandmother – and we all found it delightful. Asta Bazeviciute was Giselle, Tiit Helimets was Albrecht, Marion Tait Berthe and Molly Smolen Queen of the Wilis. Every bit as gorgeous as you would imagine.

  1. Richard Alston Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 7th October 2003

Our annual trip to see Richard Alston’s company had three new dances for us – Grey Allegro, to music by Scarlatti and choreographed by Martin Lawrance; Slow Airs Almost All, set to Mozart, and Overdrive, with music by Terry Riley. The amazing Jonathan Goddard had joined the company and danced in all three pieces, favourite dancers Francesca Romo and Luke Baio also performed as did senior dancer Martin Lawrance. Fantastic as always.

  1. George Balanchine Programme – Ballet de l’Opera National de Paris at the Palais Garnier, Paris, 13th October 2003

As was becoming a tradition, any trip to Paris had to include a visit to the Palais Garnier to see the amazing Paris National Ballet. This was a programme of three works choreographed by George Balanchine – Symphonie en ut, with music by Bizet, Le fils prodigue, set to Prokofiev, and Les quatre tempéraments with music by Hindemith. Always the most spectacular privilege to attend such a show.

  1. Rambert Dance Company Autumn Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 31st October 2003

Passing over the very enjoyable Audience with John Sergeant at the Wycombe Swan, where the great TV journo talked about the entertaining scrapes of his career, our next show was to see Rambert for their Autumn Tour. We started with one of Glenn Wilkinson’s Six Pack solo dances – to Ooh Be Do, then came Karole Armitage’s Living Toys. After the first interval came another Six Pack dance – to Zala, then Wayne McGregor’s PreSentient. After a second interval the show finished with Javier de Frutos’ Elsa Canasta. The fantastic company included Rafael Bonachela, Hope Muir, Glenn Wilkinson, Simon Cooper, Paul Liburd, Clemmie Sveass and Conor O’Brien.

  1. Beauty and the Beast – Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome, 6th December 2003

David Bintley’s vision of Beauty and the Beast, set to music by Glenn Buhr, was a full-scale full-length ballet of epic proportions. Belle was danced by Azta Bazeviciute and the Beast by Robert Parker. As always it was grand, beautiful and delightfully classical.

  1. Anything Goes – Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 31st December 2003

We took the Dowager Mrs C with us to see Anything Goes as a Christmas/New Year treat; it was a terrific show, directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Stephen Mear. The excellent cast starred John Barrowman and Sally Ann Triplett, with Barrie Ingham, Martin Marquez and Susan Tracy for good measure. Way down the cast list playing “A sailor with wanderlust” was Dancing on Ice’s Jason Gardiner.

  1. A Chorus Line – Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 3rd January 2004

I don’t normally include shows I’ve seen before in these memory blog posts, but this production of A Chorus Line was very different from the majority I’ve seen before. Karen Bruce provided brand new choreography for the show, which, for a Chorus Line purist like myself, was sacrilege. With no input from any of the original team (sometimes you would find that Bob Avian or Baayork Lee had lent a hand) it was unrecognisable apart from having the same songs and script. They even included an interval between Hello Twelve… and Dance Ten Looks Three. A cast of amazing talent though, with Josefina Gabrielle as Cassie, Michael Jibson as Bobby, Lara Pulver as Bebe and Hayley Tamaddon as Diana. Casualty’s Jason Durr played Zach. It was well done – but it wasn’t A Chorus Line.

  1. Taboo – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 22nd January 2004

Billed as The Boy George Musical, this had been a big success in London, but we missed it so were happy to catch it on tour. The excellent cast included Stephen Ashfield as Boy George and Neighbours’ Mark Little as Leigh Bowery. Dynamic and fun, a very engrossing and entertaining show.

How about some more theatre memories? February to December 2002

  1. George Piper Dances – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 5th February 2002

In one of their earliest go-it-alone shows, the George Piper Dances (who eventually became the name by which they were always much better known as – the Balletboyz) were masterminded by Billy Trevitt and Michael Nunn. For this first tour they were accompanied by Matthew Hart, Ludy Dodd, Christopher Marney and Oxana Panchenko, and they performed William Forsythe’s Steptext (which was always one of their signature dances), Charles Linehan’s Truly Great Thing, Lightfoot/Leon’s Sigue and Russell Maliphant’s Critical Mass. We knew they were going to make it big!

  1. Sunset Boulevard – Opera House, Blackpool, 11th February 2002

We went up to Blackpool for Valentine’s weekend, old romantics that we are, and there took in the touring production of Sunset Boulevard, that we had missed in the West End. This is a show that really split us, as I rather enjoyed it, but Mrs C found it awful! Norma Desmond was played by Faith Brown and she was impressive; Joe Gillis was played by Earl Carpenter. It rained a lot; but the Opera House was an attractive theatre.

  1. Rambert Dance Company Spring Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 9th March 2002