I know! How about some more theatre and dance memories? November 2005 to February 2006

  1. Mark Morris Dance Group – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 16th November 2005

Billed as their 25th Anniversary UK tour, the Mark Morris Dance Group swung into High Wycombe with their usual blaze of glory, and an enjoyable programme that started with Somebody’s Coming to See Me Tonight, set to songs by Stephen Foster; then All Fours, with music by Bela Bartok; followed by Candleflowerdance, set to Stravinsky’s Serenade in A, and finally Grand Duo with music by Lou Harrison. As always, all the dances were choreographed by Mark Morris – who, sadly, wasn’t one of the dancers this time. Hugely entertaining.

  1. Glorious – Duchess Theatre, London, 19th November 2005

Peter Quilter’s wonderful comedy about the singing sensation Florence Foster Jenkins – a legend in her own lunchtime – given a terrific central performance by Maureen Lipman as the soprano in extremis, with excellent support from William Oxborrow and Barrie Ingham. Very funny; but its real strength is in how it manages to tell her story without being unkind. A great show.

  1. Nabucco – Latvian National Opera at the Opera House, Riga, Latvia, 10th December 2005

We went to Riga for a long weekend and there took in a typically ex-Soviet evening at the Opera –  Verdi’s Nabucco (or Nabuko as it is in Latvian) performed by the Latvian National Opera. A very elegant, if snowy, experience! They did a grand job.

  1. Heroes – Wyndham’s Theatre, London, 28th December 2005

Gerald Sibleyras’ superb one-act comedy was given a feisty translation by Tom Stoppard and a terrific set of performances from a triumvirate of acting legends – Richard Griffiths, John Hurt and Ken Stott. Set in a French military hospital in 1959, this one act play delves into the men’s pasts to reveal their true characters – and it was beautifully done throughout.

  1. Scrooge – London Palladium, 31st December 2005

For a New Year’s Eve treat we took the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle out to see Scrooge – primarily because she was a huge Tommy Steele fan; this was to be her final visit to her much loved London Palladium. The show itself was pretty enjoyable – if I say it was a very lively, colourful and undemanding entertainment, you’ll get my drift. Mr Steele – aged approx. 69 then was still a very nimble figure on the stage! Fun to see Hi de Hi‘s Barry Howard as Jacob Marley, and favourite performer of the future, Alex Gaumond in some minor roles.

  1. Aladdin – Old Vic, London, 8th January 2006

A very hot ticket that Christmas, we adored Sean Matthias’ production of Aladdin for the Old Vic starring Ian McKellen as Widow Twankey – all the country wanted to see how he’d take on that role, and the answer is, with delicious relish. Absolutely hilarious – and pretty filthy if I remember rightly. Roger Allam was a fabulously wicked Abbanazar, and Frances Barber also gave us her Dim Sum. I think it was this show that got us back hooked into pantos in the future.

  1. Mammals – Oxford Playhouse, 20th January 2006

We probably didn’t realise at the time quite how good a cast this touring production of Amelia Bullmore’s rather savage comedy boasted. Mark Bonnar, Anna Chancellor, Daniel Ryan and Niamh Cusack led the show, which concerned a marriage in crisis after a confession of infidelity. Great stuff.

  1. Simply Ballroom – Milton Keynes Theatre, February 2006

Moving over a return visit to see The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre, which was still going great guns, our next show was Strictly Ballroom at Milton Keynes – a touring show that was probably among the first of dozens of Strictly Come Dancing spin-offs that have cavorted over our stages ever since. Hosted by Lionel Blair, this was a rather formal and staid show that took different types of ballroom dance one by one and performed them in an almost educational manner. I felt it took a lot of the joy out of dance, and was quite a long evening!

  1. Improbable Fiction – Oxford Playhouse, 17th February 2006

I was very excited to be seeing Alan Ayckbourn’s latest comedy, set against the imaginations of those present at a writer’s group meeting. The first act laid the ground in a gently amusing way; and then the second act goes off in an extraordinary flight of fancy. If you “get” this play, then you “get” it. I didn’t “get” it at all; in fact, it’s the one and only time I’ve ever hated (yes, it was that strong a reaction) an Ayckbourn play.

  1. The Seasons/Carmina Burana – Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome, 25th February 2006

The Seasons was a sequence of dances choreographed by David Bintley to the music of Verdi, and was a beautiful half hour of classic and classical ballet.

After the interval we loved Bintley’s Carmina Burana, set to Carl Orff’s superb music – which we had already seen on TV and couldn’t wait to see live; and it delivered everything it promised. One of the most exciting pieces of contemporary dance I’ve ever seen. Loved every minute of it.

Review – A Christmas Carol, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 28th December 2012

A Christmas CarolHello again, gentle reader, and Happy New Year! Lovely to see you again. I am sorry about the lack of posts here for the past few weeks, but it’s been a very busy time. Mrs Chrisparkle had need of a long break from work, so we have been away both before and after Christmas. I can tell you about those travels in due course. We have also seen a few shows and with your indulgence I will be delighted to tell you about them.

Sam GrahamOf course, the downside of having left it a bit late to review these shows is that some of them have already closed. So even though I might recommend that you see them – in some cases, you can’t. Sorry about that. A Christmas Carol, the festive play production at the Royal Theatre in Northampton, is a case in point. Its season finished on 6th January, and you’ll know, if you saw it, that it was a terrific little production.

Greg HaisteThe story is an old favourite. You simply cannot experience Christmas without some reference to it in film or on stage at some point over the holidays. The only other time we have seen the story performed on stage was in Tommy Steele’s Scrooge about six or seven years ago, when we took the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle to the Palladium one New Year’s Eve. It was probably a mistake – the whole show was a mystery to her. About 30 minutes into the second half she loudly announced “Has Tommy Steele come on yet?” – the aforesaid Mr Steele having been “on” since the show started – so God knows what she thought had been happening on stage up till then. At the end Mr Steele invited us all to cross hands with our neighbours and sing Auld Lang Syne. When the polite little girl to our right tried to link hands, the Dowager glared at her and shoved her out of the way as she though she was trying to nick her handbag. Ah, happy Christmas memories.

Kate GrahamBut I digress as usual. Whilst there is some incidental music involved, this isn’t really a musical version. It is, however, an imaginative and charming telling of the old story, with a lively and talented cast, directed by Gary Sefton with his usual flair. The set is reminiscent of other Sefton specials at the Royal – it especially brought back to mind “Travels With My Aunt” – with its multi-layered construction using suitcases, steps, ledges, boxes, windows and furniture, all apparently positioned higgledy-piggledy but which cunningly conceal many entrances and exits, acting areas and seats. A great job by designer Michael Taylor – I particularly liked how Scrooge managed to perch on a chair high above nephew Fred’s Christmas party to witness the fun he had previously chosen to scorn. The costumes are excellent, and I particularly enjoyed Scrooge’s festive outfit in the final scene – definitely worth scouring the length and breadth of H&M trying to find that one. I’m no expert on the story, but Lady Duncansby, who was also in attendance and has spent a lifetime devoted to the tale, advised that the adaptation by Neil Duffield was very true to Dickens’ original.

Eric Kofi AbrefaAt the heart of any version of Christmas Carol is of course, old Ebenezer himself. The name is a testament to Dickens’ brilliant use of language – could ever a name sound so miserly as Ebenezer Scrooge? It’s an excellent performance by Sam Graham. Detestably miserable when you first meet him, he relishes his mean and self-obsessed condemnation of wider society that he insists must fend for itself no matter how poor or downtrodden the people may be. The two ladies who call at Scrooge and Marley’s collecting for charity looked genuinely disgusted at his withering refusal to donate. Unfortunately the sound he emits to represent “Bah Humbug!” reminded me of the eponymous jeering laugh of TV’s Mrs Brown’s Boys, but no matter. As he goes through the process of meeting the three Christmas ghosts, you quickly see the prospect of his redemption. In fact, I’ve never seen a performance of Christmas Carol/Scrooge – on stage or on film – where I have been so absolutely convinced that Scrooge genuinely means it when his character is reformed at the end. This really is the supreme depiction that it’s never too late to replace a bad life with a good one.

David OsmondThe visions presented by the Ghost of Christmas Past include a wonderful short scene where Ebenezer as a boy is found amongst his fairy tales and the story of Aladdin comes to life before our eyes; and it’s the first time you see any sense of joy in Scrooge. I thought that was a beautiful and lovingly performed sequence. You also see the moment when young Ebenezer turns away from his love – or rather she rejects him as he appears to have gone cold on her – but instead of chasing after her to win her back, he resigns himself to a life of counting pennies, much to the exasperated dismay of the onlooking old Scrooge. The storytelling and presentation of these scenes is beautifully clear and compelling.

Emerald O'HanrahanThere’s not a weak link in the cast; we all loved Greg Haiste’s Bob Cratchit, with his quill pen dancing in the windy breeze, and especially as the family man bringing some Christmas Cheer to his wife and kids, including the poignantly tragic Tiny Tim. He was also extremely funny en travesti as Mrs Fezziwig and as the wannabe flirtatious Topper at Fred’s party. Kate Graham gave a subtly rewarding performance as Mrs Cratchit, fighting her natural desire to despise Scrooge but setting a good example by toasting him nevertheless; and she was dignified but determined as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Eric Kofi Abrefa was Decency Itself in his role as Fred, and David Osmond was all too believable as the young Ebenezer putting joy behind him. There are also three teams of children playing Cratchit’s kids and the street urchins – we saw Team A, I believe, and they were superb. Their doleful expressions, as presented by the Ghost of Christmas Future when Tiny Tim is alas no more, brought genuine tears to Mrs C’s eyes.

IMG_6299The arrival of apparently “real snow” at the end, descending from heaven into the stalls, was a touching way to envelop the audience and cast together in the same theatrical magic and an absolutely packed Royal Theatre audience left extremely happy and heart-warmed at the end. It’s a really rewarding and life-affirming production, and we all loved it. “God bless us every one.” (Sniff).