Another bunch of theatre memories? Why not! February to June 1998

Rather weak on the detail of some of these, but here goes anyway!

  1. Faking It – Motion House Dance Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 10th February 1998

The first show in that year’s Swan Dance festival at the Wycombe Swan, we saw Motion House Dance Theatre’s exciting and punchy piece of contemporary dance, that the programme describes as being “about power games, the struggle for pole position and the many faces we don in order to hide our vulnerabilities.” Sounds great, and I think it was! The all-female company consisted of Caroline Bridges, Penny Collinson, Ruth Jacombs, Isabelle Martinez and Lisi Perry.

  1. Dance Bites – The Royal Ballet at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 7th March 1998

1998’s Dance Bites programme featured five short pieces, immaculately performed as always. First up was Horseplay, choreographed by Tom Sapsford, and danced by Michael Nunn (a Future Balletboyz founder), Jonathan Howells, Justin Meissner and David Pickering. Then we had Highly Strung, a solo danced by Jerry Douglas, choreographed by Matthew Hart to music by Debussy. After the first interval came Dream of Angels, choreographed by William Tuckett (the other Balletboyz founder), and danced by Leire Ortueta, Michael Nunn and Sarah Wildor. Then came Words Apart, choreographed by Cathy Marston, and performed by 12 dancers; then after the second interval, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, choreographed by William Forsythe, and danced by Deborah Bull amongst others. Always a privilege to see.

  1. Tartuffe – Mobil Touring Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 14th March 1998

Mobil’s show that year was a very lively and enjoyable production of Molière’s Tartuffe, with Stephen Tompkinson perfectly cast in the main role, and also starring Simon Williams as an Orgon full of bluster, plus Isla Blair and Maria Charles giving great support. However, my main recollection of this production was Mr Tompkinson (unforgivably in my mind) completely dissing the audience during curtain call, by chatting ostentatiously to the other cast members and never making eye contact with us or acknowledging our presence. I don’t know what we had done to deserve that, we had been respectful and laughed in all the right places.

  1. Romeo and Juliet – Northern Ballet Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 17th March 1998

Northern Ballet brought their production of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Massimo Moricone and directed by Christopher Gable, with design by Lez Brotherston, who continues to be the best at the job today. I remember this being a very grand and elaborate affair, with dance and production values of the highest quality. Romeo was danced by Denis Malinkine, and Juliet by Jayne Regan. Very enjoyable.

  1. Kind Hearts and Coronets – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 16th April 1998

Giles Croft adapted and directed this touring production of the famous film for Charles Vance productions. Very enjoyable, if I remember rightly, with Robert Powell as Louis Mazzini and Colin Baker as the D’Ascoynes. But it wasn’t the kind of production to stick in the mind!

  1. Dein Perry’s Tap Dogs – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 24th April 1998

This lively entertainment was already a huge international success and their visit to the Swan Dance festival was very well received. I remember it as being a blistering attack on the senses – not only from a dance point of view, but also, frankly, the clashing racket they made with their dustbin lids and all sorts of other noisy ephemera! Very enjoyable, but after a while I did start to find it slightly repetitive and just – ever so slightly – boring. But I know I was in the minority!

  1. And Nothing But the Truth – VTol Dance Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, April 1998

And Nothing But the Truth was billed as a Murder Mystery set to dance, and it was a highly entertaining piece of contemporary dance – although I can’t remember whodunit. The company was Christine Devaney, James Hewison, Kieron Jecchinis, Marcia Pook and Karl Sullivan, and the show was devised by the company under the auspices of Artistic Director Mark Murphy. Very nicely described in the programme: “Back from the dead, our host Jake takes us into a nightmare landscape blackened by murder. Four characters, Christine – The Wife, Karl – The Husband, Marcia – His Lover and James – The Neighbour; find themselves in a complex maze of lies, infidelity and pillows.”



  1. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 1st May 1998

This was our first ever exposure (and that’s probably the right word) to The Trocks and they have gone on to be amongst our very favourite companies of all time, whom we see whenever we can. This programme was a true classic, starting with Swan Lake, Act II, a Mystery Pas de Deux (as always), Vivaldi Suite, The Dying Swan (executed by Comrade Ida Nevasayneva), and ending with Paquita. It goes without saying that the quality of dance from this company is always of the highest exceptional quality, but it’s mixed with their wonderful feel for the comic potential in classical ballet (and, occasionally, contemporary dance). This wonderful company featured at the time a very young Robert Carter (Olga Supphozova and Yuri Smirnov), Associate Director Tory Dobrin (Margaret Lowin-Octeyn and Adam Baum), the brilliant Paul Ghiselin (Ida Nevasayneva and Velour Pilloux) and Manolo Nolina (Fifi Barkova and Igor Slowpokin). Some of those names just kill you.

  1. Cruel Garden – Rambert Dance Company at the Apollo Theatre, Oxford, 7th May 1998

I was looking forward to seeing Lindsay Kemp’s iconic production so much, but it was completely ruined by the fact that our view of the stage was obliterated by the very high- positioned conductor standing right in front of our seats. If it had been described as obstructed view or a lower price I would have understood (and indeed, booked different seats) but there was no such warning. The theatre management were unhelpful to my plight and as a result I’ve never been back to this theatre. I genuinely can’t comment on the show as I couldn’t see it.

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater 2 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 2nd June 1998

Having enjoyed NDT2 so much the first time we saw them, it was a no-brainer to book to see them on their return visit. The programme was: Grosse Fuge, choreographed by Hans van Manen, Un Ballo, choreographed by Jiri Kylian, Sans Response by Patrick Delcroix, and finally Paul Lightfoot’s Sad Case. Sheer joy from the NDT youth department.

Yet More Theatre Memories – November 1976 to February 1977

Gird your loins as we dip further into the back catalogue!

  1. Yahoo – Queen’s Theatre, London, November 1976.

image(328)A school trip to see a play that I thought had the potential to be boring – and boy was I right. For some reason, a lot of my schoolfriends were into studying Jonathan Swift for A Level and it was thought this would be a helpful insight into his life. If it was, all I can see is that he was a very dull man. Of course the main attraction was to see Sir Alec Guinness acting in the flesh, and he cut a very imposing figure.

It also featured Nicola Pagett, whom I never liked (sorry), Mark Kingston and To the Manor Born’s Angela Thorne. My only memory of it is Sir Alec turning to the audience at the resumption after the interval with the line “I trust you have all relieved yourself of your baser necessities”. The only laugh in the show. I hated it.


  1. The Frontiers of Farce – Old Vic, London, November 1976.

image(334)I saw this with my schoolfriend Robin because we both liked Leonard Rossiter on TV – I was more a Rising Damp kind of guy and Rob was more a Reggie Perrin fan, but this wasn’t exclusive! The Frontiers of Farce was a combination of two one act fin de siècle farces – The Purging by Georges Feydeau and The Singer by Frank Wedekind, adapted and directed by Peter Barnes.

I can’t remember too much about The Singer, but The Purging is a brilliant play in which Leonard Rossiter played the manufacturer of unbreakable chamber pots; with the simple plot twist that those unbreakable chamber pots broke with the slightest stress. Rob and I sat in the front row and made a collection in the interval of all the broken bits of chamber pot that had been smashed and landed on our laps. The excellent cast also included John Stride, John Phillips and Dilys Laye, and I loved it.


  1. Tartuffe – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 18th November 1976.

image(323)Another school trip, but this time with the French A level class, as this production of Tartuffe was performed in the original French, in a touring production by the Theatre National Populaire of Lyon in France. Don’t think I understood a damn word. image(324)The production starred, was directed by (and he probably made the tea too) the late Roger Planchon. Rather reserved and dreary in its presentation, if I remember rightly, which is a bit of a crime when you consider what a great play Tartuffe is.


  1. A Man for All Seasons – Young Vic, London, 17th December 1976.

First play of a very memorable Christmas holiday, this revival of Robert Bolt’s powerful play was very well performed by an excellent cast, directed by Stewart Trotter. I particularly remember the resounding performance by Michael Graham Cox as The Common Man, and the cast included Ian Gelder and Simon Chandler who would go on to have long and successful careers. As you can see, the Young Vic never invested a lot of money in their programmes!


  1. Jesus Christ Superstar – Palace Theatre, London, 22nd December 1976.


image(327)Looking back, this was one of the “biggest” shows I’d seen at the time, with its longstanding reputation, its massive staging, and its loyal fan base. I went by myself, as I did every show over this Christmas holiday, and remember sitting next to a young woman who, whilst waiting for the show to start, went to the front page of her souvenir brochure and attached (with some glue that she had fortuitously brought with her) her ticket stub where it joined about fifty other similar stubs – that was my first insight into true theatre fandom!

The production was stunning. I found the portrayal of Jesus (by the late, brilliant Steve Alder) absolutely mesmeric. Apart from a couple of the tunes I had no knowledge of what to expect, so the appearance of Barry James as a super camp Herod worked as the fantastic coup-de-theatre that it’s meant to be. Other top performances were from Mike Mulloy as Judas and a brilliant Caiaphas in the form of Nelson Perry. The theatrical highlight of the show for me was the hanging of Judas – it was so horrifically realistic.


This became my favourite show of all time – an accolade it held for exactly one week.

  1. A Chorus Line – Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 29th December 1976.


This production came towards the end of the initial six months run of this show, performed by the Toronto cast. I made a list at the time of the moments that made it for me the best show I’d seen at the time, and I still stand by that. I love this show from the bottom of my heart and it has stayed with me all my life. Here are the things I wrote down:

The mystical march away from the mirrors at the end of I Hope I Get It. The touching sorrow of At the Ballet. The dancing of I Can Do That. The sincerity of And. The mammoth Music and the Mirror. The emotional and sad speech of Paul revealing his homosexuality. The hilarity of Val’s song. The magnificence of One. The pure beauty of What I Did for Love. Val singing: Orphan at 3, orphan at 3, Momma and Dad both gone, raised by a sweet ex-con, tied up and raped at 7 – seriously, seriously, nothing too obscene, I’d better keep it clean. The sequence during Dance Ten Looks Three:

Val: You’re all looking at my tits aren’t you?

Sheila: (peering) They aren’t very big.

Val: I heard that you bitch. Anyway I didn’t want them like yours. I wanted them in proportion.

Sheila: Well you got what you paid for.

Kristine: Say, I’d give anything for just one of yours!

Sheila asking Need any women? Or Can the adults smoke? Bobby saying it was about then that I started breaking into people’s houses. Oh, I didn’t steal anything – I just rearranged the furniture. Judy’s A little brat! That’s what my sister was, a little brat, that’s why I shaved her head, I’m glad I shaved her head. Mark apparently having gonorrhoea at the age of 13. Greg getting hard on the bus. Connie tap-dancing in sneakers. Sheila’s happy-to-be-dancing smile.


I’d better stop. I ended up seeing this production seven more times over the next two and a half years, with the London cast that arrived in February 1977. I won’t include these extra visits in my theatrical memories, because that would be overkill!


  1. Charley’s Aunt – Young Vic, London, 3rd January 1977.


I remember this as being a delightfully funny production of this timeless play. It was the first time I had seen the late great Nicky Henson, and he was perfect for the wacky Lord Fancourt Babberley. In addition to Messrs Gelder and Chandler (who were also in A Man for All Seasons, see earlier) this also featured Janine Duvitski who has gone on to be a TV and stage favourite over several decades. Directed by Denise Coffey, with whom I always associate Mrs Black and her Horrible Handbag, from Do Not Adjust Your Set. I know, you’re too young to know what I’m talking about.

  1. The Circle – Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, 5th January 1977.

image(310)I saw this with the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle who, as I mentioned before, was a big Somerset Maugham fan. It was my first time to the Haymarket, and I wasn’t impressed – I thought the acoustics were poor and it was hard to hear everything on stage even from our relatively good seats. A rather stately play, slow moving to start but quite fun once it got going.


Despite all its big names, the best performance was from a young Martin Jarvis. It starred Googie Withers (whom I knew from TV’s Within These Walls), her husband John McCallum, Bill Porter, Susan Hampshire and Clive Francis.


  1. Irene – Adelphi Theatre, London, 10th January 1977.

I booked to see this at the end of the Christmas holidays slightly against my better judgment, as I wasn’t overly keen to see it, but I did want to see Jon Pertwee on stage again. As it turned out, it was a good show, very lively, likeable and colourful, but it never got close to being a great show. It features one fantastic song, Up There on Park Avenue, which I still regularly play today. Jon Pertwee was very amusing as the couturier Madame Lucy, and it starred Australia’s Julie Anthony, primarily known as a soprano. Unfortunately, Ms Anthony was indisposed at this performance and I saw Mary Dunne in the role, who was very good. A big show, but a lot more style than substance.

  1. Wild Oats – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, 7th February 1977.

image(286)image(287)This was a school trip organised by English teacher Bruce Ritchie and what a great choice it was. John O’Keeffe’s long lost 1791 play was hysterical from start to finish, with a stonkingly good cast who threw everything at it. Led by Alan Howard, one of the great names of the RSC, it also featured Norman Rodway, Joe Melia (always one of my favourite actors), Zoe Wanamaker, some young spark called Jeremy Irons, and, playing 2nd Ruffian, Ben Cross who would go on to be fantastic in Chariots of Fire amongst other roles. I’d love to see this again, but I don’t think there was a recording. I am Hamlet the Dane, said Mr Howard as the poseur Rover, swirling his cape around him like a mad villain. It brought the house down. Absolutely terrific.


Thanks for joining me for these memories. Tomorrow it’s back to the holiday snaps, C is for Croatia and some memories of Dubrovnik. Stay safe!

Review – Tartuffe, RSC Royal Shakespeare Company, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 18th September 2018

TartuffeHere’s a recipe for an innovative night at the theatre: first take your Molière, one of the all-time comic geniuses. He knew precisely how to structure a comedy, create larger than life but recognisable characters and put them into a ghastly but hilarious situation where they have to sink or swim. Then take two modern masters of comedy, the writers Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto, responsible for such landmark TV programmes like Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at Number 42, not to mention Citizen Khan (I won’t mention Citizen Khan because it’s awful). Blend delicately and what do you get? A Tartuffe for the 21st century, set within a British Pakistani Muslim family in Birmingham. The big question is, does that soufflé rise to the occasion of translating 17th century lampooning of religious hypocrisy successfully to the here and now?

Asif KhanMon Dieu, you cannot believe how beautifully the one fits into the other! Molière’s Tartuffe (a sufficiently piercing satire to warrant the King censoring it) is a religious directeur de conscience; a kind of domestic guru who wangles his way into a well-to-do family, and convinces the Master of the Household, Orgon, that his are the words of the angels, on a direct line from God. Therefore he must be obeyed, even if that means turning a blind eye to his having it away with the lady of the household, marrying their unwilling daughter and virtually stealing the house and business from under their nose. Observing and commenting on the madness is Dorine, the maid who is the confidante of all and sundry and is more intelligent than the rest of them put together. Only when the unwitting idiot of a Master finally gets the ocular proof that his noble houseguest is a roué and a vagabond does he finally tumble to his own vain stupidity. But Tartuffe has something else up his sleeve, and tries to get Orgon arrested for possession of incriminating letters.

Michelle BonnardMessrs Gupta and Pinto have transported Orgon and his family to Small Heath, where they have become the Pervaiz family; he a wealthy businessman, on to his glamorous second wife Amira, living with his vacuous son Damee, progressively-educated daughter Mariam and his old mother Dadimaa (who is straight out of The Kumars – Meera Syal should sue). Imran Pervaiz has been transfixed by one Tahir Taufiq Arsuf (Tartuffe), whom he has brought into his house, given him as much food and drink as he wants, allowed him take control of the fabulous Home Cinema system and has become thoroughly brainwashed by his charisma. He insists that Tartuffe marries Mariam despite her already being engaged to the drippy but well-meaning Waqaas; in a misplaced religious fervour he liberates his own mind and spirit by giving all his worldly possessions to Tartuffe so that he can use it for charitable purposes (err, I don’t think so.) When Pervaiz is eventually satisfied that Tartuffe is a sham, he too realises that an incriminating document is no longer where it should be… but has Tartuffe stolen it for blackmail purposes?

Simon Nagra and Asif KhanCliché time, but Molière’s timeless creation fits into this modern setting like a hand in a glove. The idea of a charismatic zealot, whether it be religious or political, a true celebrity who takes the usual brain settings of an otherwise sensible person, and puts them through the wash, is as relevant today as it was in the 17th century. Trump, Putin, Kim on the international stage; Farage, Rees-Mogg, Corbyn on the domestic. Plus ça change, as they say. It’s no surprise that at one stage Pervaiz puts his head in his hands and wishes he hadn’t voted Leave.

Salman Akhtar and Simon NagraGupta and Pinto litter the script with countless modern references which both delight and illuminate. During two-and-a-half hours, they cover (in no particular order) female emancipation, familial tensions between generations, politics, Windrush, marital trust, faith, sexual harassment, illegal immigration, Brexit, religious hypocrisy, Islamist fundamentalism, and much more. It’s never offensive, and, certainly, it never pokes fun at Islam; its target is simply the relationship between the manipulative trickster and the idiot who believes him. Never has the phrase “a fool and his money are soon parted” been more appropriate.

Raj BajajThis adaptation gets its point across by using terrifically humorous characters and a sparky, al dente text. There are a few passages where, in more than a nod to its original writer, the speech diverts into rhyming alexandrine couplets; there’s even a passing reference to Shakespeare and some other contemporary garçon (and I think we know who that is.) I liked the very clever use of accents to help create the characters; the Brummie voices of Damee, Khalil and Usman all help to suggest that they’re (sorry to say it, Midlanders) a bit thick; whereas Mariam’s Brummie accent strangely makes her sound more intelligent – but then she is always talking about protecting the interests of women in the sub-Saharan continent and complaining about heteronormative patriarchy.

Simon NagraBretta Gerecke’s design is a nice contrast between the plush surroundings of the Pervaiz family home and stark modernistic lighting tubes that fall into place to demarcate the indoors from outdoors. Iqbal Khan’s production brings in quite a few musical moments, some of which work better than others. Raj Bajaj’s Damee clearly sees himself as some kind of rap star and he is given a couple of chances to show off his style; even more proficient is the excellent (if you like that sort of thing) beatboxing from Riad Richie as Tartuffe’s assistant, Usman. The play begins with a very loud onslaught of musical mush coming through the headphones of Darina, the Bosnian cleaner; Black Sabbath, she confides in the audience, she’s a fan. Not entirely sure I am; it’s a bit of a brutal start. Sarah Sayeed’s traditional Punjabi music has been composed to reflect particular characters in particular moods; although these leitmotifs may work on paper, I found much of the incidental music throughout the play really distracting, and frequently too loud so that it drowns out the dialogue, which is exasperating as you know you’re missing out on gems but you just can’t hear them.

Riad Richie and Asif KhanMolière knows to keep his audience waiting and it’s a full fifty minutes before we meet our eponymous anti-hero. Asif Khan (who was superb in the Royal and Derngate’s A Passage to India last January) gives us a very larger-than-life portrayal of a man appearing to be conservative and clean but in fact a mere conman. He’s dressed in the most formal Muslim clerical clothing: traditional beard as low as you dare, and a pure white abaya robe to reflect the purity of his heart (as he would like you to think). He adopts a very lilting tone of speech, as though he were part speaking, part intoning the Qu’ran. This makes him sound like a truly holy man; which only makes the sham feel worse when you see how he’s manipulating everyone around him.

Zainab HasanThe whole cast put in tremendous performances. Simon Nagra is great as Imran Pervaiz; there’s an element of Omid Djalili in his delivery, but it’s none the worse for that. His wonderment at Tartuffe’s general gloriousness is a delightfully comic turn, and it makes a painful contrast with his fury at his family’s determination to cross him, insisting his daughter marry the wretch and banishing his son from the family home. Sasha Behar makes for a glamorous and fiery Amira, well able to take care of herself, and she brings out all the comic potential from the scene where she’s trying to trap Tartuffe so that her husband can see the deceit for himself. Raj Bajaj is excellent as the well-intentioned but essentially useless son Damee, either grinning inanely at life or trying to solve problems by fisticuffs; and Zainab Hasan is superb as daughter Mariam, proudly independent but fully knowing that she should obey her father, even though he is condemning her to a life of misery.

James ClydeAmong the supporting cast there are some great performances from James Clyde, as family friend Khalil, wont to pontificate ad nauseam much to everyone’s exhaustion, and from Salman Akhtar as the hapless Waqaas, firing up with anger at the prospect of losing his Mariam but essentially unable to fight his way out of a paper bag. And the whole show is held together by a star performance from Michelle Bonnard as Darina, keeping up lengthy conversations with the audience (even hoovering under their seats after the interval), taking the mickey out of her employer’s bromance, seeing right through Tartuffe’s pretence, and generally getting away with murder – but also looking after their interests, as is seen in the very last second of the play.

Amina ZiaAn immensely refreshing night out at the theatre – and you’re in awe of how neatly Molière’s original fits so neatly into the totally different environment. Hats off to everyone involved for a tremendous achievement. Tartuffe remains in rep at the Swan Theatre until 23rd February. Don’t miss it!

Production photos by Topher McGrillis