Some more theatre and dance memories you ask? OK! March to September 2006

  1. Trainspotting – Oxford Playhouse, 10th March 2006

A brand new production of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, adapted and directed by Harry Gibson, which was on a national tour. The cast featured Ruaraidh Murray as Tommy. It received very good notices, if I remember rightly.

  1. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Peacock Theatre, London, 1st and 8th April 2006

The Trocks hit the Peacock theatre for a two week run, featuring two programmes; we saw both – starting with Programme 2! That consisted of Les Sylphides, a mystery Pas de Deux, Go for Barocco, The Dying Swan and Raymonda’s Wedding. The following week, Programme 1 showed Swan Lake Act 2, the Pas de Deux, Le Grand Pas de Quatre, The Dying Swan and Paquita. Favourite performers Paul Ghiselin (Ida Nevasayneva), Robert Carter (Olga Supphozova) and Raffaele Morra (Lariska Dumbchenko) were all present. Fantastic as always.

  1. Titus Andronicus – Wildcard Theatre Company at the Burton Taylor Studio, Oxford Playhouse, 12th April 2006

The Burton Taylor Rooms are a tiny theatre at the back and upstairs at the Oxford Playhouse, that go in and out of favour as a venue; and at the time it was very much in. I can’t remember too much about this production of Titus Andronicus, except that it was full of guts and gore (but that’s like most productions of Titus Andronicus!) At the time Wildcard were the resident touring company of the Wycombe Swan – but I don’t think they are any more. A very small cast covered a multitude of roles, including Andy Wisher as Titus, and Charlotte McKinney as Lavinia.

  1. Nymph Errant – Lost Musicals at the Lilian Bayliss Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London, 16th April 2006

I’d heard about Ian Marshall Fisher’s Lost Musicals but never got around to booking to see one – that is, until I heard they were doing Cole Porter’s Nymph Errant, which has songs I was brought up on as a kid, so it was a no-brainer that we had to see it – and it was a truly delightful experience, and one we kept going back to again and again. A large and talented cast sat in a semi-circle and performed a relatively unknown musical, and it worked a treat. Nymph Errant featured Thelma Ruby, Issy van Randwyck, Gay Soper, Stewart Permitt, Matt Zimmerman and James Vaughan. Loved it.

  1. The Taming of the Shrew – Oxford Shakespeare Company at Wadham College, Oxford, 15th July 2006

Next, we saw Jerry Springer the Opera again, at the Milton Keynes Theatre, great fun again and disappointingly few protests! After that, having enjoyed our two trips to the OSC the previous year so much, this year we did three! First was their production of The Taming of the Shrew, notable for the fact they used the Christopher Sly framework in full – which worked very well; fairly slapstick in its approach but very good.

  1. Strangers on a Train – Milton Keynes Theatre, 2nd August 2006

Craig Warner’s stage adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s thriller novel embarked on a UK tour, with a cast featuring Alex Ferns, Anita Harris and Colin Baker. Classy and well done, but it lacked a little oomph somewhere along the line.

  1. The Importance of Being Earnest – Oxford Shakespeare Company at Wadham College, Oxford, 12th August 2006

Proving that they don’t just do Shakespeare, the OSC’s Importance of Being Earnest was a complete delight, with John Brenner in particular a magnificent Lady Bracknell. One of their best productions.

  1. The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Parts I and II – Chichester Festival Theatre, 19th August 2006

An old favourite, having recorded the TV presentation of the RSC’s landmark production over twenty years earlier, it was fantastic that Chichester brought back David Edgar’s magnificent 8 hour production of Nicholas Nickleby; we saw both halves of it on a glorious sunny day. One of the twentieth century’s most significant dramatic creations, it had lost none of its vigour, humour, savagery, and sheer drama. Daniel Weyman played Nicholas, Hannah Yelland Kate, Leigh Lawson Ralph, and David Dawson was particularly fantastic as Smike. What theatres are made for.

  1. The Overwhelming – Out of Joint and the National Theatre co-production at the Oxford Playhouse, 8th September 2006

Passing over a return visit to see the Oxford Shakespeare Company’s production of Macbeth (but this time at the amazing venue of the hall at Hampton Court Palace), our next show was J T Rogers’ play The Overwhelming. The programme was the play text; I quote: “seizing the opportunity to research a book, Jack Exley uproots his family from Illinois to Rwanda in early 1994. Alarmingly out of depth, Jack begins a fervent search for his dear and missing friend while his wife and teenage son find trouble of their own. As Jack involves himself in the local politics, he discovers a pattern of brutality and beliefs that jeopardizes the lives of everyone around him. A gripping story of a country on the brink of genocide.” A very strong play, given a great production, and an amazing cast featuring Lucian Msamati, the wonderful Tanya Moodie and the great Jude Akuwudike.

  1. The Hollow – The Agatha Christie Theatre Company at the Milton Keynes Theatre, 20th September 2006

Passing over a visit to the BBC Proms in the Park for the Last Night of the Proms in Hyde Park, with Lionel Richie topping the bill (excellent), our next play was Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, presented by the Agatha Christie Theatre Company in their first ever appearance. This was Christie’s own original play version of her notable book. It starred Kate O’Mara, Tony Britton and Emmerdale’s Frazer Hines. I enjoyed it, as I like Christie. Mrs Chrisparkle, however, hated it and made me promise never to take her to an Agatha Christie Theatre Company production ever again! So I haven’t!

How many more of these theatre memories are there left? October 1996 to April 1997

  1. Plunder – Oxford Playhouse, some time in October 1996

Uncertain of the date of this one, because when we got there – disaster – they had run out of theatre programmes. So all I have as a memory of this show is a photocopied cast list – and as a result the ticket stubs have been lost in the sea of time. I remember the show though; a very enjoyable revival of Ben Travers’ Aldwych farce, starring Griff Rhys Jones as D’Arcy Tuck, and with Kevin McNally, Sara Crowe, Pamela Cundell and Hugh Sachs also glittering in the cast.

  1. An Inspector Calls – Garrick Theatre, London, 28th December 1996

Stephen Daldry’s hugely successful revival of J B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls had already been packing them in at the Garrick for over a year and would continue to do so for a long time after. Pip Donaghy and Suzanne Bertish headed the cast at the time, and I had very high expectations of this show, but sadly they weren’t met. Row S of the Garrick stalls is an awful long way away from the stage and I never really felt involved in the performance at all.

  1. Trainspotting – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 21st January 1997

G & J Productions’ staging of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting was a thrilling and absorbing event. Adapted and directed by Harry Gibson, who was a script reader at the Citizens Theatre Glasgow, its cast of four threw themselves into the show in all its visceral glory (and gory). Gerard Butler played Mark before going on to have a huge film career.



  1. Rambert Dance Company Spring Tour – Apollo Theatre, Oxford, 13th February 1997

Only three months had elapsed since we’d last seen Rambert, but we were determined to go back for another treat, primarily so that we could see Rooster again! First up was Kim Brandstrup’s Eidolon, which we had seen in October; then it was Christopher Bruce’s Stream, which I remember was stunning – Steven Brett heading up a remarkable physical presentation of amassing water; and it all ended up with Bruce’s indefatigable Rooster, and a magnificent performance from a group of people who were born to dance it. The amazing company included Simon Cooper, Steven Brett, Rafael Bonachela, Didy Veldman, Glenn Wilkinson, Vincent Redmon, Marie-Laure Agrapart, Hope Muir, Paul Liburd and Sheron Wray.

  1. Dance Bites – The Royal Ballet at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 8th March 1997

Another visit from the Royal Ballet, and another stunning programme. Starting with Figure in Progress, choreographed by Cathy Marston, then the quirky and funny Cry Baby Kreisler, choreographed by Matthew Hart and danced by Gillian Revie and Jonathan Cope; then Room of Cooks, with music by Orlando Gough, choreography by Ashley Page and featuring Adam Cooper. After the first interval, we had Pavane pour une Infante Defunte, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and danced immaculately by Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope. Then it was William Tuckett’s The Magpie’s Tower, before another interval which led into Tom Sapsford’s All Nighter and finally Ashley Page’s Ebony Concerto. It was such a privilege to see.

  1. Absent Friends – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 10th March 1997

I don’t normally include plays I’d seen before in these blogs, but this very enjoyable production of Alan Ayckbourn’s cringe-making play about people pussyfooting around confronting the reality of a bereavement was the first play I saw by myself when I was just 15 in 1976. So I was keen to see it again as an adult, and it certainly came up trumps. The excellent cast included Shirley Anne Field, Peter Blake and David Janson, who directed it.

  1. Bound to Please – DV8 Dance Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 3rd April 1997

Our next production was more dance at the Wycombe Swan in the shape of DV8’s Bound to Please. DV8 had built a reputation of strong and challenging dance narratives and I was keen to see them for myself. The production was notable for the graceful and bold presence of a naked Ms Diana Payne-Myers (at the time 67 years of age) dancing with wonderful control as a beacon of calm against the harshness of the narrative, which involved Wendy Houstoun challenging the audience directly at the curtain call (rather unsubtly I felt, but it was interesting to witness – and it was part of the script!)

  1. A Passionate Woman – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 10th April 1997

Ned Sherrin’s production of Kay Mellor’s hard-hitting comedy had a great performance by Stephanie Cole in the main role, but I remember the matinee performance being rather ruined by an audience member’s hearing aid constantly whistling at high reverberation throughout the whole of the first act. That’s what happens in live theatre! I believe this went on to enjoy a West End run.

  1. Charles Dickens’ Hard Times – Good Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 14th April 1997

Dennis Saunders’ adaptation of Dickens’ grimy and gritty novel had a great cast led by Philip Madoc and Fenella Fielding. Director Sue Pomeroy was Artistic Director of Good Company who adapted many classic novels into plays – not always to great acclaim. I can’t remember how good this production was!

  1. Forty Years On – Mobil Touring Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 22nd April 1997

For my birthday treat we saw this superb revival of Alan Bennett’s brilliant play set in a boy’s school where the lads are having to perform a pageant. Tony Britton was on cracking form as the Headmaster, with Christopher Timothy and Tony Robinson also in the cast. It includes one of my favourite joke lines from a play; when the Headmaster is leading morning prayers in Assembly, he is interrupted and loses his place. When he finally comes back to his text, he resumes, “now, as I was praying…” Lovely stuff from Bennett. One of the boys was played by Steven Kynman, who today is the voice of Bob the Builder.

Review – Trainspotting, In Your Face Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe, Hill Street Drama Lodge, Edinburgh, 8th August 2014

Entering the auditorium for Trainspotting is like entering the great unknown. You’re suddenly part of a black box, there are no visual clues as to where you are or who else is in there, just the intense rhythm of a rave. It’s overpowering, disturbing, disconcerting. You might join in with the dancing, as some of the fellow ravers encourage. Or you might retreat to the safety of the wall. Participate, or observe. What kind of person are you?

To add to the disconnect, you realise your fellow partygoers are masked. Plain, white, half-face masks, concealing identities that aren’t important anyway. They dance, they manoeuvre, they gently restrict your freedom to move, like a Greek chorus silently commenting on the unfolding tragedy of the young Scots caught up in the heroin web.

Into this unreal, intricate, portentous darkness steps Renton, addressing us directly to accompany him on his journey through his own darkness, and maybe out of the other side, if he is spared. For all his crude language, Renton’s an affable guy. He takes us into his confidence, he shows us the horrors of his life, warts and all – although judging by the state of his bedclothes and toilet, warts are the least of his worries. He’s got an ordinary guy kind of sidekick Tommy, who gets drawn into the web when he takes speed before a job interview; there’s the unreliable and unpredictable Sickboy, and the hard, violent, cruel Begbie, who’s never more comfortable than when he’s kicking his pregnant girlfriend in the stomach, or maintaining ruthless order in his manor.

In Your Face theatre have condensed Irvine Welsh’s original story and characters into 75 minutes of gripping theatre. Performing it as a promenade production gets us the audience as close to the action as possible. You can look directly into Begbie’s eyes and see the evil. You can stare in disbelief at Renton’s faeces-covered body and feel the degradation. You can tower over the pathetic figure of Alison as she sobs uncontrollably on the floor at the death of her baby. You can observe the drug-obliterated Tommy injecting heroin into his penis and grieve with sorrow at how he’s fallen. You’re there; you bear witness to it all; you’re almost part of the gang. Could you have done something to prevent any of this happening? Are you to blame too?

The young cast are fantastic and give brave, brutally honest performances, not shying away from the horrific situations into which their characters are plunged. They also make the best of the opportunities for laddish humour and there are a lot of uncomfortable, but very funny laughs. Whilst there are great central performances from Gavin Ross as Renton, Greg Esplin as Tommy, and Chris Dennis as Begbie, together the whole cast form a great, fluid ensemble, interacting subtly and deftly to create a memorable, but ghastly, universe.

It’s an incredibly deep, claustrophobic and sincere production. It’s also very hot in there, which adds to the intensity and discomfort. But if you want to share in the lives of these people, empathise with their wretchedness, yet celebrate their eventual survival (if they make it) this terrific production is for you.

Our first Edinburgh experience

I’d spent weeks poring over the Fringe catalogue (it’s massive, if you haven’t seen it) and the Fringe website, trying to pick out the best performances for Mrs Chrisparkle and me to attend – and, on the whole, I think I did pretty well. 20 shows in 3 days was ambitious, but we succeeded in seeing 19 of them. The elusive 20th was just a bit too late on our first night, considering we’d been up since 5:30am, to get three trains to hit Waverley station by 2pm. I’m satisfied with that hit rate.

We stayed at the Carlton on North Bridge, a hotel that has very fond memories for us, as it was the first place we’d stayed at in Edinburgh when we were but green and callow youths in the mid 1980s. It’s a good choice for the Fringe as it’s really central – no more than about 15 minutes walk from 80% or more of the venues. But boy, do they charge like wounded bulls during Festival time. Our three nights cost over £900 for b&b. Stupid price really, but this morning we walked past the central Ibis hotel and even they had room only rates starting at £219 per night. Edinburgh at Festival time is expensive/elitist/rip-off-city (you choose).

By contrast, the shows themselves are really cheap. Many are free (and then you make a donation on the way out, depending in your level of generosity/ how much you enjoyed it/ how guilty the performer made you feel. Those that aren’t free are rarely more than £12 or so, and, if you pay £25 to become a Friend of the Fringe, many of the shows are available at 2 for the price of one. Our 20 shows cost us roughly £290, including Friends membership, which works out at an average of £7.25 each per show. That’s pretty amazing value.

I’d planned our three days meticulously (as is my wont) so the dozens of flyers we accumulated didn’t influence our choices of what to see at all. However, next time (and there definitely will be a next time) we’ll go for longer (a week?) and keep one day completely unbooked, to be filled with the shows that the flyers (and their enthusiastic flyer-givers) convinced us were worth seeing. I’ve got wads of flyers for shows that all look great, and it’s a source of some frustration that we’re headed back doon sooth on the train (from where I am writing, gentle reader) with those shows unseen (by us). I just hope those lucky patrons who will see them enjoy them.

We’ve been to Edinburgh many times before but were completely unprepared for the Festival Vibe. It’s so different at this time of year. Crowds are thronging, of course, but there’s a youthful exuberance everywhere, as all these hopeful young people, freshly arrived in town, are finally getting the chance to show us what they’ve spent months planning. They want to spread pleasure; they want to communicate their message; I’m sure a few at least will hope for great reviews to further their career prospects. The whole place is riddled with positive energy – and it’s completely wonderful.

Social media gets friendlier too. In the time between booking the shows and taking the post-shows train home, I’ve followed (on twitter, not stalked them back to their digs) many of the performers and companies we’ve seen, and many have started following me. We’ve exchanged loads of good natured banter that could (just *could*) develop into longer lasting online friendships. I have too many really good friendships that started online to underestimate the Power of the Tweet. It’s all a source of Good.

But, when all is said and done, it’s all about the shows, darling. And I have to say, with a couple of minor exceptions, the quality has been of a standard much greater than I would have expected. I’ve done some short, running blogs about the shows we’ve seen and for the most part I’d really have liked to have taken more time to write about each individual show in greater detail – but alas there just hasn’t been the time. But if I think back to the brilliant acting we’ve seen (The Curing Room, Trainspotting, Away From Home, Frank Sent Me), the elegantly crafted writing we’ve enjoyed (First Class, Lace Up), the style and panache of the performers we’ve witnessed (Travesti, Salon Mika, Russell Grant), and the sheer fun of the comedy we’ve shared (Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho, Spank, Quint Fontana), then it’s clear that the variety and quality of what we’ve seen has been outstanding. Yes, a couple were under par, and one was downright disgraceful (Best of Burlesque should be prosecuted under the Trades Description Act) – but, really, it’s been a joy.

If there was one thing that hit me most, artistically speaking, it was how the many plays that take no more than an hour or so really validate and keep relevant the concept of the one-act play. You don’t often get to see them on the commercial stage – maybe as part of a double bill, but on their own they’re too short to make an evening out last. At the Edinburgh Fringe they’re the perfect length to fit one of your artistic slots, and they’re very rewarding. First Class, Lace Up and Frank Sent Me all came in at under an hour but were all riveting and engrossing stories. When you write a play that length, there’s no time for irrelevances or padding. Nothing unnecessary is included, nothing is wasted. You have to concentrate, you have to work with the cast to savour the real meat of each text. But what a rewarding activity!

The other thing that surprised us about ourselves was our ability to sit in the front row and get picked on. We didn’t do it hoping to be picked on, far from it – but as a repercussion of sitting in the front row so that you got a good view, it became a matter of unimportance. Dancing with Russell Grant and Mika (from Salon Mika), exchanging badinage with the Spank hosts, reciting poetry with Paul Savage, being called a “silver fox” by Paul Ricketts (is that really what I am?) all became part of the fun and not something to be feared. We learned a lot about ourselves as a result.

I made one or two errors in scheduling, not quite allowing sufficient time to get from one venue to the next, because I didn’t factor in performances over-running, or the extreme slowness of progressing through certain streets crammed with idle dawdlers on a Saturday night. I hadn’t realised how the main centres (Assembly, Pleasance, Udderbelly, etc) had within them a number of individual venues that meant you could basically spend an entire day in the same venue seeing ten or more performances. But I’m wiser now, and I know how to tackle the 2015 with even more ruthless precision – and I might even build in a little time to eat and have an afternoon nap too.

Thanks Edinburgh, it’s been real. And thanks to all those casts, technicians, writers and musicians who made our three days into an Edinburgh Disneyland experience. Even lining up to get into a venue reminds you of queuing to get on a ride. Sheer self-indulgent pleasure. I loved it! I’m not normally one for regrets, but I wish we’d discovered the Edinburgh Fringe earlier!

The Edinburgh Fringe 3-Nighter – Trainspotting

TrainspottingOur next show is Trainspotting at 18:45 at Hill Street Drama Lodge, performed by In Your Face Theatre. It’ll be a bit of a rush to get there, as Funny for a Grrrl only finishes half an hour beforehand and it’s an estimated ten minutes’ walk to the venue. Still, fingers crossed. I think Trainspotting is a brilliant, harrowing story. The film is excellent, and Mrs Chrisparkle and I saw a stage production of it at the Wycombe Swan many many years ago. What particularly excites me about seeing this again is the fact that it is staged as a promenade performance. Depending on how they do it, it may be that one can get very close to the action, interweaving with it almost, which I think will make it even more gripping. That’s my hope at any rate. Certainly I’m expecting gritty, in your face (as their company name suggests) realism, terrifyingly black humour, and a lot of uncomfortable moments. Come back some time after 8pm to see how it went. And a preview of our next show will probably be on the blog by then too.

Wow that was really powerful! Brilliant staging, superb performances, no holds barred on the violence and the filth – it’s kind of stunned us into silence! Great stuff.

PS I’ve written a fuller review of it here if you’re interested!