Some more theatre memories? You should have asked! March to October 1985

Let’s see if these jog your memories…

  1. Two into One – Shaftesbury Theatre, London, March 1985

Two Into OneAnother production from the Theatre of Comedy Company, who really dominated the West End comedy scene at this time. Ray Cooney’s new comedy, directed by Ray Cooney, but this time not starring Ray Cooney, concerned a married Cabinet Minister having an affair with the married Personal Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition, You can already see where this is going. Typical Cooney fare, in other words a top quality sex farce with a cracking cast that included Michael Williams, Donald Sinden, Lionel Jeffries, Derek Royle and Barbara Murray – although for the performance I saw, Ms Murray was indisposed and we saw her understudy Ginni Barlow. Great fun!

  1. On Your Toes – Palace Theatre, London, 16th March 1985

Rodgers and Hart’s influential 1936 musical had been given a Broadway revival in 1983 and this UK version had already been going for nine months before I got around to seeing it. Originally conceived as a vehicle for Fred Astaire, it featured three ballet scenes, including the famous Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. This was Tim Flavin’s first starring role, and my memory is that he did a terrific job. Also in the cast were greats such as Honor Blackman and the renowned dancer Doreen Wells (aka the Marchioness of Londonderry). A very successful high quality production.

  1. Pump Boys and Dinettes – Piccadilly Theatre, London, 16th March 1985

I had no particular interest in seeing this American Country/Rock/Pop musical until a cast change meant that my heroine Lynsey de Paul joined the cast in the role of Prudie. It’s an easy-going homage to 1950s North Carolina with four guys who work at a Gas Station and two girls who work at the local diner. I remember it totally lacked any story whatsoever and was just a sequence of rather tedious songs all strung together. Despite the excellent cast that also included Kiki Dee, Paul Jones and Brian Protheroe, it left me cold.

  1. Daisy Pulls it Off – Globe Theatre, London, 13th April 1985

Denise Deegan’s hilarious ripping yarn set in a girls’ boarding school, a parody of all those wholesome children’s stories of the early 20th century, was a delight from start to finish. It relied heavily on a terrific partnership between Gabrielle Glaister as the heroic Daisy, and Carla Mendonca as her mischievous friend Trixie. Produced, perhaps surprisingly, by Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Wizard larks!


  1. Singin’ in the Rain – London Palladium, 7th May 1985

This show was that summer’s theatre treat from the late Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle, who was always a super fan of Tommy Steele – who gave a terrific performance in the Gene Kelly role of Don Lockwood. This was the first time that this heretofore film had been seen on stage, and I guess it was very influential for that very reason, paving the way for other similar shows in the future. A big show with a big heart. The cast also included Roy Castle, the ever-reliable Matt Zimmermann, and the fantastic Danielle Carson, who happened to be a good friend of a young lady whom I rather fancied but who never fancied me. As an aside, at a later date, I arranged to meet said young lady at the Palladium stage door where she said hi and instantly left with some other friends leaving me pretty much heartbroken. Sigh. Sorry for oversharing but that’s what I always think of when I think of this production – nothing to do with the show itself!

  1. Up ‘n’ Under – Fortune Theatre, London, 17th May 1985

The Fortune theatre was the perfect venue for John Godber’s hilarious comedy about hopelessly unfit and useless rugby league players being trained for an important match by a female coach. Inventive, characterful, beautifully structured and performed, this deservedly won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy that year.

  1. Wild Honey – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 18th June 1985

Swiftly moving past a performance by the famous Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the Barbican Centre, with my friends Paul and Pauline who loved it but I absolutely hated it, (I’m sure they were excellent but just not my thing), we come to Michael Frayn’s translation of Chekhov’s earliest play Platonov, given the name Wild Honey. I have sparse memories of this production – so much so that when I saw Platonov as part of Chichester’s Young Chekhov season a few years ago, I was convinced that I’d never seen it before. It is a very funny play though, in a way that you would never think Chekhov could be; and going through the Frayn strainer it must have been even funnier. Platonov was played by Ian McKellen, Glagolyev by Michael Bryant, Anna Petrovna by Charlotte Cornwell, and Osip by Roger Lloyd Pack. I know that it was a very successful production, that kept getting its season extended.

  1. Pravda – Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, June 1985

This was a gritty Fleet Street comedy by Howard Brenton and David Hare that should have been better than it was. A vast, rangey play with a huge and highly talented cast featuring Tim McInnerny, Basil Henson, Harriet Thorpe, Bill Nighy, and Nigel le Vaillant, with whom I was friends as university. Leading the cast was Anthony Hopkins. One of the reasons I wanted to see this play was that I had always been a fan of David Hare and wanted to know more of Howard Brenton’s work; but I’m not sure their collaboration created a play that was any better than if either one of them had written it on their own. Very enjoyable though.


  1. Red Noses – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Theatre, London, 31st August 1985

With a nod of the head to a performance by the Moscow State Circus at the Dominion Theatre that I saw with my friends Mike and Lin (the great Oleg Popov was still in the cast), my next play was Peter Barnes’ Red Noses, a magnificent play set in the times of the Black Death, featuring a priest by name of Marcel Flote, and his team of followers (the Floties) who travelled around the plague villages of France dispensing holy assistance. The incredible cast was led by Antony Sher as Flote, with Nicholas Farrell, Pete Postlethwaite, Polly James, Nicholas Woodeson, Christopher Benjamin and a young Cathy Tyson. This won the Olivier Award for Best Play of 1985.


  1. Gigi – Lyric Theatre, London, 23rd October 1985

I’d never seen Lerner and Loewe’s highly regarded and romantic musical film before, but it was made into a stage show in the 70s and this was the first time it had been seen on the London stage. I think I treated the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle to her ticket for a change, and we both really enjoyed this terrific show, with a cast led by Beryl Reid and Jean-Pierre Aumont, a French actor of enormous experience – but of whom I knew nothing at the time. Further down the cast list appeared Sian Phillips, and Geoffrey Burridge whom I had briefly met after seeing him in Banana Ridge in 1976. A slightly lopsided show, in that all the great songs (Thank Heavens for Little Girls, The Night They Invented Champagne, I Remember it Well) all appear in the first Act. Great show, however.

Review – Two Into One, Menier Chocolate Factory, 6th April 2014

Ray Cooney. Now there’s a name to conjure with. He was responsible for many of my formative theatrical experiences. Among the earliest TV plays I can remember are Stand By Your Bedouin and the fantastic Chase Me, Comrade! (for which I still have the script). He also wrote the wonderful Move Over Mrs Markham, which I saw with the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle when I was about 11. The Dowager, unlike the current Mrs C, was always game for hanging around a stage door after a show and having a chinwag with a star; and as a result I met Dinah Sheridan, Tony Britton, Terence Alexander and Dame Cicely Courtneidge, amongst others, at the Vaudeville Stage Door. Mr Cooney also wrote the book to the first musical I ever saw, Charlie Girl, when I was 9, and as a result I met Gerry Marsden, Derek Nimmo and Dame Anna Neagle, amongst others, at the Adelphi Stage Door. Look, here are their autographs!

Anna Neagle

Gerry Marsden

Cicely Courtneidge

Derek Nimmo

Tony Britton

Dinah Sheridan

Terence Alexander

Two Into OneThat was definitely a digression, but it was fun looking through my autograph collection again. Moving on to the here and now though, and it’s slightly embarrassing to say this – it’s a problem when you see so many plays – but I can’t remember if I saw Two Into One during its original London in the 1980s or not. I don’t think I did. But when the lights dimmed at the Menier and the old song “Love and Marriage” eased us into the first scene of Ray Cooney’s hilarious farce, it definitely rang some bells.

Michael PraedIt’s a simple set-up: staying at the Westminster Hotel, Conservative minister Richard Willey (yes, I know) involves his PPS George Pigden in covering up a secret assignation of Afternoon Delight he has planned with gorgeous, married, researcher Jennifer Bristow. Willey is meant to be in the Commons voting on a vice bill – but has his own to attend to instead, and at all costs he must hide it from his wife Pamela. That’s really all you need to know – the rest unfolds naturally Josefina Gabriellein both the reception and the hotel bedrooms as doors slam with rhythmic regularity, characters end up either in a soapy mess or hidden in a drinks trolley, accused of systematic affairs with a host of imaginary lovers, and all those other things that are absolutely de rigueur for this kind of entertainment. Ray Cooney’s direction – for yes indeed the 81 year old dramatist is directing his own play, as well as appearing in it – is swift and seamless, and the whole thing goes along at a cracking pace, barely giving us a moment to breathe before the next toe-curlingly embarrassing and mirth making plot twist.

Nick WiltonJulie Godfrey has designed a brilliant set that at first offers you the rather long and narrow reception area of the hotel, but which gives way to the back-to-back suites 648 and 650. The living areas are in plain view with the outer bedroom areas slightly obscured, until later in the play when the floor glides in both directions to reveal both bedrooms in full. Because the scene shifts take a little while to achieve, Mrs C felt Jeffrey Hollandthe short Act Two scene in the reception barely merited all the fuss taken to get to it, only for a few lines to be exchanged and then it’s all change again to get back to the bedrooms. I see where she’s coming from – but there’s not a lot you can do to avoid that. And I did like the in-joke where Michael Praed is walking from one suite to another along the corridor at the back but because the scene in front was shifting, he’s not going anywhere – nicely done.

Kelly AdamsYou’ve got to have a great feeling for ensemble playing with this kind of show, and the cast are beautifully on song throughout. The aforementioned Mr Praed sets just the right tone for that arrogant, dashing kind of Tory who you just know is within a hair’s breadth of having his fly stuck in someone else’s ointment. An excellent study of someone who comes this close to getting caught out so many times but just manages to wangle his way out of it. Nick Wilton gives a terrific physical performance as the much set-upon PPS George, sweating buckets as he gets more and more implicated in both his MP’s and his own machinations, until he barely cares any more. For someone who, like me, is on the doubtful side of portly, his comic athleticism is completely brilliant.

Ray CooneyThere’s also the pleasure of seeing one of my favourite actresses, Josefina Gabrielle, alluringly hopping around the stage in luxury lingerie as one of Mrs Willey’s fantasies nearly comes true, and also showing her great ability for perfect comic timing. Proving there’s no political bias here, there’s a heartily funny performance by Jean Fergusson as the prim and grumpy Labour stalwart Lily Chatterton, who’s behind the Commons debate on pornography (cue one of the best two lines in the show, “What am I going to do about Lily Chatterton’s vice bill?” “Pay it!”)

Tom GoldingThere’s also great support from Jeffrey Holland as the severe, pompous hotel manager, splitting his time between sucking up to the Tory MP and vilifying his PPS (cue another great line, “there’s far too much sex going on in this hotel, and I’m not having any of it!”) ; Kathryn Rooney as the saucy chambermaid Maria, Kelly Adams as the publicity-shy but definitely up for it Jennifer Bristow (until she gets hilariously stuck in the trolley) ; and Tom Golding as the fresh-faced guileless out of work actor Edward, allowing himself to be very nearly compromised in his y-fronts to get a job. But all credit has to go to the amazing Mr Cooney who turns in a deft and spirited performance as the waiter, blundering from error to error, falling on his arse Kathryn Rooney(I think that’s how that move would have been described in 1984), and generally turning misunderstanding into a fine art. He’s obviously still amazingly fit and talented.

As I gently indicated in the paragraph above, the world was a different place thirty years ago when this play was set and indeed first appeared. Political correctness as we know it today was in its infancy, and plays like Two Into One were definitely from the old stable rather than the new. Not that the appeal of a Feydeau-type farce should ever diminish – why should it? The whole dramatic construction between playwright and director and the razor sharp skills needed of the cast will always Jean Fergussonmake such a play a delight to watch; and of course couples wanting a bit on the side is something that’s never going to go away. The only thing just slightly out of kilter with today is the play’s use of homosexuality as a source of mild disgust to a couple of the characters. I’m sure that in 1984 such references would have been completely mainstream – but today, for me, it just slightly irked. But then it is a revival of a thirty year old play, and I am never an advocate of re-writing history or burning the books, so I guess it just has to go with the territory.

Jam-packed full of fun and a masterclass of ensemble precision timing, the show had the whole audience in hysterics. For a couple of hours of mindless mayhem, you can’t go wrong. Very funny indeed and highly recommended!