Hey! Let’s have some Theatre Memories! January 1988 to February 1990

This is when we started to go to the theatre less regularly – real life and poverty got in the way!

  1. A View from the Bridge – National Theatre Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, 2nd January 1988

A view from the bridgeThe National Theatre’s magnificent production of arguably Arthur Miller’s best play had transferred to the Aldwych and we were both mesmerised by it. Directed by Alan Ayckbourn at the peak of his directorial powers, and with an amazing central performance by Michael Gambon as Eddie Carbone, this was one of those nights at the theatre that stays with you for the rest of your life.

  1. Dangerous Obsession – Fortune Theatre, London, March 1988

N J Crisp’s unnerving psychological thriller of stalking menace had transferred from the Apollo Theatre and enjoyed a good little run. Dinsdale Landen was excellent in the lead role, and I remember it sent us away entertained but certain to make sure our doors were locked when we went to bed. This was the last show we saw before we got married – and we took my brothers-in-law-to-be along for the ride!

  1. Follies – Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 5th April 1988

We took the full family of newly acquired in-laws to see this fantastic production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical directed by Mike Ockrent. We were really looking forward to seeing Diana Rigg, and have to confess a little disappointment on the night when she was indisposed; nevertheless a great show, with Julia McKenzie, Daniel Massey and David Healy at the top of their games. The full cast list read like an evening of 1960s light entertainment television, with Leonard Sachs, Lynda Baron, Dolores Gray, Adele Leigh, and Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson. A great cast album too!

  1. Hapgood – Aldwych Theatre, London, 9th April 1988

We took my brother-in-law Barry to see Tom Stoppard’s latest play (before the whole family went back to Australia), and it was a clever, thought-provoking and cerebral experience, as is often the case with Stoppard, but fortunately one with some human connection – which isn’t always the case! Apparently, it was considered an artistic failure and had to be significantly revised for its New York premiere – but we really enjoyed it. The fantastic cast starred Iain Glen, Roger Rees, Felicity Kendal and Nigel Hawthorne – plus American soul singer Al Matthews!

  1. Les Liaisons Dangereuses – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Ambassadors Theatre, London, 12th October 1988

We were late to the party with this famous and hugely successful production, that had already been running for two years at the Ambassadors, having transferred from Stratford. Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Laclos’s novel had won a raft of awards, so when we finally got around to seeing it, we had big expectations. But despite the best efforts of Greg Hicks and Venetia Barrett in the cast, for me it fell rather flat, and at two- and three-quarter hours, very long. Maybe I was expecting the liaisons to be more dangereuses than they were.

  1. Blood Brothers – Albery Theatre, London, 15th October 1988

Willy Russell’s legendary musical captured our hearts and imaginations more that I could possibly have expected. With its gripping melodramatic structure, and its themes of fatalism and nature versus nurture, it’s one of the finest productions ever to grace a stage. We were lucky to see this dream team cast of Kiki Dee as Mrs Johnstone, Con O’Neill as Mickey, Robert Locke as Eddie, and Warwick Evans as the Narrator. Even today, you can’t put shoes on the table, and whenever you think of something as being just a sign of the times, you can’t resist but add Miss Jones into your musical equation. We saw it three times over the next thirty years – so, not an extravagant number of revisits – but this was the best of them all.

  1. How the Other Half Loves – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 28th October 1988

A delightful revival of this early Ayckbourn comedy, directed by Alan Strachan, that shows the promise of all his later dark side to come, whilst stressing the hilarious farcical elements. Extremely funny all round, with a cast led by Christopher Benjamin and Gabrielle Drake.

  1. Easy Virtue – Garrick Theatre, London, 10th December 1988

To mark Mrs C’s birthday, we caught this revival of a less well-known Noel Coward caper, originally produced in 1925, directed by Tim Luscombe. The life and loves of an older lady come to life in this early play, and we really enjoyed it. The cast was led by the excellent Jane How, together with Zena Walker and favourite actor Ronnie Stevens.

  1. A Flea in her Ear – The Old Vic, London, August 1989

Moving past a touring production of Evita at the Apollo Oxford, with Jacqui Scott as Eva, and a gig by the one and only Monkees at the same theatre on the same night as our first anniversary, our next show was a production of the classic Feydeau farce, La Puce à l’oreille, dating from 1907. Translated by John Mortimer, Jim Broadbent played the central character of Victor Emmanuel, who also doubles up as the shady hotel porter. The excellent cast also featured Roger Lloyd Pack and Linda Marlowe. Much enjoyed!

  1. Exchange – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 24th February 1990

We saw this at a very hard-working and stressful time in our lives – somehow we must have managed to sneak a Saturday away with the Dowager Mrs C, I have no idea how. It doesn’t surprise me, although it disappoints me, that I have not one tiny recollection of this production! Exchange was a new translation by Michael Frayn of Yuri Trifonov’s 1976 play that, at the time, had not been out of repertoire in Moscow since it was written. It’s a slice of Moscow life – and I still can’t remember a thing about it. Martin Jarvis, Rosalind Ayres, Noreen Mantle, Gabrielle Lloyd and Zena Walker graced the cast. I’m sure they were good.

Review – A View from the Bridge, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 17th October 2019

72458640_558168685003851_1621455574212280320_nIf asked the perplexing question, What’s Your Favourite Arthur Miller?, I think most people go for The Crucible option, with perhaps a solid minority plumping for Death of a Salesman. However, way back in 1988 I took the young Miss Duncansby on a date night to see the National Theatre’s production of A View from the Bridge directed by Alan Ayckbourn and starring Michael Gambon as Eddie Carbone – and it remains one of our all-time most memorable theatrical experiences. The pre-wedding anxieties faced by the Carbone family resonated very strongly with our own familial disasters in the lead up to ours. I could fill you in on the details, but that’s probably best kept for another time.

Nicholas Karimi as EddieJuliet Forster’s storming production for the Royal and Derngate, together with York Theatre Royal, arrives with many plaudits from its Yorkshire run – and quite right too. Fantastic performances, clear, lucid storytelling, usefully flexible stage design, and a story just as strongly valid today as it was in 1955. The Bridge in question is Brooklyn Bridge, which spans from smart Manhattan to down-at-heel Red Hook in Brooklyn, where immigrant labourers offload the cargo from the ships. Eddie and Beatrice play host to her cousins Marco and Rodolpho who have arrived illegally from Italy where there is neither work nor money. It’s just one of many such arrangements throughout the whole of Red Hook, and there’s only one code of conduct: you don’t snitch to the authorities. But when Rodolpho and Beatrice’s daughter Catherine become romantically entwined, Eddie’s jealousies and prejudices come to the fore.

Eddie and CatherineIn today’s Brexity times, immigration is a very live issue, and anything that makes us think harder about the personal problems facing immigrants and society’s attitude towards them, must be a good thing. But I was very much struck in this production how Miller was exploring not only the general subject of immigration, with questions of loyalty and family relationships, but also those perhaps more modern topics of mental health and what it is to be a man. There are four principal male characters in this play – Eddie, the family provider; Alfieri, the authoritative high achiever lawyer; Marco, the workhorse; and Rodolpho, the creative artist. Whilst Eddie would, naturally, see himself as being the pinnacle of manhood, he respects the lawyer although is “man enough” to question his opinion, and he respects the head-down, hard worker for grafting all the hours God gives to send money home to look after his children.

Lili Miller as Catherine Nicholas Karimi as Eddie and Pedro Leandro as RodolphoBut he has no respect for the artist, whose strengths lie in other directions – in the arts, in entertainment, and in surreptitiously winning the hearts of all the ladies. To Eddie, Rodolpho simply ain’t right. But Miller shows us that all four of these people are “proper men” in their own ways and in their own right. The only one who fails to abide by the common code at the end of the day, is Eddie – and you sense his mental health is far from stable, with his wild and unpredictable behaviour. That’s why this play translates perfectly as a modern version of a classical tragedy, with Alfieri as the chorus and Eddie as the tragic hero. Whilst the more cerebral Alfieri and Rodolpho use their intelligence and know that conciliation is the successful way forward, it’s not the same for the more physical Eddie and Marco. When Eddie demands that Marco makes good the dishonour he cast on him, and Marco seeks vengeance for the betrayal, there’s only ever one outcome in this clash of the alpha males.

CastRhys Jarman’s set is stark and comfortless, with the Carbone’s furniture arriving out of a packing case that descends from the sky, just like the crates the longshoremen unload from the ships – an Ikea ex machina, if you like. But the simplicity of the set is its strength. Even Alfieri’s office is represented by sitting on an old tea crate; and worrying prominence is given to the pole-mounted telephone stage right, always visible, but only used once, for the ultimate act of betrayal. Sophie Cotton’s opening scene background music is intriguing and atmospheric, and I was sorry not to hear more of it.

Nicholas Karimi as Eddie and Lili Miller as CatherineAt the heart of this superb production is an immense performance by Nicholas Karimi as Eddie. At first, I thought he might be a trifle young for the role – Miller’s stage direction stipulates that he’s forty years old – but those thoughts quickly passed as I realised that his relative youth intensified the creepier aspect of Eddie’s love for Catherine. Dogmatic, unreasonable, and with a finely expressed sense of his own self-doubt, Mr Karimi is hugely watchable throughout the whole play and conveys all of Eddie’s wild emotions with a mixture of great control and maniacal turbulence.

Robert Pickavance as AlfieriAlso threading through the production is Robert Pickavance’s tremendous portrayal of Alfieri, which elevates what could otherwise be quite a humdrum role into a genuinely tragic framework. Mr Pickavance takes instant control of proceedings, with his thoughtful, considered delivery directly slowing down the pace of the busy first scene. He has a fantastic stage presence, and it’s a commanding performance. Laura Pyper plays Beatrice with loving concern for both her husband and her niece, providing a voice of moderation in a volatile household. In her professional stage debut, Lili Miller is excellent as Catherine as her character journeys from trusting innocence to the sad realisation that she is being controlled and, you may feel, emotionally abused.

MarcoAs the vulnerable outsiders offloaded like cargo into the Carbone house, Reuben Johnson and Pedro Leandro create a very effective couple as Marco and Rodolpho. Mr Johnson’s impassive expressions convey the worries and the silent heartache he has in leaving behind his wife and children; because he is the kind of man who cannot talk about his feelings, those emotions build up angrily inside. His final showdown is a great expression of aggression mixed with justice. Mr Leandro is terrific as Rodolpho; it’s tempting to make the character overly effeminate or camp but this Rodolpho is a beautifully precise portrayal of a man whose strengths and abilities take him outside the usual herd; strengths that make the longshoremen laugh, that attract Catherine, that repel Eddie and that make Marco protective of him.

Not gonna lie – on the performance we saw, the stage fight at the end was incredibly clumsy and unconvincing, but everyone can have an off night. That aside, it’s a riveting, thought-provoking drama that explores many of mankind’s worst aspects. Timely, slick and with tremendous performances, this production continues at the Royal and Derngate until October 26th, but really deserves a life hereafter.

Production photos by Ian Hodgson