Continued from the Home page
Judith writes -
We try to start a visit to the Royal Opera House with a look around the Piazza. In the far corner, the church of St Paul’s, (The Actor’s Church) is a fascinating place to spend some time. The history and plaques inside, commemorating many actors from the past, are well worth exploring. Then on to the Opera House.
I started at the age of 3 with Vicky French, in Rayleigh, and continued classes with her until 2004, when she was about 90!
The only boy that I can remember in our class was Stephen Sheriff. He joined when he was about 12 and I found him to be rather annoying as he would stand behind me on the barre and, while practicing Grand Battement, would aim his leg at my backside!
He rapidly progressed and went to White Lodge and to the Royal Ballet at the age of seventeen.
The most recent performance was the one that the Theatre Guys alerted us to in the From our House to Yours ROH series. It gave another chance to see Marianela Nunez again. We remember seeing her in ‘Pink’ in Dances at a Gathering in February this year. The ROH streams have been a real boost for us during lockdown and given the chance to see a number of performances we have not come across before. ‘Men at the Barre’ was an eye opening program on BBC 4 that shows how far male dancers have come since Stephen Sheriff’s day.
YouTube has so many short clips of ballet rehearsal and training sessions that show the rigour involved in professional ballet with extracts and full performances, such as Sylvia, with Darcey Bussell. However the highlights for us were The Cellist, which we saw at the ROH in February, the advantage this time was being able to pick up on details missed before and the close ups of facial expressions. The film of Romeo and Juliet was outstanding and another chance to see our favourite Francesca Hayward again.
It is hard to know where to stop with ballet memories. Let us hope that we soon will be able to make more with live performances.
Fredo writes -
Although some lockdown measures are being eased next month, there is no indication when theatres will be able to open for live entertainment.Please support the actors and performers by following the steaming events, and do contribute as generously as you can to these efforts to keep us entertained.
Here are some you won't want to miss:
Royal Opera House:
Wolf Works - available from 26 June at 7.00pm on YouTube - this triptych of ballets is inspired by the life and work of Virginia Woolf, and features an interse performance from Alessandra Ferri.
A Live Concert - on Saturday 27 June, featuring a selection of pas de deux and opera duets. Sublime! The performance will be available to view live and on demand for just £4.99 and will include a host of ballet and opera direct from The Royal Opera, The Royal Ballet and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House ? Buy your ticket at https://stream.roh.org.uk/ This event will be available to watch on-demand for 14 days after broadcast.
The Magic Flute / La Boheme
The Magic Flute - available until 3 July
La Boheme - available from 3 July
The Bridge Theatre (brought to you by NTLive on YouTube):
A Midsummer Night's Dream -this is a magical production. You will want to stand up and dance!
The Contingency Plan - Donmar members are being offered a special preview of The Contingency Plan with a virtual rehearsed reading on 8 July at 7:30PM. This is available on Zoom and members should have been emailed an ID number which you need in order to join in.
Cast members, including Max Irons, Sinéad Cusack, Anton Lesser, Dinita Gohil and Owen Teale will read extracts from both parts of the play, followed by a virtual Q&A where they will be joined by Michael Longhurst. As usual, you will have the chance to ask questions and share your thoughts.
Michael Longhurst's Amadeus
Amadeus - We are eagerly looking forward to watching Donmar Artistic Director Michael Longhurst’s production of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, which will be streamed as part of National Theatre at Home from 7pm on Thursday 16 July on the National Theatre's YouTube channel, then on demand for one week until Thursday 23 July. Starring Lucian Msamati, and with live orchestral accompaniment by Southbank Sinfonia, it's another digital date you won't want to miss.
A star-studded concert will be another date for your diary on Wednesday 15 July at 7.30 on You Tube. This will celebrate the very long career of stage door keeper Harry Gabriel. Having worked at the Shaftesbury Theatre for 40 years, Gabriel is, for many, the first face they see when they enter the West End venue.
Dench / Clarke / Hopkins / Izzard / Staunton
Working with the Shaftesbury theatre, award-winning actor Giles Terera has now assembled a series of stars, all of whom have worked at the Shaftesbury, to participate in a concert to celebrate Gabriel. The line-up will include Judi Dench, Sharon D Clarke, Anthony Hopkins, Amanda Holden, Chita Rivera, Eddie Izzard, Imelda Staunton, Beverley Knight and more. The concert will feature songs and stories from the last 40 years of shows at that theatre.
It is raising funds for a variety of charities – Cancer Research UK, Black Lives Matter, etc.
Keep watching - and please let us know what you think of the shows on offer! You can add your views to the Your Comments page on this website.
(Following Fredo's piece on Making An Entrance on 18 May below)
Kathie writes -
I duly pondered and after checking up in my notes on a few things pronounce the following:
- the monster’s appearance in Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein was powerful and revealing, in all ways
- Mark Rylance was also a revelation as Olivia in Twelfth Night
- Bradley Cooper was impressive for the sheer physicality he brought to the role of Elephant Man, without prosthetics
- at The Globe I was struck by 2 entrances in particular:
1. In Richard II, there was the child version who went to sit on the throne. In the brilliant sunshine a deluge of gold and silver foil pieces was released and in the midst of that Charles Edwards appeared on that throne as the adult Richard II, wearing the same costume as his younger version.
2. At The Taming of The Shrew in 2012 there was a bit of bother in the space outside with a chap who was clearly drunk, can of beer in hand, who made his way into the Pit and people were moving out of his way. And then he barged his way onto the stage and - he morphed into Petruccio. Simon Paisley Day was very convincing!
Memorable exits include:
- The Old Vic’s Richard III with Kevin Spacey’s death, upside down. Without that we might have been more shocked by Mojo and Coriolanus. Poor Tom also had his throat slashed so that does count really.
- At the Donmar, the demise of Frances Barber as Julius Caesar, in amongst the audience was pretty shocking
Something that counts in both areas, I think, is in The Lieutenant of Inishmore with the exit of Aidan Turner alongside the entrance of the cat!
I also came across a reference to The Hairy Ape in 2015 where I had commented that there was a shocking end, without any detail. Do you recall why? Answers, please, from anyone who can remember.
Alison writes -
Jennie A writes -
Reminiscences (which all involve Trevor Nunn...)
Julius Caesar - RSC Stratford 1972
I think the first time I saw a play performed in a major professional theatre (as opposed to regional rep and local pantos) was when I went on a school trip to Stratford Upon Avon to see the RSC production of Julius Caesar - our O Level text. The first thing I was struck by was the huge apron stage (never seen one before) which was already furnished, as we entered the auditorium, with two centurions standing at the very back with what looked like a long red horizontal pillar lying across the stage between them. The house lights dimmed, cue thunderous drumming, blazing lights lit the stage and then the two centurions kicked the "pillar" and sent what was in fact an enormous red carpet rolling down the stage towards us till it flipped confidently over the lip of the apron . A military parade ensued with spear-carrying Roman soldiers marching down the carpet and peeling off left and right. Then the actual play started.
"Well," I thought "That's not in the stage directions!" It was the first time I realised what a director does, I guess... (it was Trevor Nunn).
(Click on pictures to enlarge and see the cast)
Nicholas Nickleby - RSC Aldwych 1980
There isn't much to say about this amazing production that hasn't been said before but it honestly remains the best 8.5 hours I have spent in the theatre to date. It was, quite simply, perfect. The casting - especially David Threlfall as Smike, Roger Rees as Nicholas Nickleby and Edward Petherbridge as Newman Noggs - was inspired. Looking at Wikipedia I'm not sure if I saw Ben Kingsley or Fulton Mackay as Squeers but it must have been Timothy Spall as Young Wackford and the wonderful Suzanne Bertish as Fanny Squeers.
I note that Bernard Levin said "…we come out not merely delighted but strengthened, not just entertained but uplifted, not only affected but changed." To me, that encapsulates what great theatre achieves.
Into The Woods - Regents Park Open Air Theatre 2010
At the box office we collected our tickets and then took our seats. As we sat down, Mike murmured: "Isn't that Trevor Nunn we've just squeezed past?". Again, Dear Reader, it was! Trevor Nunn and Imogen Stubbs were sitting on one side of us, on the other side there were 6 empty seats. Just as the lights went down, The Marvellous Mr Sondheim and his friends took their places next to us. He seemed to enjoy it. So did we.
Fredo writes -
MAKING AN ENTRANCE (with my usual flair)
Have you ever considered that the noun Entrance and the verb To Entrance (ie to beguile) are actually the same word?
Prompted by our friend John's description of how the arrival of Harry and Edna in A Delicate Balance alters the tone of the play (see below: 14 May), I thought of other entrances that have entranced me over the years. Very often, it's a moment where the director picks up a signal from the playwright that this is a significant moment, and all the stagecraft is combined to present it, and lighting, sound and actors conspire to create an impact. Here are a few that have made me sit up and listen before I sat back to savour what followed:
I'd already seen Anton Chekhov's The Seagull several times when I saw John Caird's 1994 production at the Olivier. The start of the play was slightly conventional: young Konstantin and his older friend Dorn discuss Konstantin's ambitions, and his love for Nina. We learn that she has to rush from her family's estate some miles away, and that she might not come.
The plays opens in Harry Hope's bar, where the dead-beat down-and-outs drown their sorrows as they wait for Hickey, a travelling salesman, to arrive and raise them from their torpor (stay with me; it's a great play). This scene goes on a long time, some would say, a very long time, and the arrival of Hickey has to live up to the expectations that the cast have generated in the audience.
And in Howard Davies's production it certainly did. There was a commotion off-stage and all the actors turned to look away from the audience, as some of them jumped to their feet and crowded centre stage. It's Hickey! As they separated, there was Kevin Spacey, picked out by multiple spotlights above the Almeida stage. It was an entrance that would have done proud for Dolly Levi at the Harmonium Gardens (in Hello, Dolly!, for the uninitiated).
Dolly and Those Beautiful Girls
What then is my favourite entrance, the one that gets me most excited? It's a double one, best realised by Dominic Cooke in Follies at the Olivier. It's the heart-stopping arrival of the guests at Weissman's party at the start of the show. Each of the formerly beautiful girls arrives with the overture marking the song we will hear her sing later in the show. Then this is echoed as each one descends the staircase making her Follies signature entrance as Roscoe sings Beautiful Girls. Yes, that's me applauding each one as I brush away the tears and the show has only just started!
John R writes -
In my last posting on theatrical high moments, I left off A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee. It deserves a tribute of its own since I think it is one of Albee's best plays - possibly THE best play. It was premiered in New York in 1966 and had its London debut in 1969 at the Aldwych Theatre, directed by Peter Hall, when the RSC had their residency there. It tells of a comfortably off family, the matriarch of which is Agnes (Peggy Ashcroft) who right at the start embarks on a complex speech to the effect that she feels she might be losing her mind. Her husband Tobias (Michael Hordern) is also there to weather the storm when it transpires that Agnes's sister Claire (an alcoholic, played by the wonderful Elizabeth Spriggs)) arrives and says that Agnes's daughter Julia (Sheila Hancock, no less) is on her way home after the end of her 4th marriage. Agnes feels she is the fulcrum of the family, helping it to maintain its delicate balance. Recriminations fly around but Agnes tries to keep herself remote from it all.
Peggy Ashcroft / Michael Hordern / Elizabeth Spriggs / Sheila Hancock
The pivotal moment comes right at the end of the first act. There is a knock on the door (at the back of a gloomily lit part of the set) and in come their close friends Edna (Patience Collier – an extraordinary-looking woman) and Harry (John Welsh), who say they have arrived because they have become afraid in their own house.
Mike writes -
It was a disappointment to know we shall not be seeing Jake Gyllenhaal in Sunday in the Park with George this year (next year perhaps?) but if it's any compensation you can see instead Julian Ovenden and Sophie Louise Dann in the 2013 Paris production at the Theatre du Chatelet. No, not on stage in London but here and now on screen by clicking HERE. It's another YouTube treat. The subtitles are in French which is rather appropriate.
Following the reminiscences of ballet programmes (4 May, below), we thought you would like to see this video - Bolero Juilliard performed by students from the Juilliard School of music and dance in New York.
It's their take on the current lock-down, performed in their own homes, and you can join in too. Don't worry, no-one will be watching you!
This wonderful exuberant celebration is guaranteed to cheer you, even if you're not a dance fan. Click below, relax, and feel your spirits rise. Best if enlarged to Full Screen with your sound turned up
(Thanks to Michael R and John R for sharing this with us.)
For opera lovers, our friend Don has told us about Opera Vision, a free website which relays a good choice of operas, mainly from European opera houses. The choice is wide and varied, with different performances scheduled on different days, plus a back catalogue. Click HERE to explore the possibilities and see what's coming up. There are dance performances too.
As many of you know, Fredo is currently processing the refunds for cancelled shows and sending cheques to those who had booked. Some of the shows may be rescheduled sometime in the future (we hope), in which case we shall most likely book again. The shows we have booked to the end of June will require about 400 refunds to be dealt with, as and when we receive the money back! The Old Vic has been particularly helpful. Below is the email we received from them, and we now look forward to them rescheduling us for another future date.
Great to hear from you and we hope you are doing well at this uncertain time. Thank you for being a friend of The Old Vic also.
Just to clarify, 4000 Miles is not cancelled. Yes your performance won't be going ahead tomorrow but the intention is to pick up your group and pop into another Tuesday night in most likely the same seats once back to normal. We are delighted the cast of 4000 Miles are keen to return but with many of our staff currently under furlough these negotiations will continue once we open again so it may be a little while until your new performance date is allocated.
What we would ask is that you hold fire for now as the season is sold out. There will not be another friends on-sale as all tickets will be moved to the new dates meaning your group may miss out - This being said, when we get in contact with the new dates, if you can't attend for any reason or need to change your numbers you will be able to exchange, get a box office credit or refund any tickets you can't use. Any refunds would need to be onto the card used.
I hope this makes sense - If you can't use them I'm sure some fans will be delighted as it has been a long time since 49 tickets have been available for this show.
All the best - we will be in touch
Box Office Assistant
Thank you, Matthew - that is just the perfect response!
Judith & John write -
We are now retired, but in our working lives did not have much opportunity to go to the theatre, the cost and the problems of getting back and forth to London added to the difficulties. We were lucky in the 1980s as a colleague, who was a friend of the ROH would get us tickets; we would drive to Covent Garden, park round the corner, just have time for a meal before the show. Sadly, we did not keep the programmes so memories of the dancers names have largely gone but we do remember Swan Lake in 1980 with, we think, Natalia Makarova, Anthony Dowell and somewhere in the list, Christopher Carr, now a ballet Master at the ROH.
(Mike adds - I have found a link, oddly from Russia, of the Royal Ballet's Swan Lake with Makarova and Dowell - you can watch that whole performance again by clicking HERE.
And there is a conversation with Christopher Carr if you click HERE.)
Our visits stopped for a while when our daughter was born but resumed when she showed an interest in dance and it gave an excuse to see some lighter and shorter works such as The Tales of Beatrix Potter and La Fille Mal Garde.
Watching the film of The Red Shoes at the weekend reminded us of how the opera house looked before the rebuild and the rush for drinks in the Crush Bar.
To choose favourites is pretty difficult but triple ballets are near the top with a mix of new and older, from the heartbreaking Marguerite and Armand and to the hilarious Concert.
There are so many memorable ROH evenings but one that stands out is the Bernstein centenary performance. The first piece, Yugen (choreographed by Wayne McGregor and set to Bernstein's Chichester Psalms) is memorable to us both for the dance and the singing.
The Chichester Psalms is a favourite of ours and brings back memories of when our daughter sang with Southend Young Singers. We were invited to take part in a performance of the piece at the Barbican. For a rehearsal, we picked up Bob Pepper, (name dropping!) the conductor of The English Schools Orchestra and Choir, from Southend Central and spent the morning polishing it before the performance a week or so later. To see and hear it performed again with dance was magic.
Yurgen The Age of Anxiety
The second piece, The Age of Anxiety, was a brilliant piece of choreography. We listened to the second symphony before going to this performance and it did not really make sense until we saw the choreography. Very modern and the set was so much like the painting, Night Hawks by Edward Hopper.
Corybantic Games gave us a chance to concentrate on watching some wonderful dancers in small groups, some we may not have seen before: Lauren Cuthbertson, Matthew Ball, Yasmin Naghdi, Marcelino Sambe and we have looked out for these ever since, the most recent being The Cellist.
Cuthbertson Ball Naghdi Sambe
Let’s hope we will be back to the ROH eventually.
Barbara and Dennis write -
One thing to remember on a theatre visit with Fredo and Mike is to expect the unexpected. During our time with the group we have seen many plays and shows, some funny, some thought provoking and some that challenge. One of my most moving was War Horse, you know they are puppets but by the art of storytelling in the end they are real horses. Similarly, watching the Corps de Ballet at the Royal Opera House glide across a crowded stage in perfect unison.
War Horse / Royal Ballet Corps de Ballet
Matthew Bourne's: Car Man / Cinderella / (below) Swan Lake
Mike adds - We just hope we can take everyone to see The Nutcracker in January as planned.
Mike writes -
We watched the concert with continual delight. Regular Sondheim performers pay tribute to him with their own interpretations of his songs as expected, but it was of particular interest to see a whole new generation of younger actor-singers proving their enthusiasm for his work. Most of his shows are represented with personal performances, beautifully sung and acted in character, brought intimately into the corner of our living-rooms. It's like having a private presentation of the birthday wishes of every fan as well as celebrating the genius of Sondheim himself. One song I had never heard before (surprise!); others sounded refreshed by this up-close-and-personal presentation. I was moved, amused, and continually impressed.
If you can access the recording, seize the moment, and indulge in something very special. And if you stay until the end of the credits, there's an extra bonus. HERE is a link to the recording but try watching on your television if you can.
Kathie writes -
Unlike previous contributors, I had been a happy, if infrequent and unformed theatre-goer, until 15 years ago, and my future theatre-going persona had an unlikely genesis in the wilds of Colorado when I encountered our very own Theatre Guys! When asked the question ‘what do you enjoy’ I said that I was quite interested in the theatre, and so the stage was set, as it were, for what followed. Having not long given up work and with the time and appetite to pursue all manner of cultural activities, the timing couldn’t have been more propitious.
It was a gradual process and the next few years laid the foundations, depth and breadth, through more and more theatrical experiences, via the varied group offerings or others. My annual tally crept up and up and notable highlights of this period include:
By the time 2010 came around, there was a significant step-change with the added joy of being asked to join Mike, Fredo and, occasionally, others to some ‘On Our Own’ visits. Lucky me!
Since then, there are far too many 5star experiences that I could mention, and I won’t. But looking through my theatrical diary, some do leap out such as Derek Jacobi’s King Lear at the Donmar (2011), Red Velvet at the Tricycle (2012), Man & Superman at the National (2015), Assassins at the Menier (2016) … and so one could go on. Something which has always struck me is that when I look back through those records, sometimes there will be a play to which I gave a high rating and made glowing comments and yet now have little memory of it. On the flip side, there are some 1-star or 2-star plays which have proved to be unforgettable.
A particular treat has been to be part of a few all-day theatre marathons, usually as an ‘OOO’, which tests the endurance of audience and performers alike but also deepens the experience.
2012 - GATZ for 8 hours of F Scott Fitzgerald.
2013 – at the Globe (on my own), Henry VI pts 1, 2 & 3
2015 – War of the Roses – a distillation into 3 plays of Henry VI, pts 1,2 & 3 plus Richard III
2016 – the Young Chekhov season at the National with Platanov, Ivanov & The Seagull.
With heartfelt thanks, I acknowledge how much richer my life has been with the guidance of our Theatre Guys and look forward to the day when the journey can continue.
Mike writes -
With thanks to our friend Denise and WhatsOnStage.com, we thought you might like some feedback from theatre Box Office staff. We get asked a lot of questions ourselves so we also like to know what enquiries theatre staff remember. Some are crazy and, yes, unforgettable. I hope no Group member is responsible! Here are just a few, apparently true, albeit bizarre questions, gathered by some box office teams, of what the great public have been asking them. Defies belief! Enjoy.
• What time does the 8 o'clock show start?
• Sorry we only have singles left madam. OK – do you have two of them together?
• What time is the matinee? 2.30. Is that 2.30pm?
• I'm sorry but we only have restricted view tickets left. What does that mean? It means that you won't be able to see everything. Oh, at what point will we have to leave?
• I had a tall person in front of me – I couldn't see a thing. You should arrange your audience in height order…
• When Miss Saigon was playing in the West End, a customer asked one of the front of house staff-
What time roughly does the roof open to allow the helicopter to fly in? I'd like to stand outside and watch…
• Query at the Novello Theatre where Mamma Mia! plays - Is Meryl Streep on tonight?
• Question for the Queen's (now the Sondheim) Theatre box office one time -
Customer: Do you have any tickets for The Lion King?
Box Office: No madam, this is Les Misérables?
Customer: Oh – don't all the theatres show all the shows?
• To the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park - Is the theatre air-conditioned?
• During the run of Noises Off one patron walked out shortly after the start demanding a refund because they hadn't paid to "watch a rehearsal".
• There's the story of a the lady who walked out half way through the first act of Madame de Sade (with Judi Dench) demanding a refund. She thought she'd bought tickets for Madame Tussauds.
And my favourite to end on…
• Box office staff: Hi sir – did you buy your ticket from an agent? Customer: No, he was definitely white. (Boom, boom!)
John R writes -
After reading the entertaining pieces from your previous contributors, I realised that I had a huge supply of memories to share - well at my age, it could hardly be otherwise. I was curious to find that the strongest memories were actually the older ones, even though one has seen lots of super shows in more recent years. Is this just me or do others find they too remember the historic shows more? These days the word "legendary" or "legends" get applied to lots of quite ordinary shows or "stars", so I felt I would write this piece on which legendary shows I have seen more than once.
By that I mean the same production, not a revival of the same play a few years later. The first example I can remember are two legendary (yes!) productions by the RSC when they had a home at the Aldwych Theatre. Number One was the Peter Brook King Lear (1962), with Paul Scofield, Alec McCowen (Fool), Diana Rigg (Cordelia), Patience Collier (Regan) and Irene Worth (Goneril). I hadn't seen Lear before but found it was totally comprehensible and mesmerising. In those days there was a sort of contest between Scofield and Larry Olivier as the Best Actor Ever. I was always in the Scofield camp, with his craggy looks and rich rather flat voice, as opposed to Olivier's more flamboyant style. And I have never since seen a more chilling duo than Worth and Collier as the ungrateful daughters. I immediately booked a second viewing and was just as enthralled.
I did the same with the Peter Brook A Midsummer Night's Dream (1970), the one with the huge coils of wire being bounced onto the stage and representing the maze-like Forest of Athens And what a cast - Sarah Kestelman and Alan Howard as Theseus/Titania, Frances de la Tour as Helena, and Ben Kingsley and Norman Rodway elsewhere. It was a giddy delight and I saw it again a few weeks later.
Sunday in the Park with George (1990) was another milestone; the wonderful music, the clever lyrics, and the sumptuous production, and of course Philip Quast and Maria Friedman were brilliant. Upon first viewing we felt that a second fix was essential, not least because we were uncomfortable with the completely different second act, which seemed less captivating than the first. But a speedy return solved this problem , and it is tragic that we will presumably not see the projected London revival with Jake Gyllenhaall which has been the brightest light on the horizon for about a year!
I can certainly match Don's experience of Sweeney in New York, with Angela Lansbury but only saw it once! However I can top him by having seen the original Company (1970) on Broadway twice. NY was in my blood having lived there for a year ; it opened while I was doing a month of travel round the USA and when I got back to NYC I learned that everyone was going mad for it. My partner had already secured tickets for us the night after I got back, and we went again a week later, before I returned to the UK. Elaine Stritch was of course a revelation as was the whole show. I do regret, however, that the sensational dance routine for Donna McKechnie (gliding up and down in gleaming elevators) was not maintained for the London transfer 2 or 3 years later. The score for that sequence is quite exciting and can be heard on the CD of the original production.
Roger B writes -
Among the unmistakeable symptoms of getting old is that the memories furthest away from now seem clearer than the more recent ones. My first play-going experience was in Castle Street Methodist Church Hall in Cambridge - sitting in the front row (wooden chairs of course) for a performance of The Barretts of Wimpole Street, by Rudolf Besier. Maybe I was around eight or nine - certainly in my short trousers... My Sunday School teacher, Miss Evelyn Kennison, to whom I was devoted, took the role of Ba, Elizabeth Barrett, supposedly frail on her chaise longue. Her persistent suitor, the poet Robert Browning, was played by Colin Stopps, another church stalwart. Ba’s controlling father was Billy Wolfe (his children were Sunday School regulars too) in mutton-chop whiskers. He, when the elopement of the naughty young couple was revealed, uttered an outraged cry of “So!” - I can still (almost) hear it. What I cannot remember is how the role of Flush, Ba’s beloved spaniel (whose autobiography was penned by Virginia Woolf), was managed....
If you don’t count G & S as opera, then my first experience of that genre was La Boheme at Sadler’s Wells. A good place to start of course and it sparked a lifelong attachment to opera. But any recollection of who was singing or conducting or even of whether I enjoyed it was driven from my head by the news discovered on returning home. The headlines were certainly more memorable than the Puccini performance - and the date was 22 November 1963.........
We send Easter Greetings to all members of our Group.
Please join us on our special virtual visit to the Chichester Festival Theatre - click HERE.
Davina and Malcolm J write -
We two are old and we have been regular theatregoers for decades. Malcolm longer than Davina but only because he is older! How on earth does one let the time pass without being able, regularly, to go to the theatre? Granted not everything is wonderful and sometimes we leave wondering why we stayed to the end and (whisper) sometimes we actually leave before the end.
But most of the time we enjoy what is on offer and every now and again come out of the theatre truly astounded. That was the case with Tom Stoppard’s latest play, Leopoldstadt.
We sat there glued to our seats devouring every line, laughing, we hope, only where we were meant to laugh and horror stricken at the scene when the Nazis come and take over.
Although both of us come from Jewish families neither of us had any relatives who were victims of Nazi holocaust action. Nevertheless and we think whatever your background you cannot sit and watch this wonderful play without feeling a moment of thankfulness that neither you nor your loved ones were murdered, though we do have a number of friends whose parents came as refugees from Germany and Austria and whose families were victims.
We feel confident that (this current situation) will all finish and life as we live it can resume.
Donald (see below) continues his thoughts -
Margaret writes -
Company at the Donmar Warehouse, 1996
Sometime in the early 1990’s, conversation turned one day to musical theatre and I said that I wasn’t fond of the idea of musicals and had never seen one live. My comment was met with polite surprise and I thought little more about it. What I hadn’t anticipated was that Mike and Fredo were now on a mission to educate and enlighten me.
Later, in the 1970s, we lived in Leicester and saw a number of adventurous plays at the Haymarket Studio, a small in-the-round space. This being the 1970s, there was lots of experimentation, nudity and enforced audience participation. Thankfully, the nudity didn't extend to the audience participation. This last common feature made us ensure that we always sat in the middle of a row near the back, to prevent us being dragged on stage. One night, we went to see a forgettable performance of Genet's The Balcony, except for two features: a naked actor eating a raw kipper (fancy having to do that every night), and a naked female actor sitting on my lap and delivering a speech from there. We had arrived late and the only seats left were in the front row. We made sure never to arrive late again.
We have seen lots of plays since, and we are lucky to have the Bath Ustinov as our local, which has an adventurous schedule. As I approach my 70's, I still prefer loud music concerts, the louder the better.
Donald writes -
A few Theatre Thoughts that jumped to mind -
In OPERA I have seen two performances that thrilled me to the marrow. Janet Baker as Dido in Berlioz's THE TROJANS at ROH - not a favourite opera but I was convinced I was seeing and hearing something truly remarkable - so much so that I HAD to return for a second hearing. It sounded even more thrilling.
Whilst mentioning her - the RFH celebrated its 25th birthday in 1976 with some specials - one was a recital we attended by Dame Janet that included Schubert's DIE GOTTER GRIECHENLANDS - a short song but she did it perfectly - one of those moments when time stands still - and I still feel the moment even now.
The other opera performance I remember just as vividly is Jo Barstow as Violetta in ENO's TRAVIATA. I had seen the piece before but this was the first time I was, dare I admit, moved to tears. I was so caught up in it that I had to force myself to go back for the third act, when Alfredo turns on her and throws money at her. And in the last act when she is dying, and she says she is amongst friends, I crumpled. It was the same at the second and third viewings.
An opera special was on July 5th 1965 - TOSCA at ROH - I actually had tickets for Maria Callas! Maybe the voice was then not what it had been - but I still can hear her off stage calls of "Mario Mario" and the excitement of her entrance in, if I remember correctly, an apricot coloured dress. She was a born stage performer - remarkable to be seeing her - and although we did not know it at the time, that was the last time she appeared anywhere in a complete opera - truly, the end of an era!
Such is the power of music and talented performers.
As to other memories - David Warner in Peter Hall's RSC HAMLET still stands strong. It was the first time I had seen the play complete (best part of four hours perhaps) - amarvellous production - thought provoking, moving and exciting and dominated by a Hamlet I have not seen equalled.
I remember Eric Porter giving a long speech in A WINTER'S TALE - and at the end of it an elderly lady near me called out 'Bee-oootifully spoken' (which it undoubtedly was) and this caused the audience to give him a round of applause.
Vanessa Redgrave's Rosalind is still fresh in my mind - tall, slender, elegant and fun and I cannot omit her radiant and much missed daughter Natasha's ANNA CHRISTIE
There was a wonderfully funny production of THE COMEDY OF ERRORS at Stratford (directed by Clifford Williams) in which Alec and Ian Richardson were the twins, with possibly Michael Williams as one of the other twins - I was very taken with a striking looking young woman playing A Courtesan - Diana Rigg! In THE MERRY WIVES when Ian Richardson was Ford, he gave his jealousy speech at a breathtaking lick, every word still clearly audible, much like a Rossini patter song, and the audience rose to him too.
We were fortunate to experience ('see' and 'enjoy' are words too weak) SWEENEY twice in the too vast Uris Theatre in New York. So very impressed were we that we went to the offices of RCA to enquire about a recording - the girl on the desk had no idea what we were talking about so I pointed to the Sweeny poster that was in front of her - nil response!
Golly, I am well down memory lane . . . . . .my head is full of such trivia, my life in other people's achievements!
Fredo adds -
Never a star, but a busy character actor on stage and television (and appearing years later with Alec McCowan again, in Hadrian the Seventh) “Paddy McAlinney” was often pointed out to me on screen by my father – they had been friends in their youth. In fact, Mr McAlinney's sister Mrs Finnegan still lived in Enniskillen and was a prominent member of the community in the 1960s .
When I was 20, and spending the summer working in London, I recognised Patrick McAlinney catching the same Piccadilly Line train at Northfields station. Shyly, I approached him, and introduced myself as Vincent Donnelly's son. He placed me instantly, spoke of my father's death, and was very pleasant and kind on our shared journey to Piccadilly Circus.
It was ashort acquaintance, but one that I remember with great affection.
Mike Writes -
If you missed it then or want to see it again, click HERE (or search for Hampstead Theatre) where you can find all the details on the Hampstead Theatre website.
Fredo writes -
WEST END RAID
Not all theatrical memories are happy ones. I'm grateful to Alan Manton for revealing this tragic but interesting story from his family's history:
This was a five-Zepplin raid launched by the German navy, which arrived on the Norfolk coast at 18:30 and continued to Broxbourne, and on to London.
Bombing began over Charing Cross, and the first bombs struck the Lyceum Theatre and the corner of Exeter and Wellington Streets, killing 17 and injuring a further 20. Further bombs were dropped on Holborn.
It seems that the story is true – but it was the Lyceum, not the Palladium. There is a further tale that Grandad gave my grandmother 6d to buy an ice-cream whilst he nipped out for a pint - and she kept the coin, the last thing he gave her, until the day she died.
This proves I come from a long line of theatre-goers on both sides of the family, and if Andy can go back to 1590, I fully expect to hear of a Manton moaning about the price of a standing-place at Shakespeare's Globe. ALAN"
I was very moved by this tale, and the horror of a night at the theatre having such a conclusion. John Frederick Manton was 58, and presumably his wife was a similar age. Imagine the terror in the theatre during the raid, and the frantic search for survivors and victims afterwards. If people could come through that, we can come through our own ongoing crisis.
Many of my friends have read it, and they've all loved it, as I did. And when life returns to Normal (yes, it will) you can do a tour of this fascinating theatre.
Mike writes -
Here are some dates for your diary - Theatre with no coach trip required!
With acknowledgement to whatsonstage.com, we can tell you about some upcoming theatre shows which are being streamed on NT Live.
From Thursday 2 April, some productions previously screened in cinemas globally as part of National Theatre Live will be made available to watch FREE of charge.
The first on 2 April at 7.00pm will be Richard Bean's One Man, Two Guvnors featuring a Tony Award-winning performance from James Corden. All the productions will be free and streamed live every Thursday at 7.00pm. They will then be available on demand for 7 days on the NT's YouTube channel. Of course you can watch You Tube on your computer but many televisions are equiped to access You Tube too – just check if you have the You Tubet App.
The following week on Thursday 9 April for seven days you can watch a performance of Sally Cookson's Jayne Eyre, then Bryony Lavery's Treasure Island adaptation starring Arthur Darvill on 16 April, and Twelfth Night with Tamsin Greig on 23 April. Free transmissions of other productions are planned to follow.
Mark these days in your diary and there's no need to book with us!
In addition the Royal Court Theatre is currently celebrating World Theatre Day today streaming it's production of Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland, starring Stephen Rea and directed by Royal Court Artistic Director Vicky Featherstone.
The award-winning Cyprus Avenue is a hard hitting black comedy that tells the story of a man struggling with the past and terrified of the future.
Did you spot it? I refer to the F Scott Fitzgerald letter which we posted on 22 March (below). Delightful though the Fitzgerald letter is to read, it turns out it is a parady written by an American writer Nick Farriella for a comedy site (McSweeney). Are you disappointed? Well, it fooled a lot of people and brought a smile to our faces.
Fredo writes -
My trip down Memory Lane (see Underneath the Arches on 19 March below) prompted Roy and Pauline, and Paddy and Pam, to share their memories as well:
"I also remember Roy Hudd with great affection as a performer and person.
I was taken as a small child with my parents to see the original Crazy Gang as they were great fans and with Paddy and Pam Murray we saw Roy as Bud in the later production.
He was terrific and the Star of the show and brought back happy memories of the original show and my childhood. I also saw him playing Max Miller, again a great tribute act and first class portrayal.
Roy was also a great Charity supporter which was all part of my comment about him as a person……sadly losing people like Roy , the theatrical world find hard to replace.
A great entertainer who gave enjoyment to thousands."
Roy & Pauline
"One other Roy Hudd anecdote that might be of interest concerns his autograph collection, that I think may have been associated with his Water Rats charity work. It was either that or a personal enterprise. To be frank we cannot remember which.
My wife Pam read about his collection and being a proud owner of a pristine George Robey autograph decided to donate it to RH. He was very appreciative and wrote Pam a lovely hand written note from the Prince of Wales Theatre and ‘Underneath the Arches’, thanking her. So she now has an authentic Roy Hudd autograph and his letter!
Pam’s father was a theatre fireman at the Apollo and so Pam was blessed with many free tickets and on odd occasions he managed to introduce her to one of the stars. The George Robey autograph was one such acquisition obtained by him for Pam."
Paddy & Pam
22 March 2020
It was a limpid dreary day, hung as in a basket from a single dull star. I thank you for your letter. Outside, I perceive what may be a collection of fallen leaves tussling against a trash can. It rings like jazz to my ears. The streets are that empty. It seems as though the bulk of the city has retreated to their quarters, rightfully so. At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach, to which I asked if he had washed his hands. He hadn’t. He is much the denier, that one. Why, he considers the virus to be just influenza. I’m curious of his sources.
The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.
You should see the square, oh, it is terrible. I weep for the damned eventualities this future brings. The long afternoons rolling forward slowly on the ever-slick bottomless highball. Z. says it’s no excuse to drink, but I just can’t seem to steady my hand. In the distance, from my brooding perch, the shoreline is cloaked in a dull haze where I can discern an unremitting penance that has been heading this way for a long, long while. And yet, amongst the cracked cloud line of an evening’s cast, I focus on a single strain of light, calling me forth to believe in a better morrow.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
(A LETTER FROM F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, QUARANTINED IN 1920 IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE DURING THE SPANISH INFLUENZA OUTBREAK.)
19 March 2020
Fredo temporarily stops booking more shows and begins to write:
We're not used to being deprived of going to the theatre, but sadly, that's the situation we're in at the moment. I hope to contact everyone who has booked tickets before long to make refunds, but at the moment, we have to wait to hear from the booking agencies.
I'm also very worried about the long-term prospects of the theatres especially the smaller ones, such as the Donmar, the Almeida and Hampstead, recovering from this setback, and also, let's spare a thought for their staff. They are often employed on a part-time basis (I know one box office assistant who has been working at 6 different theatres to make ends meet) and have no job security. Let's hope the government has a package to take care of them.
In order to cheer myself up, I 've been recalling some of the many wonderful nights I've spent losing myself in the darkness of many different theatres. I've written about one of them (below), sadly prompted by the death of the leading actor. I now invite you to share your memories with us on our website: send us a brief reminiscence of a memorable performance, evening or an encounter that made an impression. It will keep our joy of the theatre alive and it will lighten the mood for all of us!
UNDERNEATH THE ARCHES
The great Roy Hudd died on 15 March, aged 83. This makes me feel very old, as I clearly remember his early television appearances as a gangly, endearing young comedian, sometimes struggling with material that wasn't the most inspired. His charm and personality overcame any disadvantages, and in his subsequent long career, he revealed that he was a performer of a richer and more versatile talent than many of us suspected. In later years he was a popular character actor.
I don't know how close he got to Bud Flanagan, but he was a relaxed, amiable and thoroughly professional Roy Hudd, enjoying the audience's laughter. This was an artist at the top of his game, and I'm lucky to have been there to see him.
I think the show ended about 10:25 (so we were an average audience that night) and we had a happy coach-party going home to Southend. We got what we came for: Roy Hudd, the Crazy Gang and chorus-girls with fabulous legs.
Thanks for the memory!