(A collection of Theatre Thoughts to pass the time while the Stalls are out of bounds) 
Continued from Home page
Continued from the Home page
29 June 
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. 
   "Crimson walls with Regency stripes. Crimson seats. Crimson house tabs ... Cream and gold balconies in the shape of a horse-shoe rise from the stalls in four main tiers from which the lights of the fine branched candle-holders with shades of pink pleated silk, shine out or gently dim as the footlights come up. The carpet is the same deep shaded pink that we have seen in the foyer" 
  Not a description of a visit with the Theatre Guys but a quote from my first ballet book ‘A Girls’ Book of Ballet’, given to me when starting in a ballet class as a little girl. No Ballet for Boys books then I think.
Inside the Royal 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. 
  I next saw him in La Fille Mal Gardee in Cheltenham in the 1970s with the touring Royal Ballet performing as the cockerel where I thought his leg action was most appropriate! One of my ballet friends is still in touch with him. He has had a very interesting career, including work at the Ballet Rambert.
Above - Stephen Sheriff - Then (with dance partner) and Now 
Below - Lesley Collier in the ribbon dance in La Fille Mal Gardee
     I have seen La Fille several times since then, the next was in 1981 with John and my parents where Lise was danced by the wonderful Lesley Collier, Michael Coleman as Colas and Brian Shaw as widow Simone. 
    I think we really did dress up for the ballet in those days too. In the 90’s we took our daughter to see it again but seem to not have the program. I regret this as I cannot remember the cast. Maybe a warning not to throw out too many things when downsizing.oleman as Colas and Brian Shaw as widow Simone.
   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.
25 June 
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. 
Wolf Works 
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 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 production will be available for 7 days from  7pm on Thursday 25 June. The show is around  2hr 20min approx  with no official interval (but you are of course welcome to press pause and go and get more snacks and drinks) It will be removed from YouTube at 7pm on Thursday 2 July, so make sure you get watching before 4pm that day!
   Donmar Theatre: 
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. 
09 June 
(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 
- The brutal death of the baby in Cypress Avenue isn’t one to forget. 
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. 
27 May  
Alison writes -  
     In 2013 the group made a visit to the Trafalgar Studio Two to see a wonderful gem of a play entitled, Mrs Lowry and Son. The play explored the relationship between Laurie Lowry and his mother, she largely confined to her bed and he living a miserable existence as a rent collector by day, only to return home each night to her relentless nagging and ridicule of his painting.  
   The Trafalgar Studio Two was a perfect setting for this intimate production; it felt almost claustrophobic which fitted perfectly with Lowry’s emotional imprisonment by his mother; the audience was so close to the stage that we felt as though we were in the room with the actors, especially when Michael Begley, as Lowry, turned his head to roll his eyes at his mother’s behaviour.  
June Watson / Michael Begley 
   Begley’s performance was terrific, not just with his superb accent and mannerisms but also aided by his striking resemblance to Lowry. June Watson as his demanding mother was also a treat and so perfect for the role. Seven years later, I can still hear her unpleasant call upon hearing her son’s entrance, “Laurie, Laurie, is that you, Laurie?” That really resonated with me as my son is Lawrie and being northern, I could just imagine myself nagging him like that. 
   Abby Wright's production was perfect in every respect, so perfect that I still can’t bring myself to watch the 2019 film starring Timothy Spall. A friend happened to be staying with me at the time and also came to see the play. We are both from Manchester so Lowry is a significant figure for us. We agreed that Michael Begley was so good that he should be an honorary Mancunian. It was my friend’s first visit to the theatre in a very long time and she was so enamoured with the production that she booked to see plays “up north.”
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. 
    But most of all it was the fact that there was so little scenery and only props and acting to tell you where you were and when. The creation of a stage coach out of bags and baskets drew gasps and cheers from the audience. Now such things are commonplace but then they seemed truly innovative. (Or maybe I'd just led a sheltered theatre-going life till that point.) Above all the directors (one of whom was Trevor Nunn again), designers and cast managed to make a long and detailed story clear and so affecting. It had such Heart. What more can you ask of a Dickens adaptation.
Roger Rees as Nicholas Nickleby and David Threlfall as Smike
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 
   I was delighted in 2010 to see that this Sondheim musical was being revived at the Open Air Theatre - what a perfect venue! However I neglected to book early enough and it sold out. Kicked myself! On the last day of performance - and a beautifully sunny one at that - I despairingly checked the website one last time and saw, to my amazement, that two excellent tickets had come up - presumably unwanted House seats. I grabbed them and my partner Mike and I met at the entrance to the park at 6.30pm to stroll through the gardens to the theatre.  
   Suddenly Mike said - "Isn't that Stephen Sondheim walking ahead of us?!"  And it was, accompanied by a young man (might possibly have been his now husband but don't think they were together then). I was overcome with awe but Mike, more cheeky, called out "Mr Sondheim - might it be possible to have your autograph?".  I froze in horror -  how would my Musical Hero react to such a crass request?
               Regent's Part Open Air Theatre  
   Sondheim turned to face us and said pleasantly (but maybe with the teeniest weeniest hint of exasperation): "I'm so sorry, I don't do that. But thank you SO much for asking." He then swept us a low bow (and I do mean Swept) and walked on. We followed, faintly crushed but hugging the fact that He had Spoken to Us!
Jenna Russell 
as The Baker's Wife
   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. 
18 May 
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. 
Then Nina arrives - as the stage lights go up, she races across the back of the large Olivier stage, from one side to the other, till she arrives breathless to join the two men at the front. The change in the lighting, the sound and motion, and the fact that Nina was the young Helen McCrory, announce the fact that this is a major charcter. We don't know yet that everything that happens in the play from this point onwards depends on Nina  but we've been warned by her entrance that she is the key player in the drama.
Helen McCrory + NT programme for The Seagull (1994)
   I certainly wasn't familiar with Hecuba by Euripides, and Mike and I were surprised to find that the Donmar stage was flooded with a deep pool at the side. Our surprise turned to shock and wonder when the house lights went down, and a  young actor shot straight up from beneath the water and announced that he was the ghost of Polydorus. We were entranced: this was the first time we'd set eyes on Eddie Redmayne, and director Jonathan Kent had given him the best entrance ever. 
   The Donmar was responsible for another sensational entrance some years later when Rob Ashford staged Anna Christie by Eugene O'Neill. No, I don't mean Anna's arrival, with her great opening line; "Give me a whiskey, ginger ale on the side. And don't be stingy, baby." The entrance I'm referring to comes in the second act, when Anna and her father are on his boat and a storm rises. The back of the Donmar stage tilts up (yes, this theatre never ceases to amaze) as the lighting and sound grow turbulent. Suddenly, someone throws his muscular arm over the top of the stage and hauls himself over and rolls to the bottom, wet and gasping with the effort. Is he a monster, or a sea-god? No, he's a mortal man, Mat Burke, come to redeem Anna, and it's Jude Law who designed his entrance himself. 
Click HERE for bonus clips
Above: Eddie Redmayne dragged from the water by Clare Higgins in Hecuba 
Below: Jude Law in Anna Christie 
 O'Neill is a great writer, but I think that sometimes his stagecraft is underrated (think how he wrong-foots the audience with the bright, sunny morning and the off-stage laughter of the family at the beginning of Long Day's Journey into Night). He sets up a magnificent entrance for Hickey, the protaganist in The Iceman Cometh, and Howard Davies staged this magnificently at the Almeida. 
Kevin Spacey in The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O'Neily
   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! 
   I could go on: the actor striding on stage as a horse shaking his head at the start of Equus makes me think of the first appearance of the horse in War Horse, and the subsequent development from foal to horse... but it's time to stop, and ask you: which entrances have entranced you? 
Entrance us with your memories!
 Entrancing horses on stage: Equus and War Horse 
14 May 
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.  
   The point is that they bring in a chill wind, and this frisson is emphasised by the fall of the curtain. The audience is left dangling, wondering what on earth is going on. 
   In fact, the entrance of Harry and Edna takes the play in a new direction and launches one of the key themes of the play: how much can we ask of our friends in the name of Friendship?  When Harry and Edna need help, can their best friends rise to the occasion?  And what are they frightened of?
John Walsh / Patience Collier
Above: Elaine Stritch 
Left: Rosemary Harris 
with Elaine Stritch
   I have seen some terrific productions of this play (it never fails) including the NY revival with Elaine Stritch (inevitably) as alcoholic Claire, Rosemary Harris and George Gizzard as Agnes and Tobias, and Mary Beth Hurt as Julia.  If you Google the play you will be provided with lots of interesting casts in subsequent revivals.  (I expect many of Fredo's Theatre Group members will have seen the great production at the Almeida several years ago with Penelope Wilton and Imelda Staunton, among others.) If you have never seen this play I highly recommend a production filmed many years ago, with Katharine Hepburn, Paul Schofield, and Kate Reid.  It's on DVD but not easy to come by.     
    And I feel inclined, yet again, to air my frequently heard plea for someone to revive Albee's play All Over, which has never been revived in this country.   It was also done by the RSC at the Aldwych with Peggy Ashcroft and Angela Lansbury as the wife and mistress of a man who is dying in his four-poster bed, attended by the wonderfully bizarre Patience Collier as the nurse. (AND why haven't we seen Albee's Three Tall Women with Glenda Jackson, which was a success on Broadway last year?)
< Angela Lansbury with portrait of Edward Albee to hang in Sardi's Restaurant, famous for its theatrical caricatures. 
< To enlarge this poster and see a trailer of the film, please click HERE to go to another page.
8 May 
Mike writes - 
   For those of you who are fans of Tom Hiddleston (and aren't we all?) put the date 4 June 2020 in your diary. That is when the Donmar's much talked about production of Coriolanus will be streamed  by NTLive on YouTube for a week. Also on the NTLive schedule are the NT's  Barber Shop Chronicles, the Young Vic's A Streetcar Named Desire and the NT's Our House, all well worth another look. For further details and dates, click HERE to go to the NTLive website
   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.
6 May 
   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. 
Hi Fredo! 
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 
Matthew Willis 
Box Office Assistant 
Thank you, Matthew - that is just the perfect response! 
4 May 
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.  
   Joining the Theatre Guys has opened this world to us again with such a list of rich offerings in the three years since we joined, having been to the ROH some 14 times. It is not just the performances but the whole occasion.
   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 
   The standard of performance in the ROH ballets, the sets, lighting, music and dancing never ceases to amaze us. It is so hard to pick out individual dancers but certainly our  favourites have been Francesca Hayward, Sarah Lamb, Marcelino Sambe, Thiago Soares, Marianela Nunez and so many more. 
. We wanted to put a little something on the website and wondered where to start. The problem now is how to finish, so will maybe do a bit about some of our theatre visits another time.
The Cellist                                   Nunez & Soares (c:Dave Miller)
  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 
Then there was Matthew Bourne, this really was unexpected.  The dance, staging, storytelling, the music, everything challenged what you would expect, black swans, male swan, Carmen set in a garage, Cinderella set in war time.  Taking classic stories, yet delivering a totally different version, but still true to the original.  His ability to understand his craft, yet challenge his audience is exceptional.  It’s no wonder that the Theatre Guys annual trip to Salders Wells sells out quickly, after all Christmas would not be Christmas without a Matthew Bourne ballet
Mike adds - We just hope we can take everyone to see The Nutcracker in January as planned.
28 April 
Mike writes - 
   Some of you will know that the website has transmitted a special 90th Birthday Celebration concert for Stephen Sondheim  with contributions from many Broadway stars.  The concert remains available for viewing on YouTube free of charge but contributions from viewers will go to charity. It may be archived for the future. Just Search for it on YouTube, click to play. and you are in for a real treat. 
   YouTube is available on all computers and some smart televisions and other devices. I recommend that you watch it on tv if possible, with a large screen and good sound. All the artists perform from their own homes and I am continually amazed at how well technology and talent can put together such an entertaining programme during this time of lock-down. A few technical glitches are insignificant.
   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. 
21 April 
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: 
My first Group visit (Oct 2005) -  
   Epitaph for George Dillon 
My first Edward Albee play –  
   The Lady from Dubuque (2007) 
My first visit to the Donmar -  
   Piaf (2008)  
A tour-de-force all-female - 
   Madame du Sade (2009)  
My first Samuel Beckett – 
   Waiting for Godot (2009)  
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, IvanovThe 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, 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!) 
16 April 
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.  
   Finally a rather offbeat choice.  Edward Albee's The Lady from Dubuque (1980 NY;  2007 London) was not a huge success in London despite having Maggie Smith in the pivotal role of "Elizabeth" who arrives to visit a fraught family who are in true Albee fashion drinking and generally being argumentative.  At the climax of the first act, an elegant woman and a male companion arrive and calmly ask "are we in time"?  We learn that the character called Jo is dying of cancer so is this woman a harbinger of death, Jo's real mother, etc.? The appearance of Maggie Smith exuding utter calm and benificence was electrifying and continued to fascinate for the rest of the play.  It was utterly gripping and I couldn't wait to see it a second time to try and unravel this strange play.
 Now watch two videoclips -a rare recording from tv HERE of Colour and Light  from the London production of Sunday in the Park with George featuring Philip Quast and Maria Friedman with comments from Stephen Sondheim ;  and Elaine Stritch recording The Ladies Who Lunch HERE for the Broadway cast album of Company. It had been a long day and this is her final try...
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.... 
My other pre-teen theatre-going was confined to annual amateur G&S performances which were staged at the Arts Theatre in Cambridge. Ah, Katisha’s much-admired left shoulder blade - it was that of Jean Collins, of whom Miriam Margolyes sometimes reminds me. She was the wife of Dennis who worked with my father dishing out licences for bus services in the local Ministry of Transport office - we are in the late 1940s -  he moonlighted as a children’s entertainer - marionettes, song and dance, magic etc. 
    She had as I recall a very respectable contralto voice, dark hair and was short and well-cushioned. He was very tall and had as they used to say a lantern jaw. I think we went to her performances because he got my father free/cheap tickets. Some things never change....     
    In my teens, and as a member of the Arts Theatre Club, I went practically every week to the Arts. I recall feeling guiltily self-indulgent (well, a bit guilty) about going to both parts of Henry IV in one week - the veteran Robert Atkins was Falstaff.
  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.........
10 April 
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 -  
I  have realised  that  I  had  omitted  a  planned  comment  on  ENO's  Space  Age RING CYCLE (1974)  with  Rita  Hunter,  Alberto Remedios  and Norman Bailey  conducted  by  Reggie  Goodall - a  production  that was  seminal  in me  becoming  a  Wagnerite.  
    I  see  the RFH is  staging  a  concert  version  of  the cycle  next  February   -  if  we  are  out  of this  mess  by then! 
   Whilst  watching  another  episode  of  GRACIE AND FRANKIE (Netflix),  I  was  jerked  back  to  a   visit  in 1985 when  we  had  the  great  pleasure  of  seeing  Lily Tomlin's  THE  SEARCH  FOR SIGNS OF INTELLIGENT  LIFE  IN  THE  UNIVERSE,  co-written  with  her  partner Jane Wagner.  A  dazzling   solo  display  -  she never  brought  it  over  here,  I  believe. 
   It  was  memorable  for  two  incidents - 
   Whilst  waiting  in  the  TKTS  queue we  spoke  to  a  woman  next  in  line,  as  one  does. She wanted  a  play  as  she  did  not  wish to  see  a musical  with  "all  those  little  homos  pointing  their  toes"! 
   And  during  Lily's  performance  a  large  lady  got offended  by  something  she  said  - she  made  a  very noisy  exit  threatening  to  sue  Jane  Wagner!
Rita, Reggie and Alberto 
7 April 
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.   
  Before long I was invited to join them and Roger, sadly now deceased, and Roger’s daughter Emma as we sped northward to Leicester and to Derby for my first Sondheim experiences.  I had vaguely heard of this Sondheim person but had no idea who or what he did. Well, I was about to learn that musicals were not just rom coms with cheesy grins and hummable tunes as I’d seen in Hollywood films. I was taken  aback by this new world of complex plots, realistic characters and inspired musical arrangements. Overnight I caught the Sondheim bug and realised that it is almost a cult, with devotees seeing anything and everything with his name on it.     
  A particularly memorable show for me was in Spring 1996, when I went with Fredo and Mike to see “Company” at the Donmar Warehouse.
   I cried during Adrian Lester’s “Being Alive” and was spellbound by Sophie Thompson’s scatty and poignant performance as the “ever-loving Amy”. I found myself then, and sometimes now, humming the melody of “Barcelona” as my favourite song and I was disturbed and maybe repelled by the vision of “The Ladies who Lunch”. (Mind you, there was never any fear that I would fall into that category as I don’t have the wardrobe!)  
  Undoubtedly the intimate size of the venue, up close to the actors, added to the magic.The main event for me, however, came after the show. I was bowled over by the fact that Fredo and Mike got access to the actors to give them a fabulous cake, iced white and gold with the ring motif featured on the show’s poster.
 In the bar I found myself actually standing next to a smiling, chatting Adrian Lester and I thought I was in heaven.  I’m not sure which impressed me more: meeting a star or realising my friends had the influence to set this up. It was an evening of absolute joy, etched clearly in my memory, and one I often think of with gratitude to Fredo and Mike and a sense of how lucky I have been to have had so much pleasure from Sondheim’s genius. 
Click HERE (Side By Side) and HERE (Barcelona) for two video recordings of songs from the Donmar's Company
Mike adds - 
Ah Yes, I remember it well. Those visits to Leicester for Follies in 1994  and to Derby for Assassins in 1995 were  followed by Company at the Donmar in 1996. I have framed posters for these shows on my walls at home, and the poster for Company is rather special as I was able to have it signed by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth when we attended the same performance as them. In those days the Donmar posters were in a large format and printed on thick beige paper very liable to fade, so my copy is displayed high on a wall, unbleached, where the sun don't shine. But a spotlight makes the golden ring glow. 
Geoff writes - 
   I grew up in Stockport, which was a dull, grimy place in the 1950s and early 1960s.  There was the Garrick Theatre, which featured am. dram., but nobody in my family had ever set foot in there.  My only exposure to theatre was Brian Rix farces on television and the time when a travelling theatre company came to my primary school and performed Rumpelstiltskin in the school hall.  I wasn't particularly impressed, although I remember fancying the long-haired (obviously!) woman who played the lead (I was probably about nine).  Instead, we went to the cinema and saw Norman Wisdom films when I was young and later more challenging fare --
I still remember vividly my delight and bamboozlement at seeing 2001 (still my favourite film).  
   I discovered loud music and had the good fortune to see Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and lots of other great bands.  Then I went to university, saw lots more great bands, and met Margaret.  She hadn't been to a theatre either but suggested we go to see Waiting For Godot at The Dukes theatre in Lancaster (See picture below).  We did, and I enjoyed it immensely.  It appealed to my sense of the absurd (perhaps not surprisingly); I had never seen anything like it before but it made sense to me, made me realise that a story doesn't have to be logical or achieve resolution.  The other feature that I recall was that the set consisted of a simple round plateau in the middle of the stage.
   The next play we saw was Jarry's Ubu Roi, which again didn't make much logical sense but powerfully inhabited its own world and was good fun.  It, also, had a simple round plateau as the only set, which made me develop the notion that perhaps that was a set requirement for modern theatre, or something.  The next few plays we saw, which I can't recall, broke that rule, so made me realise the "round set rule" didn't exist. 
   We saw numerous plays and I mostly enjoyed them, but I preferred loud music concerts.  
< The Dukes theatre
   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.  
Mike adds - 
 The Dukes, as the theatre calls itself, was originally a church, and was converted to a theatre in 1971. Margaret and Geoff must have seen one of the first productions there.  They saw Waiting for Godot, which was revived again there in 2017. Back in 1955, at the time of the first London production, Lady Dorothy Howitt complained to the Lord Chamberlain "One of the many themes running through the play is the desire of two old tramps continually to relieve themselves. Such a dramatisation of lavatory necessities is offensive and against all sense of British decency."  But the play nevertheless won an Olivier Award for "The Most Controversial Play of the Year". In 1990, in a poll conducted by the National Theatre, it was voted  "The most significant English language play of the 20th century". We took our Theatre Group most recently to see it starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart at the Haymarket Theatre in 2009. Was that anyone's first experience of Beckett or indeed Theatre? What was your reaction to this play? 
  Here (<left) is a signed reproduction of a poster design by the artist James McMullan for the Lincoln Center production in 1988. It hangs on my sitting room wall. 
1 April 
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. 
Janet Baker 
Josephine Barstow 
Maria Callas
  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. 
David Warner 
Eric Porter 
Vanessa Redgrave
  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 
Vanessa Redgrave, Rosalind Knight 
and Ian Bannen in As you Like It
Natasha Richardson and 
John Woodvine in Anna Christie
   My late partner Bob was a  great fan  of  Alec  McCowan -  he  first saw  him in  THE  MATCHMAKER  - possibly  Edinburg  Festival production    -  and  I  think  Ruth Gordon   was  Dolly.  I seem  to recollect  him as  Kipling  -  possibly at  the  Mermaid   -  memory  gets hazy.  I  remember  he  was  an admirer  of  Max Miller   -  and  a blurred  memory of him doing  an  impersonation.
Click on pages (left) to enlarge these autographed programme 
  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. 
Ian Richardson / Alec McCowan 
Michael Williams / Diana Rigg
Ian Richardson and Alec McCowan 
as twins in The Comedy of Errors
Angela Lansbury as Mrs Lovett    
  In  musical  theatre  standing  out  full  and strong  is  Angela  Lansbury's  Mrs  Lovett in Stephen Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD - seen and  wondered  at twice  in  one  week  - we  sat  amazed  at  her 'Worst Pies in London'  -  an actress  at the top of her game faultlessly  singing  a  song  that  would  scare the wits  out  of  most  performers.  
  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 - 
The production of The Matchmaker that Bob enjoyed had a notable cast.  It included Sam Levene, soon to be the original Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, Arthur Hill who went on to create the role of George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, future Broadway star Eileen Herlie, and comedy legends Peter Bayliss, Peter Sallis and the great Prunella Scales.  
  But it was another name in the cast that sprang out at me: 
Patrick McAlinney.
  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.
30 March 
Mike Writes - 
Hampstead Theatre have just announced that you can watch three of their recent productions at home, FREE of charge. This service is provided in conjunction with the Guardian, and takes place over the next three weeks beginning this week with Mike Bartlett's Wild. We took the Group to see this back in 2016 and remember it being one of the highlights of that year.
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.
27 March 
Fredo writes - 
  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: 
 " I thought you might be interested in the story of my paternal grandfather. While it has always been accepted by Dad's family that he was killed in an air-raid on the steps of the London Palladium in a Zepplin raid in the first World War, I've always been doubtful as there has never been any proof of the story. 
  However, my son-in-law Andy is trying to establish my family tree and I've been looking out any documents to help him. I came across my granddad's memorial card, which states that he died on 13 October 1915. Andy then discovered the details of the Theatre Raid that night.
After the bomb, outside the theatre
   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. 
  Further research suggests that Mr and Mrs Manton were attending a performance of A Royal Divorce by William Gorman Wills. This was probably a lavish historical epic in which this writer specialised, and was one of the spectacular shows presented at the Lyceum in that era.  The Lyceum is now the home of The Lion King, but it had a varied career in the post-war years. If you interested in learning more, or if you're just looking for a rattling good read, get your hands on a copy of Shadowplay by Joseph O'Connor, which covers the years when Bram Stoker was employed as theare-manager by Henry Irving and Ellen Terry.
         W.G.Wills                    Book cover
  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, 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. 
***** 'David Ireland’s shocking new play balances humour and horror, with Stephen Rea superb.' 
The Observer 
This is available on You Tube FREE to view for the next 30 days. Click HERE to view on your computer but it's also available on your tv via the You Tube app.
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. 
Happy Birthday Stephen Sondheim - It was his 90th  birthday last weekend so this greeting is a little late, but to celebrate (and again thanks to, here are links to his Top Ten most popular songs as voted for in a WOS poll. If you are a fan, you will enjoy delving back into the archive. Just click HERE for your mini Stephen Sondheim Song Fest. 
In addition, on the BBC iPlayer, you can catch up with two programmes shown on BBC4 last Sunday evening - a documentary about West Side Story and a re-showing from ten years ago of the prom celebrating Sondheim's 80th birthday.
24 March 
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 
As we isolate ourselves from friends and family, it's good to know we are all in this together now, but it has happened before. We thought you may like to read this letter dating from 1920. It's not theatre related but we know how he feels.
Dearest Rosemary, 
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. 
Faithfully yours, 
F. Scott Fitzgerald 
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! 
  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 only saw him live on stage once, in 1981, in the show about the Crazy Gang, Underneath the Arches, at the Prince of Wales Theatre. I didn't particularly want to see this show. I was too young to appreciate the antics of the Crazy Gang, and I only knew them as a group of old men who unaccountably sometimes cropped up on the Royal Variety Performance. However, some people on our coach parties remembered them affectionately, and prevailed on me to run a trip to see the show. I gave in. 
   My spirits didn't rise when I went to the theatre box-office to enquire what time the performance ended, and the manager laughed and said, "That depends on the audience and Roy Hudd. It's supposed to end at ten past ten, but last night it didn't come down till twenty to eleven." 
  My spirits rose again when the show turned out to be a popular choice, and the coach was full. One lady told me excitedly that a friend had been to see it already, and that she'd been told that the chorus-girls had fabulous legs! Chorus-girls? Legs? I'd expected old men in moth-eaten fur coats. In fact, I was dreading a fairly tacky production.
  The laugh was on me: it was a terrific show, slickly staged, with a touching narrative, excellent lighting, wonderful dance routines  and yes, the chorus-girls showed off their fabulous legs in daring cut-away costumes. Christopher Timothy was in confident form as Chesney Allen (and the real Chesney Allen appeared at the end)) but the star of the show  and the one who stole the show  was Roy Hudd. 
  It was one of those nights when you know a performer is in his element in front of a live audience, and that their enjoyment is lifting his performance minute by minute.
  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!