Theatre For Christmas

Someone in the editorial collective decided it would be a nice idea if I would select what I thought were suitable shows for our readers to see at Christmas, as that’s the time of year a lot of folk take an occasional visit to the theatre. Firstly take into consideration that we go to press 3 weeks before the actual Christmas week so do check the daily papers to ensure the show you wish to see is still running.

Now it rather depends on the type of show you want to see, and who you are going to take along (if anybody) so I’ll try and categorise those that I consider the best ones.

If you are considering taking along a parent, aunt or anyone approaching middle age, settle for GONE WITH THE WIND at Drury Lane Theatre which has enough glamour to appeal to them, or if you feel a straight play would be preferable I suggest one of the following:

LLOYD GEORGE KNEW MY FATHER at the Savoy Theatre which is a light comedy not likely to offend anyone, and skilfully played by Celia Johnson and Sir Ralph Richardson. Another safe bet is CROWN MATRIMONIAL at the Haymarket Theatre which is the story of Edward VIII’s abdication and would especially appeal to people over 40 who can recall the era when this story took place, and THE DAY AFTER FAIR* at the Lyric Theatre stars the lovely Deborah Kerr in a charming romantic drama.

There are quite a few shows that you can take a child to and that won’t bore you in the process. TOAD OF TOAD HALL is playing at the Jeanette Cochran Theatre, ALICE IN WONDERLAND performed by 10 foot puppets at the Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill Gate sounds interesting, and a new musical version of THE WATER BABIES is due at the Cambridge Theatre, starring Neil Reid of ‘Opportunity Knocks’ fame, with music by John Taylor, the talented composer of ‘Charlie Girl’.

If just you are involved in this theatre trip then let me first mention what is still, in my opinion, the best straight play in town, THE PHILANTHROPIST at the Mayfair Theatre. This forerunner of ‘Butley’ is also set in a college and is likewise all about one of the ‘losers in life’ and it’s an extremely enjoyable evening. Certainly the next best production in town must be LONDON ASSURANCE* at the New Theatre. If you fancy a ‘period piece’ and enjoy first class ensemble playing, this cannot be bettered. My third choice for straight theatre is undoubtedly PRIVATE LIVES at the Queens Theatre, for its witty script and star performance by Maggie Smith, but whether or not you’ll be able to get a seat is another matter entirely.

Which leaves us with the musicals and one revue. HULLA BALOO* at the Criterion Theatre is a fun evening and Rogers and Starr with their blue tinged material will give you a lot of laughs. The two religious musicals are still with us: GODSPELL* at the Wyndhams which I found delightful, and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at the Palace Theatre, which I didn’t care for but everyone else did so I might be wrong. THE DIRTIEST SHOW IN TOWN* is still running at the Duchess Theatre and though I missed a few of the jokes along the way I found it at all times enjoyable. APPLAUSE at Her Majesty’s Theatre is hard to get tickets for, but worth the effort to enjoy Lauren Bacall’s star presence, and as we go to press Tony Newley’s latest musical THE GOOD OLD, BAD OLD DAYS is about to open at the Prince of Wales Theatre and if the score is anything to go by ought to be worth the visit.

One last word regarding theatre prices which are getting higher each year. If you really find front stalls too expensive, but don’t care to be sitting a mile away, I can recommend the back dress circle at those shows marked * as not being too expensive and not too far away. Also the back stalls at Mayfair Theatre for THE PHILANTHROPIST are inexpensive and of course both the Jeannetta Cochran Theatre and Mercury Theatre with their children’s shows are reasonably priced.

Yuletide Arts

Watch it ‘Time Out’, or the Culture Vulture’s Guide to Christmas

Far and away the most interesting theatre happenings this Christmas are taking place at The Place (Duke’s Road, close to Euston Station). Let me try to dispel the myth at once. All that goes on there is not for the devoted few, nor is it the obscure, didactic and deliberately esoteric stuff that the opponents of modern dance would have us believe. Sure, it’s nothing like what’s going on at the Garden. (And I say that with a huge sigh of relief!), but a good deal of it is clearer, more honest and certainly less cluttered. If you’ve never been to The Place, I can recommend it from many angles, besides the originality of its production. The price is right to start – tickets are usually 60p and 90p. The atmosphere is very relaxed and unpretentious. Definitely no dressing up! But despite all this, the audience is well mixed. The Place may have the informality of a club, but there’s no feeling of everyone having to wear the modern equivalent of the ‘old school tie’.

From December 18 until January 6 the resident London Contemporary Dance Theatre present a number of new works and the first London performance of a new piece by Robert North, one of the Company’s lead dancers, entitled ‘Brian’.

‘Dance Energies’, a new work by May O’Donnell recieves its world premiere on the opening night of the season. Also in the programme is Richard Alston’s ‘Tiger Balm’, remarkable not only for Robert North’s stunningly sinewy (and full frontal nude) performance as the tiger (no gasps in this audience) but also for the sometimes elegiac, sometimes anarchic choreography, which sticks irrevocably in the mind. The programme is completed by Robert Cohan’s ‘People Alone’. Here we encounter members of the Company in a series of solos, in which each expresses his or her own private misery, linked by comments from an updated version of the Greek chorus (they don’t sing of course, and wear what looks like satin jumpsuits, but don’t let that put you off, they’re great!)

Cohan (who is also director of the Company) was seriously ill earlier in the year. The original premiere was postponed several times, since he was not able to devote the time to it that he had anticipated. In fact, I understand that the work is still evolving. But when I saw it for the first time back in the summer, I was bowled over, so I am anxious to see how it has developed in the last few months.

Another highlight of the season is the British premiere of a work by American choreographer, Lotte Goslar, who is known for the clever use of circus elements in her shows. It’s entitled (temporarily) ‘Goslar Piece’.

At the London Coliseum, Sadler’s Wells Opera has gone ‘light’ on us. Over the Christmas period there will be just two productions on show – ‘The Merry Widow’ and ‘Die Fledermaus’.

Dec.
21 Merry Widow
22 Die Fledermaus
Theatre closed until
27 Merry Widow
28 Die Fledermaus
29 Merry Widow
30 Merry Widow
Jan
1 Merry Widow
2 Die Fledermaus

At the Royal Opera House, things are somewhat more varied (there’s always the incredible ugly sisters of Messrs Ashton and Helpmann in ‘Cinderella’ to give things a fun lift off, even if nothing else quite matches them).

Dec
21 Cosi fan tutte
22 Afternoon of a Faun/Giselle
23 Matinee – Cinderella
Evening – Cosi fan tutte
Theatre closed until
26 Cinderella (matinee & evening)
27 Cosi fan tutte
28 Rigoletto
29 Cosi fan tutte
30 Matinee – Swan Lake
Evening — Cinderella
Jan 1 Nabucco
2 Rigoletto

On January 3, Covent Garden sends off that ‘Fanfare for Europe’ with an extravaganza, that every megalomanic opera director dreams about. Think of a name, and the betting’s that he or she will be there dear departed excepted of course. (But come to think of it, they will have to have a trump card somewhere!) Described as ‘A Celebration in Words and Music’, in the honoured presence of Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, the artists taking part include such diverse personalities as Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Janet Baker, Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench, Regine Crespin, Tito Gobbi, Alberto Remedios, and Peter Pears. There will be the Trumpeters of the Royal Military School of Music (obligatory if there is to be an authentic fanfare I suppose) and even the not always so angelic Wandsworth School Boys Choir (Director Russell Burgess) will be represented. The whole programme is devised by Patrick Garland (just back from his Broadway production of ‘Hedda Gabler’) and John Copley. The designer is Carl Toms, the conductor Colin Davis.

Just in case you are tempted (and the price of the tickets should quickly destroy any inkling of that – stalls at £10) let me quote from the booking leaflet – Evening Dress and Decorations. Now let your imaginations run riot!

The National Theatre at the Old Vic has but one offering for Christmas. From December 26 to January 2 (the theatre is closed from mid-December until Christmas) they will be presenting the Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur ‘whiplash comedy’ (!?) about the raucous goings-on of tabloid journalism in the twenties. Astonishingly, the play has never been performed here before, although it has been filmed twice. The Observer said ‘Don’t miss it’ and somehow I’ve managed to do just that. Maybe this will be my golden opportunity, considering the frugal diet otherwise available. Perhaps some kind soul will even join me! (Don’t all rush, but offers please to Box 999). No we don’t get review tickets for the National Theatre, or any other theatre, more’s the pity. We do it all for love!

Before the Festival Ballet’s inevitable performances of Tchaikovsky’s ‘nutcracker’ (the title’s enough to send any self-respecting American into guffaws of laughter) take over at the Royal Festival Hall, there are still a few choice orchestral concerts to keep the music fiend happy.

On December 14, Ivan Kertesz returns to the orchestra of which for a short time he was Principal Conductor – The London Symphony. The programme consists of Mozart’s Six German Dances, his Serenata Notturna (K239) and Brahms’ Liebesliederwalzer. He is joined by Lucia Popp (currently singing Gilda in the Royal Opera’s ‘Rigolletto’) for excerpts from Strauss’ ‘Gypsy Baron’ and ‘Die Fledermaus’. I suppose we have to celebrate in the appropriately jolly style!

At the Queen Elizabeth Hall on December 15 Janet Baker teams up with Raymond Leppard and the English Chamber Orchestra for an evening of early Italian and English music — Albinoni, Cavalli, Monteverdi, Dowland and Handel.

Alfred Brendel gives a piano recital at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday 17 December starting at 3.15. He plays music by Schubert and Beethoven.

The London Symphony under Andre Previn (their present conductor) performs Brahms’ ‘German Requiem’ on Tuesday December 19. The soloists are Sheila Armstrong and John Shirley-Quirk, supported by the LSO Chorus. Stephen Bishop plays Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C (K 467) in the first half of the programme.

The last strictly live musical event before the Festival Ballet and opera films vanquish the South Bank takes place on December 20, when Andrew Davis (gladly not a relation of Colin) conducts the English Chamber Orchestra in a performance of Berlioz’ ‘L’Enfance du Christ’. John Shirley-Quirk is again one of the soloists, this time joined by Peter Pears, Patricia Kern, and Thomas Allen. They’re in the QEH while that monstrous proscenium arch is erected next door.

Meanwhile over at the Royal Albert Hall, the BBC is sponsoring the first ever series of Winter Proms, beginning on December 29 — eleven concerts.ten conductors and eight orchestras.

STOP PRESS REVIEWS

Caroline Films have entreated me to leave a small space to mention their film “GOLD” now showing in London at the Classic Piccadilly Circus. Hailed by its publicists as a saga on the “new American dream”, it is a film obviously made with great love and dedication, very much related to the 1967 vintage, San Fransisco hippy – Take off your clothes and live; do your own thing syndrome. I love these ideas, but honestly I don’t think the film works effectively; the political, ie anti-Nixon, Stars and Stripes, capitalist, thinking is presented through some very leaden mostly verbal imagery. Commercially made films such as Nicholas Roeg’s “WALKABOUT” have succeeded in expressing I these ideas with far greater clarity.

The music is great and there are one or two beautiful visual scenes, notably when a couple make love through a gorgeous kaleidoscope of trippy colours. If you’re a connoisseur of the Underground and anything new in the cinema then don’t miss this one; otherwise, well…

David Seligman

Phil Spector’s Christmas AlbumApple Records

At long last the incredible, ageless Phil Spector Christmas album has been re-released. The record was originally issued in 1963, but has been deleted for a number of years. With the passing of time it has become a prized possession amongst collectors of ‘pop’ classics. Also a large demand has built up for the disc each Christmas, as it has been a favourite with Radio 1 and 2 around this time of year.

When the record was made, only mono facilities were available, and Spector was the undisputed master of single track recording. So instead of the separated horizontal sound we have come accustomed to with stereo, from Spector we get a vertical ‘wall of sound’, the layers of which are filled with an impenetrable mass of backing tracks, with the lead voices rising to the top. Forgetting the technicalities, songs such as Rudolph The Rednosed Reindeer, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, plus many other Christmas ‘standards’ are featured, all sung by Spector’s stable of artists of the time. These are The Ronettes, The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans and Darlene Love.

Phil Spector’s Christmas Album is an epic of a record, apart from being completely in keeping with this Yuletide season.

Denis Lemon