In Ten Days The Circus Leaves Town

I’ve never seen a pantomime like Le Grand Magic Circus – and I’ve never seen a circus like it either. In fact, to say that Robinson Crusoe, which the Grand Magic Circus is staging at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, London, until January 20 is unique is no overstatement.

In short, you don’t get to see many pantomimes that don’t have women dressed up as men trying to look like women as the principals or men dressed up as women trying to look like men dressed as women in support roles. Le Grand Magic Circus has none of the overblown panto about it.

Instead of a yesterday’s pop idol clutching onto a hand-mike, Robinson Crusoe gives us the mime that gave panto its name. Forget yer usual R.C. story, this one has Crusoe hanging around in a hammock watching the telly while Friday pulls massive cardboard vegetables out of the ground.

So it’s not a pantomime in today’s accepted-and-debased sense. It’s real theatre. And it’s no ordinary circus, either. The only animals used are a few birds (a chicken and a goose inter alia) who make noisy and unexpected entrances from various parts of the auditorium. Otherwise the zebras, very obviously human underneath it all.

Le Grand Magic Circus started life as a street-theatre group in the Paris troubles of May 1968. Robinson Crusoe has grown out of that. It works on two levels, it’s fun and it’s a piece of propaganda about the telly-watching landlord Crusoe, who’s not sure he wants to be rescued while life’s so soft on his island.

This is one band of actors who can get me to pay to see it a second time, and get me to forget all my reservations and participate. Robinson Crusoe is quite easily the most interesting thing on London’s stage. But the Circus leaves town on January 20. Get in quick and see the show. It may be a long time before you get another chance.

All About Margo

APPLAUSE at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket.

The London critics to a man have sung the praises of Lauren Bacall for her appearance in the musical APPLAUSE, and I can but echo their comments. It is difficult to find any new adjectives not already showered on her, and I am grateful that for once the original star of a Broadway show has graced our shores. We’ve missed out in the past on seeing the original ‘Dolly’, and of course Merman in ‘Gypsy’, but here after a two year wait is the Margo Channing we’ve heard so much about.

Bacall first burst upon the screen in a Hemingway story titled TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and was instantly hailed as a promising new star. In those days everybody quite rightly ‘The Look’. With her provocative eyes and smouldering sexuality she delivered lines such as ‘If you want anything, just whistle’ to perfection.

In her earlier films she didn’t always get the chance to prove her worth as an actress, appearing more as a ‘personality’, but when Fox gave her the role of a cynical gold was tagged with a ‘nickname’ and hers was digger in HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE she came into her own, making a perfect contrast to those two dumb blondes Monroe and Grable. Later in Metro’s DESIGNING WOMAN she again had a role worthy of her talents, and I was hopeful that she might appear more often in this type of sophisticated comedy.

However, her appearances became less frequent, though her last one in THE MOVING TARGET (alias HARPER) proved that she had lost none of her talent for delivering witty dialogue. I bless whoever had the idea of bringing her to the stage to portray Margo Channing, as I truly can’t imagine anyone else doing the role as well as her.

The Mary Orr story THE WISDOM OF EVE is supposedly based on an incident in the life of Elizabeth Bergner, famous European star of the 30’s. When Fox purchased the story, Joseph L Manckiewicz re-worked the script, basing it on Tallulah Bankhead and incidents that occurred when she starred in a Broadway play.

Claudette Colbert was the original actress chosen to play Margo, but when she fell ill, Bette Davis replaced her and went on to score one of her greatest triumphs. ALL ABOUT EVE received a total of 14 Academy Award nominations and won seven Oscars. The film has become a favourite with movie buffs everywhere and is up there with the big money makers of all time.

I am surprised that it took so long for its conversion into a musical as the plot lends itself so well to musical numbers. Comden and Green are responsible for the book, and these clever writers have already given joy to theatre and cinemagoers with their writing. Their book incorporates a lot of the original film script plus many funny new lines. There is a noticeable effort to remind the audience that this is a NOW show. For example at one point we are treated to the sight of the derrieres of 3 of the chorus boys, and there’s even a mention of Screw magazine thrown in for good measure.

The character of Eve is a complex one, part Cinderella and part Wicked Witch. The one flaw I found with both film and show is that I felt these show business people would never be taken in by her for one moment. Ann Baxter’s subtle performance managed to overcome this fault admirably. I’ve met a few Eve Harringtons in my life (believe me you don’t have to be a Broadway star to come across them) and one can’t always spot them in the beginning. In this show Angela Richards is most believable in the role of Eve – she is all sweetness and light for just the right amount of time (perhaps a longer period than in the film) before she shows her true colours. In her last big scene near the end where she sings ‘One Halloween’ she really lets loose, and we see the tigress hidden just below the surface.

Ken Walsh as the hairdresser is the only one who is on to Eve’s tricks from the beginning, and he is a valuable asset to the show. Sheila O’Neill scores well, as she does in every show, with her vivacious singing and dancing of the title song, and later in ‘She’s No Longer A Gypsy’. I wasn’t too struck by the choreography, having to agree with a friend who remarked that each routine ended with ‘Good Friday arms’.

The music by Charles Strouse is unmemorable, but in several instances I was noticeably pleased with Lee Adam’s lyrics, especially in Bacall’s cynical first act closer, ‘Welcome To the Theatre’.

As for Lauren Bacall herself, I can only reiterate and borrow from Miss Stein – “A star is a star is a star” … Her curtain call at the finale was ‘something else’ – standing triumphantly on an empty stage in a shimmering black dress she looked like a million dollars — and rightly deserved the bravos from her audience.

Chilling Evil

DEVIL DADDY by John Blackburn. Published by Jonathan Cape, £1.60.

To anyone interested in the Supernatural and the Occult, and who enjoys a good thriller, this new book “Devil Daddy” is a MUST. Written by one of today’s masters of the macabre, it tells of an Evil the world never dreamed existed outside of fiction.

Fighting this evil are Marcus Levin, Bacteriologist, and his pretty Russian-born wife, Tania, who have featured in previous occult thrillers. But none as frightening as this new one. Together they face great danger to discover a fanatical group of Satanists who have opened one of the Gates of Hell and released on the world a plague more frightening than the black death.

Who brutally raped pretty Elsie Kerr? What turned her into an eighty-year-old hag overnight? Who fed a naked body to a farmer’s starving pigs? Many more spine chilling questions arise before the most exciting and breathtaking climax is reached and the reader left shocked and shaking in his chair.

Thank God it can never happen … or could it?

John Blackburn’s previous novels have all been connected with the occult and one earlier work has now been filmed “Nothing But The Night” directed by that horror star we all love, Christopher Lee. Look out for it.