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.

Two Right Royal Evenings

CROWN MATRIMONIAL at the Haymarket Theatre.

I once knew an obscure silent film star whose every other sentence involved famous people. She’d speak of meeting Scott Fitzgerald at a dinner given by the King of Spain, but on asking further questions about them, she had very little else to say. I was reminded of her whilst watching CROWN MATRIMONIAL as the first scene set in Marlborough House has the Queen Mary asking her son, on his return from the continent, “How was George of Greece, and did you see Carol of Rumania?” This sort of name dropping is all very well provided it is going to lead somewhere, but apart from a few words, nothing further is mentioned of these famous personages.

Likewise I felt at times as if I were visiting Madame Tussauds, so much did these players resemble the real people in face and dress. Although the plot is familiar, interest is held throughout by the course of events and the dialogue given to the stage Royals. Who can presume how these characters would act and talk when in the privacy of their homes. The author Royce Ryton has used his imagination well. Aided by Wendy Hiller, portraying Queen Mary, one senses the feeling of royalty and grandeur in her every move.

Peter Barkworth playing Edward 7th reminded me of that monarch’s smile and warmth, whilst Amanda Reiss received an ovation on her first entrance for her uncanny resemblance to our present Queen Mother at that time. I was less happy with Andrew Ray’s impersonation of George 6th, feeling he was too young for the role, but in his one big scene he was extremely moving. Lastly the costumes and sets are first rate, and just how I would imagine the interior of a Royal household would look.

I AND ALBERT at the Picadilly Theatre

When one reads of delays of an opening night, hears stories of early previews over-running by 45 minutes, and of the leading man being taken ill and the understudy taking over at short notice, then the signs are surely there that ‘something is rotten in the State of Denmark’, or in this case at the Piccadilly Theatre.

What possessed that fine director John Schlesinger to become involved in all this? I would call it ‘a pageant with music’ as it turned out to be the most talkative musical I’ve yet come upon. The musical score manages to range the entire field of music in one evening, commencing with an oompah pa song about naughty London in the early 1800’s (did I detect some rather risque lyrics well hidden under the blaring orchestra?), a syncopated modern style tune that owed a lot to the song ‘The best is yet to come’, all the way to a tender ballad sung by Prince Albert. The title song ‘I and Albert’ is tuneful, and the ‘Victoria and Albert Waltz’ is a haunting theme used when they first meet. Somewhere in the second half Disraeli stops the show whilst performing conjuring tricks and singing with great panache the sung ‘When You Speak with a Lady’. But this song is out of place with the character and plot so that it takes several minutes to settle back into ‘the plot’ … and oh how that plot goes on and on without really reaching any point. Polly James plays Victoria competently enough, ranging from young womanhood to old age, though one wonders what became of her middle years. At one time the character she portrays was aged around the late 50’s, but there she was giving an impersonation of a woman of 70 – no in-between, alas.

Sven Bertl Taube makes a handsome leading man as Prince Albert. He has a good singing voice and is suitably stiff and solemn as the part calls for. Aubrey Woods and Lewis Fiender play two roles each during the evening as Victoria’s ministers and bring light comic relief to the proceedings. The show would be lost without the two stairways placed on either side of the stage and a great deal of the action is performed on them which involves the cast running about on them ’til one gets almost dizzy watching. After Albert dies, the stage is draped in black mourning, both costumes and curtains are black and there is a feeling of ‘death in the family’ which is almost prophetic of the show itself.