From operating theatres to real ones. The ones where you sit in a comfy (hopefully) chair, and sit back to be entertained for two or three hours. Or fall asleep if it’s boring. A bit like being asleep in the operating theatre.
My family was not big on theatre. Although we did do pantomime. The Christmas ones at the Alhambra in Bradford were an exciting and magical excursion. Also rare. Interesting calling an Edwardian theatre after the Moorish palace in Granada. Someone was rather prescient given the vast numbers of Muslims that came to live in Bradford in the second half of the 20th century.
But with the advent of senior school, plays became the norm. We acted in them, and went to watch lots of them. Shakespeare of course, the obvious ones like Romeo and Juliet, Caesar, Midsummer Night, Hamlet and Macbeth, and a few less commonly performed, like A Winter’s Tale.
And we ventured abroad with Arthur Miller and his ghastly Death of a Salesman. More to my liking was Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. While the nuances and interpretations went over my head, I enjoyed the play for whatever reason.
At some point, my mother and I decided to go to the theatre in Leeds, The Grand. I think it was a comic detective play, or should that be a detective comedy? It starred Patrick Cargill, known for his role in TV programme, Father, Dear Father. We expected him to be something of a ham and he was brilliant. He totally stole the whole play with his clever and witty performance.
Despite that, theatre failed to become a part of my life until I became a journalist. I was so excited about becoming a journalist the idea of reviewing school plays and flower shows was quite wonderful to me. In fact, I never did get to go to a flower show, we just typed up the results when they were sent in.
But I did do school plays. And AmDram. None of which I really remember, maybe a decent version of Midsummer Night from a local school?
Scarborough, however, changed all that. Just your average east coast Yorkshire resort. Victorian spa town, medieval castle, a few fishing boats still trading, and the home of playwright Alan Ayckbourn. Although born in London, Ayckbourn has made Scarborough his home for many years and nearly all of his plays have premiered there.
What this means, for lucky journalists, is that come opening night when the theatre wants bums on seats, around 5pm, free tickets may – or may not – be suddenly offered for that night’s performance.
Best freebie? Without a doubt, seeing Michael BonBon (yes, I know it’s Gambon, but for some reason one day after watching The Singing Detective, we called him BonBon, and it stuck) in Ayckbourn’s adaptation of Othello. I’m not keen on adaptations, and I had seen a lengthy original of Othello. But AA’s adaptation was good, and BonBon was brilliant.
Somewhat like Cargill, seeing someone on TV and live on stage, is totally different.
The sad news is, I had to pay for The Revengers’ Comedies. No idea why it was booked out, but there were no freebies for journos.
This was Ayckbourn’s play in two halves. You could choose to watch them on consecutive nights or go for the whole thing on one night over five hours or so, a bit like a Wagner opera.
I went for the two nighter. But by the second night I was dancing with impatience and couldn’t wait to watch the second part. It’s an odd tale, but to me it encapsulated London of the 80s. While it did well in Scarborough, it only ran for a few months in the West End. Perhaps Londoners were in 80s mode and couldn’t hack two nights of the same play?
Moving up to Newcastle, the only play I remember was a superb production by the RSC of The Merchant of Venice. I’d not seen it before, but Partner had. I was spellbound.
And, the last play I remember? Yes, more Shakespeare. Coriolanus at some trendy shell of a theatre in London.
Whenever I visit my university friend in London, she seems to treat it as An Occasion. Meals, guests, theatre. Quite honestly a bottle of red wine, salad and bread would do, but no. Well, apart from the time I went once and she was in hospital, so me and the husband had two bottles of Rioja and I don’t remember much else. He was always a good cook anyway, so a good night was had.
One of the last visits to the stately Hampstead home involved a trip to this odd theatre. Much pretentious talk ensued and her long-suffering husband finally got some drinks from the bar, thoughtfully ordering interval drinks too. Do they still allow that? You could get rat-arsed stealing someone else’s drinks. Or drop Rohypnol in there and follow your prey wherever.
Ralph Fiennes was playing the lead role in Coriolanus. From my perch in the eyrie he looked remarkably like Leonard Rossiter. I told my friends this. They laughed. The next day, according to my friends, the Daily Telegraph said …..
And it seems the strange theatre was the Gainsborough Studios in Shoreditch.
A quick hunt for Fiennes and Rossiter shows that not just the Telegraph and I thought Fiennes resembled Rossiter, but a total of four theatre critics (broadsheets) plus me all thought the same.
What does that prove? That my poor eyesight is as good as theatre critics who got better seats? Or that I say what I think? Or that Ralph Fiennes looks and sounds like Leonard Rossiter?
Poor Ralph, portrays a Shakespearean hero and gets compared to a Brit sit-com actor.
It was the last time I went to the theatre. Now, the attraction of sitting for three hours with lots of people has faded. If I want to watch anything, it’s likely to be on a small screen at home.
Happy at home with Happy Valley.