Friday, 21 March 2014

Theatres and actors

It was only when I saw next week's Radio Times and the article about Dad's Army and Jimmy Perry that I remembered that I had been quite a regular visitor to the Watford Palace Theatre during my sixth form days. Jimmy Perry was the Director there at the time and, as the RT article points out, it was his experiences in the Watford Home Guard during the war that gave him the idea for the popular TV comedy.  Apparently young Pike was based on  Perry himself.

I also remember about that seeing a production of Peter Shaffer's "The Royal Hunt of the Sun" somewhere in London with my friend Chris Turner, whose father was in the play.  Chris's father, originally from South Africa, worked with many of the great British actors in the sixties and seventies and must have been so proud that his daughter Jess became an actor too.

I was interested in plays and the theatre and took a special subject called Theatre as a voluntary course at Watford Grammar along with my A levels. It was taught by Dave Spearman who was also the teacher who came with us to Cuffley camp, as described in one of my other blogs.  I remember that I did a special project on Ibsen and I have had a penchant for his plays ever since.  I managed to see the recent revival of Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic with Sheridan Smith in the title role.

When I went to Warwick I managed a few trips to the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry but, to my regret, not many visits to Stratford. Without a car in those days it was difficult to travel even that relatively short distance. Looking back I am surprised that there wasn't a club or society catering for theatre visits. Perhaps there was and I just didn't spot it.

When she taught at Prices College in Fareham Pauline ran a Theatres Club that would take groups of students up to Stratford in a minbus. I was never able to join in with this, which was a pity.

Pauline also likes musicals. For some reason these have never really appealed to me - not even Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables.  And that, despite the fact that one of my uncles, Charles Stapley, appeared in the Drury Lane production of My Fair Lady in the sixties. He was understudy to Rex Harrison in the Henry Higgins role and he actually made more appearances on stage than Harrison.  I remember seeing the performance and then meeting "Uncle Charles" backstage afterwards. Unfortunately Charles' marriage to my mother's sister Nan ended in an early divorce and Charles' acting career peaked with the part of the antique dealer in Crossroads.

Living down here near Chicheser we do try to get to the Festival Theatre when we can.  It will be particularly frustrating for me this year as the programme there looks very good, but because of my chemotherapy treatments I am supposed to keep away from big crowds for fear of infection. Hopefully I shall be able to see something later in the summer.

Recently, before my new chemo sessions started, we manged to have a few days up in Yorkshire at which time we were able to see a play by Brian Friel at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.

One excellent development in the last few years has been the live screening in cinemas of productions from the National Theatre.  We have managed to see several of these and, although the experience is not quite the same as being in the theatre with the actors it does give the beauty of the live performance rather than a carefully edited movie version.

Plays don't only have to be put on in big theatres. A few years ago we saw an excellent production of Two Gentlemen of Verona in a local village hall, by a travelling pair of black actors.

And I can't end without a mention of Amateur Dramatics.  My good friend from university days, Graham Sessions, has been a stalwart of the Am Dram scene down in Devon since he moved down there after retirement from teaching.

Oh, and my first visit to a theatre, as for many other people, was for a pantomime.  And we have seen a couple of the special Christmas productions for children up in Stratford.  Wonderful.

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