Don’t quote me – an occasional series of quotes from or about theatre

“An archeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her.”

Agatha Christie, as portrayed in Philip Meeks’ Murder, Margaret and Me on tour autumn 2019.

A fascinating account of the life of screen legend Margaret Rutherford told through this story of her friendship with the creator of one of her most famous characters, Miss Marple. Completely engrossing, brilliantly performed and a must for Rutherford fans.



Review – Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show ****

The challenge for any production of this show is how well it can engage someone who is not a die-hard fan. When audience members arrive in costume, know every word of the script and know all the –  now required – audience interjections, it’s challenging for a newbie. It can feel like being at a party where you’re the only guest who doesn’t know anyone there.

Director Christopher Luscombe’s production has been on the go for 13 years but succeeds in being much more than a dusty tribute show. It’s bright, fresh, brash. The lighting design in particular is modern, crisp and dynamic. The references to classic Hammer and Hollywood horror films are explicitly made in the set design with its un-spooling roll of film. And it’s loud. The band and the sound (it’s nearly entirely sung through) are both great. It’s billed as a rock ‘n’ roll musical and the volume and drive of the often fast paced and catchy tunes really help get the audience hooked from the start.

The plot concerns newly engaged Brad and Janet who arrive at Frank N Furter’s rather spooky house needing to make a phone call after their car breaks down. Once they’re in the house they meet the inmates in various ways – most famously in The Time Warp – before Frank N Furter himself arrives and announces he is about to bring his latest creation, Rocky, to life. With cross-dressing, all sorts of sexuality and much more, the show has a clear message about equality and inclusivity. But, as Kenny Everett’s Cupid Stunt said so memorably, it’s all done in the best possible taste – meaning with no taste at all! It’s not about the message and subtle is not what they’re going for. As creator Richard O’Brien admits in the programme, at heart it’s ‘a bit of fun’.

Broad performances are the order of the day. Joanne Clifton as Janet is a surprisingly powerful singer and James Darch is quietly hunky as Brad. Kristin Lavercombe lurches around alarmingly as butler Riff Raff. Stephen Webb, meanwhile is a dominating presence and completely watchable a Frank N Furter. But for me the real star of the night was Philip Franks’ narrator and gets the show it’s fourth star. He clearly relished not only his own script but the various interjections which have become a required part of every Rocky Horror performance. He allowed time for them and had witty and perfectly judged come-backs for every one. And he was topical too. ‘I would like to take you on a strange journey. Stranger than a Thomas Cook holiday. You’ll never return!’ He responded to one ‘heckle’ with ‘You should be in Parliament. Oh wait! You can’t. It’s shut!’.

It was all loved by a lively and enthusiastic audience. But did it succeed in allowing non fans in? Well I have seen the show once before, many years ago, and was then left thinking it was peculiar and I was not converted into membership of the fold of fans. This time it certainly worked better. The music is great, the show is slick and professional and the cast work hard so that it feels new and fresh. All the same, I think I need to see it a few more times before I feel the need to turn up, as gentleman in the audience did, wearing a red sparkly jacket and black tights!

Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show is at The Orchard Theatre, Dartford until Saturday 28 September.


Review – The Mousetrap ****

The cast of The Mousetrap

I was a little surprised to find the touring version of this West End war horse turning up so close to town. But maybe the producers think the London production sells well enough to tourists so a little local competition won’t do any harm.

Whatever the reason, it turned out to be an unexpected joy to revisit this play, which I have seen only once before, many years ago, in its London home.

Over the years it has become, of course, a period piece. Set in the days before mobile phones and when people could still use their ration book as a form of identification, these features are lovingly retained. As are the somewhat clipped oh-so-British accents of the owners of Monkswell Manor where the action takes place. That aside I found the script to be surprisingly fresh and the characters accessible and relatable.

The story concerns the new owners of Monkswell Manor, Giles and Mollie Ralston, who, on their very first day in business, find themselves snowed-in with an assortment of apparently random guests and a news story of a murderer on the loose. Fortunately Sgt Trotter is sent along from the local police to help keep them all safe. Needless to say it transpires that one of those at Monkswell Manor is also the murderer.

That’s really all you need to know going in.  The story is efficiently told, the characters clear and quirky enough to each bring suspicion on themselves. There are some humorous moments, a little frisson of tension but, it has to be said, no obvious hook to make the play stand out. It’s continued success now is largely fuelled by its longevity. You just have to see it to find out what it is that’s kept it going since 1952. But there has to be something else going on as well.

What you find is a warmly welcoming set with a snowy gale blowing all the various guests in to warm themselves by the glow of the open fire. It really does look like the kind of place you want to be on a cold winter’s night. The star billing goes to Susan Penhaligon as Mrs Boyle, the guest who finds nothing to her liking (a prototype, surely, for Joan Sanderson’s hotel guest from hell in Fawlty Towers). She chews up the other characters like Margaret Rutherford in bad mood! But it’s really a proper ensemble piece. Understudy Edith Kirkwood played Mollie Ralston delightfully. David Alcock was in equal parts charming, irritating and sinister as the only unexpected guest, Mr Paravicini. Lewis Chandler was as camp as he could be playing Christopher Wren whilst still making the character real.

So Monkswell Manor turns out to be a thoroughly lovely and delightful place to spend the evening. But despite this it still leaves you unable to put your finger on what has made the play such a unique phenomenon.

The Mousetrap tour is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford until 21 September 2019.

Review – Priscilla Queen of the Desert the musical ****

Priscilla Queen of the Desert sets out to make you love her. She’s done this in her previous incarnations as a film and West End musical. So how does this new touring production fare, having just kicked off on her new road trip at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre?

The score is, of course, bullet proof, this being a juke box musical featuring the cheesiest and most sparkly pop tunes you can think of – Boogie Wonderland, Don’t Leave Me This Way, Hot Stuff. But Priscilla has always had more depth. It’s a show about acceptance and tolerance. Sure, it wears its heart on its sleeve – unapologetically. But the message, whilst crystal clear, is handled with just the right touch so it doesn’t feel as though it’s being rammed down your throat.

The story concerns three drag queens who find themselves on a journey across Australia on their tour bus named Priscilla, as one of them – Tick, played by Joe McFadden –  sets out to see his young son. On their way they discover more about themselves, what other people think of them and what really matters in their three different worlds.

Along with McFadden the other leads, Miles Western as Bernadette and Nick Hayes as Adam, have a complete ball. They seemed a little nervous at the start but soon warmed up. Nick Hayes in particular is bright, breezy and loveable. The story is punctuated by a trio of Divas in a sort of Greek chorus and they were outstanding – a real highlight whenever they appeared.

The eponymous star of the show, Priscilla the bus, is used inventively as she is transformed into various bits of scenery throughout the journey. My only wish was that she had a little more sparkle about her.

The dancing was excellent and the whole show was brought to life by a brilliant band. Add in numerous references to Kylie in this Jason Donovan co-produced production and you have a real crowd pleaser. The audience on the night I saw it were enthused and applauding from the start and left, as the show intends, uplifted and having had a little joy passed to them.

Review – Les Miserables, the all star staged concert ****

Michael Ball as Javert in Les Miserables, the all star staged concert

It says something for the quality of Les Miserables that this concert version packs all the emotional power of the fully staged version that fans expect. The added attraction is, of course, the star power of the cast.

Alfie Boe reprises the role of Jean Valjean which first brought him to widespread attention when he performed it at the 25thanniversary concert. Then he was, for most people watching – me included – an unknown, so that added to the effectiveness of his performance. Uncluttered by any image of his own, he was then a pure channel for the character as written by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil, and Herbert Kretzmer. Now he is, of course, a star and brings that to the stage along with his interpretation of the part. The good news is that the power of his performance is undiminished. If anything it works even better in the intimate setting of the Gielgud Theatre rather than the vastness of the O2 arena.

Michael Ball, an original cast member, returns to the show in a new role for him – Valjean’s nemesis Javert. Delighting in playing against type as the baddie, Ball pushes his twinkly and charming public persona way out of sight as he relishes the hunt for prisoner 24601.

Joining them, another graduate from the 25thanniversary concert, is Matt Lucas as innkeeper Thenardier. His comedy chops are in no doubt and he fully exploits the comic potential of this much loved role.

The whole show feels like an event. There was a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation in the air. The age range was wide and it was obvious many were devoted fans. But the great thing about Les Miserables is its ability to survive these different incarnations. For its 25thanniversary concert at the O2 it was bigger than ever before, with a vast chorus and orchestra, the likes of which would never be seen in a theatre. And yet that massive increase in scale felt absolutely right. Likewise this concert in the much smaller setting of the Geilgud also feels absolutely right.

So what these versions are showing us is that Les Miserables is a show whose power comes almost solely from the writing. It is not so intimately bound-up in its staging as, say, Phantom of the Opera. This bodes well for its continued success when a new staging (well, a version of the current touring production) takes over back at the refurbished Queens Theatre later in the year.

In the meantime this is a bold and brilliant way to keep the Les Mis flag flying on Shaftesbury Avenue.