When I first arrived in London in the 1980s you could get into theatres for almost nothing if you were prepared to stand at the back. Then, if you were lucky, an usherette would keep tabs on anyone leaving after the first interval and would discreetly guide you to a vacated seat. I got to see top shows in the best seats that way. So, in reverse order . . .
I saw this musical at the Fortune Theatre on which I based The Farren in The Wardrobe Mistress. It’s a flip-around of the Cinderella premise where a maltreated young man does all the work in a big house, but dreams of something better. He finds true love, naturally. I discovered that the song ‘Spread A Little Happiness’ (later sung by Sting) comes from its score.
Guys and Dolls
I saw the spectacular revival of this show at the National Theatre. OK, that’s strictly speaking South Bank but it had all the pizazz of a West End production with the bonus of classical actors bringing their talent to a musical. Bob Hoskins, Julia McKenzie and Julie Covington stick in my mind. Just writing this has me singing ‘Fugue for Tinhorns’.
Daisy Pulls It Off, The Globe Theatre
Yup, the title is intended to raise eyebrows. ‘Daisy Pulls’ was a spoof of the popular girls’ school stories of the 1920s that were way out of fashion when I was growing up, but which hung around on the bookshelves at home. Set in a time when girls played hockey in thick black stockings and were called Maisie, Violet and Esme (the first time round), ‘Daisy’ was a spiffing adventure and jolly funny too. Would it work today, though? Would anyone under forty get the joke?
Little Shop of Horrors, the Comedy Theatre
Another musical, this one taking a run at those schlock-horror B-movie screamers. The best on-stage human eating green plant I ever saw was voiced by a singer who made the foundations shake. When he came out to take his bow, the place erupted.
La Cava at the Victoria Palace Theatre
I went to see this epic musical after a long absence from theatre (work, child-rearing, you know how it is). I went to re-connect with the muse, and to get an eyeful of Oliver Tobias whom I adored way back in my youth. I told my then-husband I was going to a meeting. For some reason, I didn’t want to share the moment. Good musical, great fight scenes but particularly memorable for the forty minute power-cut during the interval which meant I missed my train home. ‘That was a long meeting, dear.’ A critic said La Cava was like ‘Being swallowed up by a historical romance.’ It’s probably why I liked it.
The Rocky Horror Show
I saw my first ever Rocky Horror at Leicester’s Haymarket Theatre in the early-seventies when the sight of a man in fishnets was life-changing. I caught up with it again at The Comedy Theatre in the 1980s. I’ve seen it in various guises at provincial theatres and for me, the joke never goes stale. At the count of three, let’s do the Time Warp . . .
Flare Path, Theatre Royal, Haymarket
Terrence Rattigan’s plays were out of fashion for ages. Stiff, middle-class families undergoing rather ghastly events jarred with the modern age. But in this revival, the fortunes of a group of RAF airmen, their wives and sweethearts did justice to Rattigan’s understated powers. Starring James Purefoy and Sheridan Smith, two of my favourite actors, I made a special trip to London to see this one.
One Man, Two Guvnors, Adelphi Theatre.
Had me laughing almost to the point of danger. James Cordon’s roaring energy made this one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. My only regret is that I can never see it again for the first time.
Another Country, The Queen’s Theatre
Here was Rupert Everett in, I think, his first major role out of drama school, sinewy and mesmerising as Guy. From the quality of the audience’s absorption, I wasn’t alone in thinking that a star was born. A witty, intelligent and unforgettable play.
La Cage Aux Folles, London Palladium
A musical perfect for that huge stage. An opening scene which deliberately befuddles the eye (no spoilers) is something I will never forget. One of the best scores ever, imo, and funny, funny. These days nobody bats an eyelid but back in 1986, when I saw it, the portrayal of openly gay lives caused serious ripples. It was whisked off early the first time round, but not into obscurity. Mais non!
The Wardrobe Mistress by Natalie Meg Evans (Quercus, £8.99) is out now.