The Vic Wells Association Newletter June 2007:
The OLD VIC, Waterloo Road, SE1 8NB
SADLER'S WELLS, Rosebery Avenue, EC1R 4TN
(also at the PEACOCK THEATRE,
Portugal Street, Kingsway, London WC2A 2HT)
By LILIAN BAYLIS, C.H., M.A.(Oxon) Hon.., LL.D.(Birm.)Hon,.
The Old Vic Association, The Old Vic Circle, The Old Vic Club,
Sadler's Wells Society, Sadler's Wells Circle
President....................Dr. Wendy Toye, CBE, Hon.D.Litt.
Vice President.............................. Mr Nickolas Grace
Chairman.......................................Mr James Ranger
Welcome and News
As this is my second edition as Editor of the Broadsheet, I can take the opportunity to correct the mistakes from the last issue!
Percussionist Evelyn Glennie was made a dame in the New Year Honours.
In the pictures of the Twelfth Night Party, number 3 was of Jeanette White and Michael Ludgate
Apologies for these mistakes and any others not mentioned here.
I would like to take this opportunity of thanking all the Vic-Wells members who sent me cards and letters about the James Penstone Celebration on May 8th, as to how much they enjoyed the evening, and how much James would have loved it. I have been bowled over by all the kind appreciation of so many guests who attended the event, and can only express my sincere thanks to you all. The Chairman, James Ranger, and his wife Joy, worked very hard to host the Reception prior to the entertainment, and together, I hope we did justice to James’s memory, which was the object of the evening.
Amongst all the cards I received was one from Sir Donald Sinden, expressing his gratitude and appreciation of “a wonderful evening” to celebrate the life of a “very dear man”. Sir Donald and all of the artists gave of their best in every way, and I am grateful to them, and to all those kind friends who helped me in so many ways and contributed so much to make the evening such a success.
The 2006 Theatre book prize was won by John Osborne: A Patriot For Usby John Heilpern (Chatto & Windus) but Members may be interested to know that Lilian Baylis managed to bustle herself onto the shortlist which consisted of:
- The Theatre Of Martin Crimp by Aleks Sierz (Methuen Drama)
- Theatre Workshop: Joan Littlewood And The Making Of Modern British Theatre by Robert Leach (University of Exeter Press)
- Staging New Britain: Aspects Of Black And South Asian British Theatre Practice, Edited by Geoffrey V. Davis & Anne Fuchs (Peter Lang)
- The Victorian Clown by Jacky Bratton and Ann Featherstone (Cambridge University Press)
- Lilian Baylis: A Biography by Elizabeth Schafer.
Sadly, I have to report that our beloved Old Vic Theatre in Bristol is to close in the Autumn for an indefinite period, whilst much-needed renovations are carried out. The shock decision has meant the Autumn programme, as well as the annual Christmas show, has been abruptly cancelled. The Director, Simon Reade, has resigned, and many of the staff have been made redundant. The theatre is likely to be closed for at least two years. Those of us who have enjoyed our annual visits to the Theatre Royal for many years will all be hoping that the theatre will be open again in the future, and we shall, once again, see all the friends we made over a long period.
I understand Sir Ian McKellen will be playing an Ugly Sister in Stephen Fry’s adaptation of Cinderella at the Old Vic this Christmas. More details anon.
I am very pleased to announce that after much effort from many members the new website for the Association is now up and running which will help us to recruit new members. We plan to up-date the site regularly and I should be very pleased to have your comments regarding improvements you would like to suggest or of any inaccuracies you have found. Please email your comments to me at
Sadly, our Vice President Nickolas Grace was unable to attend the James Penstone Celebration, as he was rehearsing The Drowsy Chaperone. Nickolas dictated the following message to me over the telephone. We wish Nickolas every success in the show, and a long and happy run.
Message from our Vice President
I was sincerely sorry that I couldn’t be present on May 8th for the celebration of the life of dear James Penstone. I was rehearsing The Drowsy Chaperone at the Novello Theatre and was unable to get away.
My first appearance at the Old Vic was in Christopher Fry’s play A Yard of
Sun in 1970. After the first night, there was a knock on my dressing room
door, and in stepped a tall, distinguished-looking gentleman, with a slight
stoop and very smooth skin. He sincerely apologised for disturbing me and
explained that he was from the Vic-Wells Association – of which I had never
heard – and that they were giving the company a little tea party after the
Saturday matinee. He gave me a copy of the latest Newsletter, and, with his
inimitable bowing and rocking, he backed towards the door and exited – very
Dickensian, very James Penstone.
For the next thirty years he always sent me a first night card, and would always send me a short critique of the parts he had genuinely been thrilled with, as he put it.
I crossed the bridge and became one of the next generation, and frequently played at both Sadler’s Wells and the Old Vic. When I played Grimaldi at Sadler’s Wells, James was so enthusiastic that I think I could have had as many Vic-Wells tea parties as I liked! I shall always remember him – a gentleman, a scholar, a walking encyclopaedia of the theatre, and a man with a passion for show business. The Vic-Wells Association has helped hundreds of hungry actors, singers, and dancers, who never starved because James Penstone invited them all to the Vic-Wells tea parties!
James Penstone Celebration
The Celebration, on May 8th, really was a special evening with a brilliant programme of entertainment and an impressive buffet. Situated in the elegant surroundings of Charterhouse, a range of guests assembled, all of whom had wonderful stories to tell about James. Many thanks to all whom contributed to the evening’s success.
Rachel Dreese and Jenny Green provided some stunning vocal performances that filled the Great Hall with warmth while simultaneously causing a shiver to run down one’s spine. Gordon Honey sang The Policeman’s Song with the help of the very willing audience. Liam Scarlett’s beautiful duet, a combination of balletic lines and modern lyricism, performed by two rising Royal Ballet stars proved his worth as winner of the Ninette de Valois Prize. Musical and cabaret styles were sung faultlessly by Rachel Chapman and John Dalby.
Roy Hudd and Sir Donald Sinden were energetic entertainers providing wonderful comic performances and anecdotes. Pianists Simon Gutteridge and Ian Smith were faultless, and, in supporting many of the other artists, formed the backbone of the evening.
The champagne toast was both moving and uplifting. Together with the inimitable presence of host Eileen Page, the emphasis was indeed on celebration; a memorable night, which, from hearing of his great love of all things theatrical, I feel sure that James would have loved and appreciated.
The Old Vic
After A Moon for the Misbegotten, Propeller’s The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night and, most recently, The Entertainer, our successful third season continues with a Victorian thriller. Gaslight is the powerful story of a young woman psychologically dominated by her husband. While Jack Manningham is out on the town each evening, his wife, Bella, stays at home alone, believing she’s losing her mind: she can’t explain the disappearance of familiar objects, the mysterious footsteps overhead or the ghostly flickering of living room gaslights. However, questions about Jack’s behaviour and true identity are aroused following the unexpected arrival of Detective Rough. Peter Gill directs a cast including Rosamund Pike and Kenneth Cranham. Gaslight was first staged in 1938 and was filmed twice: a British version in 1940, directed by Thorold Dickinson, and an MGM version in 1944, directed by George Cukor, which won Ingrid Bergman an Oscar for her performance. The show is booking to 18 August.
Hot off the press for our 2007/8 season:
- The world premiere of Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother (booking opens June 17)
- The return of The Old Vic Panto with Stephen Fry’s Cinderella (booking opens June 17)
- Kevin Spacey to star in David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow (booking in the Autumn)
- Sam Mendes to direct Stephen Dillane in Hamlet and The
Tempest (booking in the Autumn)
I am delighted that 2007 looks set to be yet another year of dance milestones
for Sadler’s Wells. Firstly, I am thrilled to tell you that one of the world’s
most respected choreographers has joined our ever-growing list of associate
artists. Leaving behind his role as resident choreographer at New York City
Ballet, Christopher Wheeldon sent ripples through the dance world by launching
his own dance company earlier this year.
This new company, featuring some of the world’s finest dancers and named Morphoses/The Wheeldon Compmnay, will be a collaboration with our New York partners City Center – and we are delighted that its London home will be right here at Sadler’s Wells. It is very exciting to have Christopher working regularly in London, and naturally the first outing for Morphoses – receiving the world premiere at Sadler’s Wells in September – is much anticipated and looks set to be real highlight of our new season.
There is far too much exciting work in our new season to give everything a mention here, but a couple of my personal highlights are the dazzling visual poetry of James Thierree and the return of one of the giants of American dance, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Lastly, I would like to thank you for your continuing support – without which it would not be possible to present the fantastic season of dance we are now looking forward to. Please enjoy our new season, and I look forward to joining you at the theatre soon.
The Entertainer: the Old Vic
I arrived at the Old Vic in high spirits for the 50th anniversary revival of the play. In the first minutes of curtain up, I thought I was suffering some sort of hearing defect – sitting in the second row centre of the dress circle I had to use all my powers of concentration to catch a great deal of dialogue. Come the interval, the question was, did I leave and cut my losses for the large amount I had paid for my seat (I know the Old Vic is unsubsidised, shame), or go to the pub by the stage door and in future pay much less for the seats at the dear Old Vic. But I decided to stay and I must say that the inaudibility or poor diction slightly marred the evening.
Although I have seen this play several times since the great Lord opened it, I doubt if any other actor, including Sir Laurence himself, brought on the pathos of the character of Archie Rice as does Robert Lindsay with his utter scorn for the audience and also some nimble business with his hat and cane. But the highlight of his performance was the speech to his daughter when he states that he is dead behind the eyes through to his soul which was contributed to by his seedy, touring, third rate, dying-on-its-feet, music hall review.
Mr Lindsay is given great support by Pam Ferris as his blousy wife and John Normington as his father. If you go to this production – which I urge you not to miss – it will, I think, become a classic production (which was by Sean Holmes, moving happily along and not a sign or a gimmick or concert is sight - other productions please note) of the play, please ignore Archie Rice’s request: “Don’t clap too hard, we’re all in a very old building”. We cheered Mr Lindsay and the cast to the rafters. I’m sure the “Lady” would have joined in.
Shakespeare’s Birthday partySome 35 members attended the party held on Saturday 21st April at the Old Vic Theatre. The guest of honour was Robert Lindsay who proposed the toast to Shakespeare. He was accompanied by Pam Ferris and they both were appearing in The Entertainer in an excellent production at the Old Vic which many of our Members saw and greatly enjoyed. Our thanks to the Old Vic and their staff for being so helpful and allowing us to use the second floor bar area and to the several Members who provided the delicious food. The party is well recorded in the accompanying photographs.
Shakespeare’s Birthday photographs
NDT2 Triple Bill: Sadler’s Wells
NDT2 presented three contrasting works by three major European choreographers in a programme of breathtaking dancing and surprising movement. In Jiří Kylián’s Sleepless, the dancers proved themselves to be faultless, with pliable bodies; highly flexible but perfectly controlled. Watching the duets was a master class in partnering; so innovative were the lifts and so easily performed as the dancers melted into each other.
The brooding menace of Paul Lightfoot and Sol León’s New Work was reminiscent of some gothic fantasy, emphasised by the terrifyingly large figures draped in black cloth. The music, lighting, and set contributed to the eerie piece, with large curtains being raised and lowered around the stage to create the impression of being trapped. Lights circled the main characters and highlighted their clawed gestures; the choreographers’ nightmarish vision had certainly been captured.
A collection of works named Spit from the Israeli choreographer Ohan Naharin revealed his talent in creating varying works that avoid using a characteristic choreographic style, but that are innovative and fresh. Fun movement was tempered by some choreographic surprises. This was an evening of varied entertainment, imaginatively created and brilliantly performed.
The Lady from Dubuque: Haymarket
I was happy to take my seat in one of London’s most beautiful and civilised play houses but by curtain down my mood was very different. I really am at a loss as to why Dame Maggie Smith wished to appear in this piece of less than mediocre writing. I’m still trying to find anything in Albee’s opuses that will give him a place amongst the great dramatists of the twentieth century.
The plot follows Albee’s formula of drunkenness and vicious insults lead by a youngish woman terminally ill who is spiteful to her supposed love ones, brilliantly portrayed by Catherine McCormack. By what felt like three days into the first act Dame Maggie finally enters and she manages to raise the temperature by a degree but not much more as she delivers her lines with a familiar nasal twang, but not sounding very American as Dubuque is a small town in mid-America (Iowa). The other cast members struggled to breathe life into this turkey including Peter Francis James, Robert Sella as McCormack’s husband. Why they had to fetch over a largely American cast is beyond my ken!
Anthony Page’s production is slick and glossy and will manage a fairish run due to Dame Maggie’s name on pre-opening bookings. Please, someone, give Dame Maggie a worthwhile role
Equus: the Gielgud Theatre
I approached the Gielgud Theatre for this revival of Peter Shaffer’s play with some trepidation, firstly wondering if the great Richard Griffiths would have returned to the boards after missing performances due to illness, and, even more worrying, what would Daniel ‘Harry Potter’ Radcliffe be like. Although I have never read or seen any of his films and am not likely to, he acquitted himself as though he was a seasoned veteran. It may have helped that, in the play, Alan Strang is the same age as Radcliffe (17 years old).
Richard Griffiths’ acting surpassed his recent N.T. performances in History Boys, and the psychotherapy sessions were genuinely moving which seemed to grip the high level of young teenage girls in the audience, who much to my surprise didn’t utter a sound in the nude scene. Also making the West End bow was Joanne Christie as Strang’s girlfriend Jill; her contribution was in no way overshadowed by the two men. Her performance was flirty and very sexy, just adding to Strang’s sexual awakenings and confusion.
The production directed by Thea Sharrock was taut and flowed naturally, which was more than could be said for the set!
Over the years Members have been very generous in leaving legacies to the
Association which has kept it running since we were founded by Lilian Baylis in
1923. Recently our beloved James Penstone, former Vice-President made a very
generous legacy to the Lilian Baylis Trust to provide an annual income to
improve the Broadsheet and as you can see this has allowed our new Editor to
include more colour photographs. If you would like to be of help in this
generous way please visit the
Cloudgate Dance Theatre of Taiwan
19th June, 2-4pm
Cursive: A Trilogy
60 Members greatly enjoyed the very full dress rehearsal of the first night programme of the American Theatre Ballet at Sadler’s Wells on 14th March and there have been several since. We are now entering a quiet period and the next planned rehearsal after Cloudgate Dance Theatre in June is for Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker for the Christmas season. Further details of this will be provided in the next issue of the Broadsheet. Other rehearsals may become open to Members during this period.
We attend rehearsals by kind permission of Sadler’s Wells and the Management of
visiting companies and dancers may not always be in full costume and may walk
through part of their roles. Please check with the Secretary, Richard Reavill,
tel: 01491872574, email
Sadler’s Wells 0870 737 7737
5-10 June: Northern Ballet Theatre
13-16 June: Savion Glover
19-22 June: Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan
4-8 July: Philippe Decoufle
10 July – 5 August: Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man
7-12 August: Paco Peña
28-29 Sept: Hofesh Shechter
Peacock Theatre 0870 737 0337
23 May – 10 June: Havana Rakatan
26, 29 June, 1 July: London Studio Centre
10 Oct-3 Nov: Shaolin Monks
Lilian Baylis Theatre 0870 737 7737
8, 9 June: Batik Dance Company
10 June-3 July: Lost Musicals
15, 16 June: Gregory Maqoma
22 June: Iskandar Dance Company
23 June: Caligula
Old Vic Theatre 0870 060 6628
7 June-18 August: Gaslight
Subscriptions are due at the end of June every year. Per annum: £7.50 (£6 for OAPs); Life Membership £70. Please send these to the Hon. Registrar, Professor Liz Schafer, address below. Please enclose a stamped addressed envelope for your membership card.
Mr. James Ranger
Herts SG2 7AQ
014 3886 1318
Dr. Richard Reavill,
7 Nuns Acre,
Berkshire RG8 9BE
014 9187 2574
Mr. Neville Taylor,
Flat 1, 128 Gloucester Terrace, Paddington,
London W2 6HP
020 7262 5898
020 8789 9227
Miss Imogen Walker,
61 Highgate West Hill,
London N6 6BU
Acting Social Secretary:
Miss Mary-Jane Burcher,
Flat 6, Oak House,
6 Carlton Drive,
London SW15 2BZ
020 8789 9227
Professor Liz Schafer,
372 Stroude Road,
Surrey GU25 4DB
013 4484 2836