A Week In The West End
BBC 2, February 2002
Episodes summerised by Emma Shane
© Spring 2005
Monday (11 February 2002)
The series kicks off with an introduction from presenter Claire Sweeney infront of a theatre, of course. Then it’s into the first round of ‘WestEnders’ - a segment which appears at least once in every episode of this series, in which a group of West End actors each do a piece to camera on some common subject, as if answering some question. For this first round, the question appears to have been something along the lines of their opinion of London’s West End. First up in this first round is hit show Mamma Mia’s magnificent leading lady Louise Plowright, dressed in the silver-coloured jumpsuit she wears for Super Trouper; she gets things off to a flying start saying “I love the West End, because I’m in the heart of the theatreland.” Further Westenders in this round include: Linda Gray, Tim Flavin, Janie Dee, Marin Mazzie, Nancy Anderson, and, Ruthie Henshall.
Now it’s time for Claire’s co-presenter Alistair Appleton to take the reins, and present an item about The Mousetrap - the longest running play in London’s West End. This includes original cast members David Attenborugh and Shelia Sim describing their and Agatha Christie’s reactions to the show’s first not very good tryout, a quietly confident Mrs Christie suggested the cast and crew all go to bed.
Time for an item about a musical. Claire Sweeney meets the cast of the Broadway transfer production of Kiss Me Kate. This has four Americans in the leading roles, Brent Barrett (Fred/Petruchio) manages to pretend to sound a little pompous when describing how wonderful his leading man’s part is, I don’t suppose he’s really that conceited, but the character he plays is; Marin Mazzie (Lilli/Kate) just wants to play strong female characters, and you can’t get much more so than The Shrew; Nancy Anderson (Lois/Bicana) likes singing a song in a spotlight in a blue dress (as she does for Always True To You In My Fashion), and, Michael Berresee (Bill/Lucentio) is a gymnast, so he and the choreographer have used that to enhance his Bianca number. Claire then interviews the latter’s understudy Nick Winston and resident director Petra Solosinwi. This last was a revelation to me, I’d no idea before how imported a job that was, and how much it can affect the audience’s enjoyment big long-running West End shows, especially if it’s a show with a high level of absenteeism. This item does of course include a number of clips, most notably one of Marin Mazzie doing I Hate Men. She sings it pretty well (hers is definitely one of the better renditions of that song), but I felt the staging was rather over the top.
Next up Alistair interviews Linda Gray about her forthcoming role in the stage version of The Graduate, and gets her to talk about her work as a model in the 1960’s, when coincidentally she actually did some work for the film poster for The Graduate.
Time for Claire to introduce the telephone vote. The audience is asked to vote for one of four shows, to win an audience award at this year (2001)’s Lawrence Olivier Awards. To help them choose we have a montage of clips from each of the quartet, which are: Cats, Mamma Mia, The Phantom Of The Opera, and, The Reduced Shakespeare Company. The Mamma Mia one is backed with its title song. Visually it starts with a shot of a cheerful Louise Gold singing Dancing Queen in The Bedroom scene, then cuts to Louise Plowright looking like she’s laughing, and finally onto Lesley Nicol with the same number. The montage continues with various clips of The Chorus, the 3 Dads arriving, Louise Plowright’s Donna brandishing a drill, most of the company singing Rich Man’s World (the leading lady is particularly noticeable in that, though I didn’t spot her fellow dynamos - it’s only a brief clip), and a couple of clips of Louise Plowright singing The Winner Takes It All. The other two musicals are displayed in a similar manner, while the fourth contender is longer clips of actual spoken dialog.
Next Alistair presents a guide to finding your way around town.
Back to musicals and Cameron Mackintosh gets interviewed and talks about the first show he produced, a 1969 revival of Anything Goes, where just about everything that could go wrong did.
Next up A Day In The Life of actor John Owen-Jones, who is playing this title role in The Phantom Of The Opera. A lot of this seems to be about him getting into his make-up, which takes hours, plus clips of him performing, along with co-star talented American singer Deborah Durtcher.
The penultimate item in the show is all about amateur theatre, it includes a financer (Tony Holbro from The Maresfield Millennium Players) who finds acting a great stress busters, and the chairman of some umbrella organisation explaining how he’s come across many amateur actors who subsequently went professional, not to mention a few professionals who gave it up as a professional but still perform as a hobby. When he mentioned the former, I found myself thinking of the clips earlier in this episode of one current Leading Lady, who might be just such an example.
After Claire has given us a sneak preview of tomorrows episode, the programme concludes with Nancy Anderson, in her blue dress, singing Always True To You In My Fashion. She does a fine job with the song, perhaps not very subtle, but nevertheless enjoyable, and a good note to end on.
All in all the series gets off to a good start. I found the Phantom Of The Opera item fascinating, enjoyed the one about Kiss Me Kate, and couldn’t help but love the Mamma Mia clips in the video vote. But my favourite item in the episode was the WestEnders segment (especially Louise Plowright’s piece in it)
Tuesday (12 February 2002)
This episode starts with Claire Sweeney visiting grandest of all London Theatres, The Royal Opera House (which had been extensively revamped a year or so previously). Her guide is a young opera singer named Alfred Boe, before he became a professional singer he was a car mechanic, who was always singing around the factory. It turns out he and Claire had a passing acquaintance, as he was also a drummer at the Central Working Mens Club in Blackpool, where she used to sing. Alf isn’t the only diverse performer to appear in this episode, nor is he the only onetime amateur now turned professional, but they come later. Meanwhile at The Opera House Claire meets Bryn Terfel rehearsing Don Giovanni, award winning ballet dancers Tamara Rojo and Johan Kolborg (who kindly give her 10 minutes of their 15 minute lunch break - the only break they get all day), and finally Darcy Bussell, who has just returned from maternity leave after having her first child (she says she won’t have another), and she’s by no means the only artiste in this episode to mention their children.
Next on the agenda, a Westenders segment. This one seems to be about worst moments on stage. First up Michael Ball on forgetting the words to Love Changes Everything. Then a lady obviously dressed as a Mamma Mia Dynamo (Tanya finale costume) describes the time she went to the toilet before going on stage, and having hung her dress up so it wouldn’t get creased, tried to put her dress on and flush the toilet at the same time, and in doing so inadvertently flushed part of her dress down the toilet. Who else but Louise Gold would find herself in such a bizarre situation! Things certainly happen to that lady! This story is followed by, amongst others: Anton Rogers, Janie Dee (farting), David Attenborough (fainting - his wife who was also in the show had to throw water over him before they could go on again), Penelope Keith (having peanuts thrown at her), Joanna Riding (falling through a trap door at Chichester and grabbing hold of the nearest thing to hand, a male actor’s trousers, which promptly came down), and, Ruthie Henshall (coming in at the wrong moment during a song and having to restart the entire show - worryingly some of the audience didn’t even notice, or so she says).
Now it’s Alistair’s turn to present an item about where to buy theatre tickets: tout, ticket agent, online, box office. The latter is his preference; and I couldn’t agree more.
We come to my favourite item in the entire series, all about Mamma Mia. This starts with a clip of that winner of a leading lady Louise Plowright singing The Winner Takes It All, and we actually hear her magnificently rich voice. Then come interviews to camera with the three women who put the show together: producer Judy Craymer, writer Catherine Johnson, and, director Phyllida Lloyd, plus, one man, songwriter (and ex pop star) Bjorn Ulvaeus. The latter mentions that he has done a few very minor lyric changes, which he doesn’t think even his fans will notice. While the three women are speaking, Chiquita is playing very quietly in the background. (Ironically that is the one song, where one of Bjorn’s altered lyrics is quite noticeable). This segment was interspersed with various excerpts from the show, mostly from the songs: Mamma Mia, Voules Vous, Money Money Money, and concludes with a clip of the finale version of Dancing Queen (where I can hardly take my eyes off the two Louises, and Louise Gold somehow manages to wriggle her face and her body in a way that is very distinctively her). This is followed by another set of interviews, on the stage of The Prince Edward Theatre itself, Claire interviews the three women then playing Donna And The Dynamos, she introduces them as “Louise, Louise, and, Lesley”. As she walks onto the stage, we see sitting round the table, in their finale costumes are (from left to right): Louise Gold, Louise Plowright, and, Lesley Nicol. The interview starts with Louise Plowright and Lesley Nicol mentioning how spoilt they are playing to packed houses. They remark on how there’s never been a show like it, with such good roles for three women “and their old” says Louise Plowright; and Louise Gold nods in agreement. Lesley Nicol says “They’re not the other side of forty, they’re the other side of forty.” “How many other sides of forty are there?” enquires Louise Gold. Claire then asks Louise Gold about her baby. To which Louise Gold explains that she auditioned when she was pregnant, and then kept getting rung up by the management asking if she’d had the baby yet as rehearsals were starting soon. She goes on to say that she brought her son with her to rehearsals and recounts that one day it all went a bit wrong and she had to breast-feed him during a rehearsal round the piano of Dancing Queen. The trio claim that Louise Gold’s fellow dynamos took no notice whatsoever (I could well believe that of Louise Plowright, but could not be so sure about Lesley Nicol). Claire asks them if they are like their characters. “I’m not” says Louise Gold. “I am” says Louise Plowright and adds to Louise Gold “You are too”, playfully slapping her on the shoulder. Lesley Nicol says she is like her’s as well, while Louise Gold continues to protest of her character “It’s totally not like me at all”, and bangs the table with her powerful hands. Claire now addresses Louise Plowright “Louise, you originally played Tanya” “I created the character” says Louise Plowright with a voice that could well be mock superiority. “I’ve improved it” chips in Louise Gold. “She says she’s not like her character” laughs Louise Plowright. In fact, I think Louise Plowright has a point there, Louise Gold is like her character, or at least she is like her interpretation of the character, for (when she plays Tanya) she has given the character her own sense of fun, that of not taking herself to seriously. Interview over we come to the piece de resistance, a nice lengthy clip of the trio in action performing Dancing Queen in The Bedroom Scene. It is a true tour de force from those magnificent singing-actresses Louise Plowright and Louise Gold, while Lesley Nicol does an excellent job of keeping up with them. The trio, especially Louise & Louise, really look like best friends having a jolly time together. But as well as being totally convincing, they are also wonderfully entertaining, and their performance is a magnificent show of just how clever and talented these ladies are, not to mention how well Phyllida Lloyd has directed them, making full use of their talents. At the number’s opening the focus is on Louise Gold’s Tanya who is singing the main verse (into a hairdryer), with some support from Lesley Nicol’s Rosie (armed with a snorkel). Tall Louise Gold steps up onto a basket, to dominate further, meanwhile, Louise Plowright’s Donna is sitting on the bed looking like she’s laughing at this spectacle. Although Louise Plowright is very definitely in the scene at this point, she does something which I find fascinating, the leading lady holds back from actually commanding the stage, allowing irrepressible supporting player, Louise Gold, to carry and dominate the scene; until, the moment the second verse begin, at which Louise Plowright jumps off the bed into the centre of the action. In a flash she, the leading lady, is the centre of attention, for her verse. And then when it comes to the chorus she holds back her command just enough for her co-stars to share the spotlight with her. At this the number becomes its most riotous and joyful, as the trio dance about like women less than half their age, with the style and talent one expects (but all too often doesn’t get) in a big smash hit West End show. Now the number is largely carried by those two tall Louise’s, sharing the spotlight, and they are a wonderful site to watch, its just brilliant that this magnificent performance of theirs has been captured on television.
To my mind nothing could really follow that last item, but there’s a lot of the programme left, and now it’s Alistair’s turn to interview Sam Shepard, who is appearing in the play Art, on tour. Sam loves live theatre, though he hadn’t done it for a while, but he mentions that as he has a young family, he has to be careful about committing himself to a lot of theatre.
Time for the telephone vote segment, this follows exactly the same form as Monday, with all the same clips.
Next up Claire gives us a sneak preview of a new musical about to open at The London Palladium, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This includes interviews with: Emma Williams, Brian Blessed, Michael Ball, Anton Rogers, and Richard O’Brien. The latter mentions how his approach to playing the childcatcher, is based upon when his own children were small, he used to like scaring them to the point where they enjoyed being scared, so that when he stopped they’d say to him “Do it again Daddy”.
Alistair now gets one of his greatest items to present, an item about theatrical superstitions, in which he interviews Theatre Archivist Mark Fox, who explains several superstitions including: The reason it’s bad luck to whistle on stage because in the old days the scenery was worked by dockers who used a code of whistles (just like they did on the docks) to know when to raise and lower the scenery, so if anyone else walked whistled on stage it would confuse the scene shifters. While ‘Break A Leg’ refers to the rope used to hang the tabs (front of house curtain), if you had a lot of curtain calls and a lot of performances, i.e. a good run, it would become frayed and eventually break. Alistair then goes on to explain about the spirits which haunt theatre’s, such a Drury Lane, and interviews original My Fair Lady Cast members Jenny Walton and Jean Scott. He finishes with the story of Robert Badderly, Pastry Cook & Actor’s cake.
A second Westenders segment, follows, about, what else but, superstition and ritual. Starting with Brian Blessed (all actors are colossally superstitious), then Ruthie Henshall (says a prayer at the beginning and end of a run, on stage). Third up is the highly amusing Louise Gold, who says “I’m not superstitious at all. Although if anyone whistles in my dressing room I’ll kill them. But I’m totally not superstitious”. She is followed by: Brent Barrett (ritual journeys before a performance), Sam Shepard (in Art before the performance he and his fellow actors hold hands round a chair), Nancy Anderson (ritual), Lesley Nicol (always contrives to get dressed in the same order), Michael Berresee & Marin Mazzie (in this production he always has to go and kiss her on the neck), Janie Dee (won’t say the name of a certain Shakespeare play); and finally Joanna Riding who doesn’t go in for any superstitions and rituals, because “if you think something will go wrong then it will”.
Next up an item about the Cats Kids Club, which was inspired by The New London Theatre’s Education Officer’s memories of Saturday Morning Cinema clubs when he was a child.
Keeping with the Lloyd-Webber theme, the last item in the programme is Claire interviewing Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Who mentions that now that Cats is finally coming off after 21 years, he might finally get to tinker with his orchestrations for it again.
The programme ends with a quick preview of the following day’s episode.
Overall by far my favourite episode. For me the best thing about it is the whole of the Mamma Mia item. It was great to have the variety of clips from the show, and to hear the creative team behind it talking about it. It was an even greater joy to have the three dynamos, especially the two Louises talking about the show. But best of all was that glorious performance of Dancing Queen. It is so brimful of talented joyful performance that is practically guaranteed to life ones spirits. I think it is actually one of the best, if not the very best, thing I have ever seen Louise Gold do on television, and for that matter Louise Plowright. A true recorded highlight of their careers. British theatre super troupers Louise & Louise made a magnificent team on the West End stage in Mamma Mia, and it is shear delight to have a bit of that magic captured on television.
Wednesday (13 February 2002)
This is the only episode of the entire series which lasted a mere half an hour, all the others were an hour.
The programme starts with a brief introduction from Alistair Appleton, and moves swiftly into an item about the musical Chicago presented by Claire Sweeney, who actually happens to be playing Roxie Hart in the show at the time. Indeed the item starts with a clip of Claire and her two male dancers performing an excerpt from Me And My Baby. We also get clips of Leigh Zimmerman & ensemble doing All That Jazz, and Neil McCaul doing All I Care About Is Love. In her own dressing room at The Adelphi (one of the very best in London’s West End) Claire interviews Ruthie Henshall who originated the role of Roxie in this long running revival. Elsewhere around the theatre they also encounter Vanessa Leigh-Hicks, one of this revival’s original dancers coaching a few other dancers.
Next up, a social experiment, taking a bunch of young footballers (The Manchester City Under 21’s and Ladies teams) to the theatre (a touring production of Miss Saigon). Their attitudes, initially sceptical as to whether they’d like it, but coming round to it, very much reminded me of my own attitudes towards Opera (having always thought it was “too expensive” and “not really my thing” its now something I’m now getting quite interested in - thanks in part to seeing one notable opera singer in a two-handed musical about Jazz v Opera).
Claire then presents the telephone vote, this follows the same format as on Monday and Tuesday, with the same clips. It’s still a joy to see those Mamma Mia clips, and the dancing in Cats is quite impressive as well.
Alistair now presents an item on the controversial subject of absentee leads. Although the thrust of the item is about the non-appearance big film and TV names, which gets covered pretty well, I felt they overlooked the wider problem, not all of us necessarily book with the intention of seeing big superstars who have their names above the show’s title. But nevertheless we still book because there are specific actors whom we want to see and can be a bit miffed when they are absent. As for Alistair Appleton’s assertion that the understudy could be “a star in the making”, well if you’re lucky that may be the case, but my mother and I found ourselves reminded of one occasion (a few months prior to this TV series, at a big West End Show) when we felt that was definitely not the case.
Time for something more light hearted, and fortunately next on the agenda was the Westenders segment. The question this time seems to have been about turning work down. The Westenders include: Louise Gold, Josie Lawrence, Joanna Riding (who once turned down Spend Spend Spend, and promptly spent the next seven months out of work), Marin Mazzie, Janie Dee, and lastly Louise Plowright (In her Super Trouper silver jumpsuit) who concluded the segment with “No I never turn a part down, can’t afford it” Meanwhile fellow dynamo Louise Gold, who’s contribution to the segment was sandwiched between two actors, whom I couldn’t identify, demonstrates just how willing that lady is to tell stories against herself. Facing the camera, in full Mamma Mia finale costume, the daring dynamo says “I got sent the script of Mamma Mia when they were originally auditioning and I read it and I thought this is awful, this is absolutely shocking. I wouldn’t go near this in a million years, and I didn’t audition for it, and boy did I feel a fool.”
Time for some more serious drama, an item about an up and coming production of the Oscar Wilde play Lady Windermere’s Fan, with Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson as the mother and daughter. This item featured interviews with: Vanessa Redgrave, Jack Davenport, and director Sir Peter Hall.
The programme concludes with Claire’s sneak preview of the following day’s episode; And a song from Crazy For You, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, sung by Ruthie Henshall, who happens to be a rather good torch singer.
Overall I felt the episode reasonable, if a bit short. The item about Chicago was good fun, the absenteeism item made an attempt to highlight part of that contentious issue. For me, the best thing about the episode was undoubtedly the Westenders segment, mainly because of the very funny stories that Joanna Riding and Louise Gold told against themselves. How sporting of them to admit it, especially Louise Gold - seeing as she was actually telling a story about turning down the show she was currently appearing in!
Thursday (14 February 2002)
The programme starts in the more usual manner with an introduction from Claire, and moves swiftly into an extended item about The Lion King, which if you happen to find the history of puppetry interesting will be fascinating, as it is a real mixture of very old and rather new techniques. However, for those not so interested in this subject it might have been a bit long. The segment features a lengthy interview with the director Judy Taymour who went into some detail about how she had tried to combine all sorts of different theatrical elements. For example instead of simple masks, she tried making the masks more like headdresses for the stage, so that you would see the actors’ faces at the same time as their masks, thus they could perform with both at the same time. If she finds an actor whom she thinks has the potential to do what she wants she’s willing to train them up, even if they’ve never done mask, skin or puppet work before. Two of the actors, Rob Edwards (Scar) and Ian Hughes (Timon) are also interviewed, and Ian mentions that he had never puppeteered before, so he’s approached the role of Timon as basically an acting role, with an extra dimension.
Next up the Westenders segment. The subject seemed to be audition nightmares and featured: Michael Bernasse, Lesley Nicol, Jonathan Pryce (claims not to need to audition, darling), Marin Mazzie (on being ignored by the director), Jonathan Pryce again (this time with a story), Josie Lawrence (on smiling at camera), and, Nancy Anderson (voice cracked). Perhaps the funniest of these was Lesley Nicol’s description of the first time she auditioned with a hand mike, singing Day By Day from Godspell, she thought she’d better “move a bit” but forgot to take the mike with her.
Claire presents the next item, A Day In The Life Of A Swing. This features the three then current Chicago swings: Elizabeth Cooper-Gee, Rachel Pressland, and, Odette Perdrisat. They describe their backstage routine, and mass of notes. We see clips of the number We Both Reached For The Gun. Backstage Elizabeth, Rachel and Odette are going through it, while out in front Neil McCaul, Claire and the rest of the company are performing it to the audience. Also see Dance -Captain (and Velma’s understudy) Vanessa Leigh-Hicks teaching the swings the role of Kitty. And finally Odette preparing to go on, covering the role of Mama Morton.
Time for the telephone vote, presented by Claire, this is exactly the same as before, but as usual, I felt it was just nice to see the clips again, especially those joyous Mamma Mia ones.
Alistair presents the next item, an interview with Penelope Keith about the world premier of a Noel Coward play, Star Quality, in which she is playing the leading lady. She says that the play is “a marvellous peak behind the scenes” into the actors’ world.
Next up Claire interviews the three actors that of The Reduced Shakespeare Company, and we get a lot of clips from that, both of them doing Shakespeare and The History Of America - Abridged. Personally I found the item too long and not all that interesting, but perhaps it just wasn’t to my taste.
This is followed by a much more interesting item, about the Gershwin musical My One And Only, whose previous years Chichester production was about to transfer to The West End. We see Janie Dee, Tim Flavin and the chorus in rehearsal, mostly singing S’Wonderful. There are also interviews with: Janie Dee, Tim Flavin, Director Loveday Ingram, and Designer Lez Brotherson. While Tim and Loveday try not to give away too much of the plot, in a bid to encourage people to see the show, Lez seems to have decided that won’t put people off and tells all, in addition to describing the adaptations he’s made to the scenery because of The Piccadilly Theatre’s stage being quite different to Chichester’s.
Now it’s Alistair’s turn to present an item, about how to keep the cost down when visiting the theatre: eat before you go, don’t bother with a programme, and share a bottle of wine. He also interviews theatre producer Rosemary Squires, who doesn’t approve of his suggestion that theatregoers might take a packed lunch with them, because, she says it would be so distracting in the auditorium, personally I thought it a good suggestion (if eaten in the bar rather than the auditorium). Alistair concludes by saying that while you can keep the cost down, you might decide to splash out “after all it’s not as if you go to the West End every night”.
The penultimate item is about Theatre Masterclasses, profiling one of Les Miserables. The segment focuses in particular on the number One Day More, and, three participants: Tom Campbell, Dave Amos, and, Nicola Amos; and concludes with the Masterclass finale on the stage of The Palace Theatre.
The finale item in the programme is about a thriller play, at The Fortune Theatre, The Woman In Black. We are shown various excerpts with the then current pair of actors, and an interview with the director Robert Herfield, who says he has discovered, with the play’s very minimal staging, that today’s audiences are still perfectly capable of using their imagination.
The programme ends, as usual, with Claire presenting a quick preview of the following day’s programme.
I found this episode the least interesting one in the series. Nevertheless it was worth watching. I personally found the Lion King segment extremely interesting, though I can appreciate that it wouldn’t have been everyone’s cup of tea. I felt that the highlight of the episode was the My One And Only rehearsal and interview segment, not least because if you like a Gershwin tune, then it just has to appeal, and the Westenders segment while not quite as hilarious as some of the previous ones, was nevertheless very enjoyable in a cringe-making way.
Friday (15 February 2002)
The programme starts, after Claire’s introduction, with an item about the National Theatre’s revival of My Fair Lady, which has transferred to Theatre Royal Drury Lane. By this time Joanna Riding had taken over as Eliza. We get clips of Jonathan Pryce (as Henry Higgens), and Joanna, along with whoever was playing Colonel Pickering rehearsing, The Rain In Spain; and Jonathan and Joanna speak to camera, as does Dennis Waterman who was playing Alfred P Doolittle. From this we learn that Jonathan finds it funny to play Higgins, because he is in fact Welsh and at drama school had to learn to speak standard English English. Meanwhile Joanna compares herself to her character in that she is quite a working class girl, and at drama school had to learn to speak posh. Their performance of The Rain In Spain was pure joy, how wonderful to have that on television.
Alistair’s turn to present another advice item, this time on choosing your seats at the theatre, wherein we learn that Mr and Mrs Average Victorian were 5’7” and 4’11” in height, if like Alistair you suffer from vertigo its not a good idea to sit in The Gods, and if offered a restricted view seat be sure to find out what the restriction is. (I can thoroughly agree with this last piece of advice. Not being able to see the back of the stage at the NT is one thing, not being able to see half the stage at the ROH might be another).
On to the next item, narrated by Claire, about auditions in Dublin for the role of Chip in a touring production of Disney’s Beauty And The Beast. When the auditionees perform their own choices we get a lot from Oliver and an amount from Annie. We see and hear: unsuccessful auditionee David Fox, Casting Director Pippa Aillion, Musical Director Paul Christ, and successful candidates Barry O’Connell and JJ Donney.
Now an item or two about J B Priestly plays. Firstly, An Inspector Calls, which is actually about Single Mothers; we have comments from Director Stephen Daldry and Designer Ian MacNeil, and learn that the “Exploding Set” is a first in West End theatrical history. Secondly, Alistair interviews the cast of, Dangerous Corner, which as Dervla Kirwn explains is about a group of people playing a truth game. We see clips of Dervla and her fellow cast members Steve John Shepard, Rupert Penry-Jones, and, Patrick Robinson in rehearsal and all get to speak to camera.
Time for a typically hilarious final Westenders segment, the question seems to have been what role would people kill to play. The WestEnders are: Ruthie Henshall (Fanny Brice in Funny Girl), Jonathan Pryce (Either classical or new), Penelope Keith (Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream - except that she’s now too old), Janie Dee (“Mary Poppins if it ever comes to the West End”), Josie Lawrence (Hamlet), Marin Mazzie (hopes that among new work she would find such a part), Nancy Anderson (Eliza in My Fair Lady), and finally Joanna Riding who’s choice is Eliza in My Fair Lady, “And I didn’t have to kill anyone” she adds, as she is playing the part.
Time for the last item about “ordinary people”, we’ve had Kids Clubs, Am Dram, Footballers, and, Masterclasses, now its the turn of Show Fans, such as: Bob Martin (who has seen Cats 767 times - as he says why shouldn’t he treat himself, he doesn’t spend money on smoking or drinking), Julie Wallford (who travels up and down the country to catch productions of Blood Brothers and has seen it 11, 000 times), and, The Starlight Express Fan Club (who are shown dressing up - as they always do for special occasions - to attend the show’s finale West End performance). With the latter the focus is on Jenny Parry (who has seen the show 180 times, though she says “I’m not totally obsessive, I don’t think about Starlight all the time”) and she really sums the whole item up when she says “They’re obsessive about Boybands some people, so why can’t I be obsessive about Starlight Express?” I for one was really glad see a group of respectful show fans shown as pretty normal people, who just happen to have a particular interest.
Time for a change of pace, as Alistair interviews June Whitfield, appearing in Bedroom Farce, which finds her on stage for the first time since a play in 1989, naturally she’s a little nervous. She recalls working for Noel Coward, whom they all used to call Master.
Next up an item about The Full Monty, with some rehearsal footage and comments from: Producer Lindsay Law (that’s a man btw), Musical Director Martin Lowe, Composer-Lyricist David Yaizbck, and actor Jason Danieley (who plays Malcolm). The stage show contains new songs, which are more integrated than the ones in the film were. Martin Lowe explains that the Musical Director’s job, in rehearsal its mostly to teach the songs to the actors.
Time for more theatre history, and the history of The National Theatre at that. This includes clips from its opening, 25 years after the foundations were laid (for some inexplicable reason the song Aquarius was playing at this point), Sir Lawrence Olivier making his only appearance on the NT’s stage to take a final bow, and a reporter asking Mary Whitehouse why she had complained about the play The Romans In Britain without actually having seen it. There are contributions to camera from three artistic directors of The National, namely Sir Peter Hall, Richard Eyre, and, Trevor Nunn, along with Alistair’s voice-over telling us that Trevor Nunn has not been popular with the critics for staging revivals, when they think the money could have been better spent on new work. However, this comment reminded me that when Trevor Nunn actually did put on new work at The National the critics still didn’t like it - who remembers the musical The Villains’ Opera?)
We come to the final A Day In The Life Of, we’ve had Actor, and, Swing, this time it’s a Company Stage Manager, Philip Effemey on Mamma Mia. In many ways having a day in the life of a member of the backstage crew or production team rather than an acting-company was much more interesting, as we learn so much more about what goes on behind the scenes. We start with “the half” (half hour call), and just as Philip is going off to do his rounds, he passes props people bringing the luggage props (that Tanya and Rosie will carry in their entrance) into position in the wings. Philip’s rounds take him all round the backstage, to the Boys Ensemble’s dressing-room, where he gets teased by Christopher Till (possibly particularly because of the TV crew filming him). Then onto the Girl’s Ensemble’s Room, where he asks if they are decent before entering. Down to Level 2, and into Simon Slater’s dressing-room, where to his surprise he also finds Peter Forbes and Rohan Tickell clearly in the middle of eating. Down to Level 1 and Amanda Salmon’s dressing room, where just as he thought he would he also finds Raza Jaffrey, and coincides with the sound man coming to put Amanda’s radio mike on. Philip explains to the camera that part of his job is to keep track of requests for holidays and guests tickets, and of course sickness. If someone is ill he has to liase with the Resident Director and the Dance Captain to make sure all roles are covered. Down on the stage, Amanda comes down, as she always does, to check that the diary and letter props are in place. Philip explains that the next part of his job is to give clearance, or rather relay clearances from all the different departments, so that the show can actually proceed. We see him in action (there’s a small hiccup until Lighting give their clearance), and then it’s on with the show. While the show is actually running, Stage Manager Claire Whitfield is in charge on stage making sure everything is safe. She explains about how for Money Money Money the audience doesn’t see the chorus come on because they come up through a trap from substage, clips of this, and the number. There is a nice shot of Louise Plowright, and we can also see distinctive tall redheaded Louise Gold in the background. The Stage Manager goes on to describe getting the chorus boys wet and lined up on the jetty for Voules Vous, and once they are all safely in position she gives the signal for the jetty to be raised and they run on. This too is illustrated with clips, and during the segment one can also spot dynamo’s Louise Gold and Lesley Nicol, in short sundress type outfits, dancing along with the ensemble. I couldn’t spot Louise Plowright in this clip, admittedly everything was a bit fleeting, but it reminded me that the first time I saw the show I didn’t notice her in that scene either.
And finally, its time to announce the results of the Lawrence Oliver Audience Award For Best Show. Clive Anderson is shown at the ceremony introducing Claire Sweeney, the nominations are read out by another voice (which sounds a bit like Josie Lawrence, but probably isn’t), and then Claire announces the winner, Phantom Of The Opera, and Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber comes to collect the statue. It only remains for Claire to say goodbye on behalf of Alistair and herself, and so ends a fascinating series.
This last episode had some great moments. The Westenders segment certainly had its moments, especially with Joanna Riding, it was also really great to see Joanna in action along with Jonathan Pryce and Dennis Waterman in My Fair Lady, that’s one of those performances its really good to have captured by television. I was also pleased to see show-fans, such as Jenny Parry, presented in such a positive light, and history of The National was quite fascinating if rather whistle-stop. The only thing in this episode that somewhat disappointed me was the Lawrence Olivier Award (as I wanted Mamma Mia to win - mainly because I feel that Louise Plowright’s performance as Donna The Dynamo really deserves some sort of recognition, and if that show had done so it would have been a reflection on her magnificent performance in it). I felt the highlight of the episode was A Day In The Life Of A Company Manager, partly because it really is interesting to learn so much about what goes on behind the scenes, and partly, of course, because it included clips of the show he’s working on, Mamma Mia.
Overall a wonderful series, a snapshot of London’s West End in early 2002. In years to come, I feel sure the show footage in this series will be one for theatre archives. It was brilliant to have the world of West End Theatre covered the way this programme profiled it, with contributions from a wide range of people in the industry. Not just the actors heading the shows, but swings, directors, writers, choreographers, MD’s, stage managers, and producers. In addition there was also room for “ordinary” people (be it Am-Dram performers, Masterclass students, or show fans). This week-long series had something for all theatre fans, whether you wanted to know about behind-the-scenes or front of stage, musicals or drama. While some of the personnel interviewed were well known names who have been interviewed a good deal. A larger number were not. It was great to see the interviewers spotlight thrown onto people who perhaps don’t get so much of a look in. While I thoroughly enjoyed the appearances and performances of: Janie Dee, Tim Flavin, Marin Mazzie, Neil McCaul, Lesley Nicol, Jonathan Pryce, and Leigh Zimmerman amongst others, there were some people, who for me, really stood out, namely: Joanna Riding, Louise Gold and Louise Plowright. Firstly there’s Joanna Riding. Besides being a very talented singer and actress (something captured to perfection in the Rain In Spain excerpt from My Fair Lady), she came across as incredibly down to earth, sensible, and rather likeable, more than willing to laugh at herself. Another performer who’s very good at laughing at herself is Louise Gold. Her contributions always tended to stand out, and it was really nice to see her for once get the chance to appear in TV in this kind of a manner, although purely in her actress guise. For me most of the biggest highlights of the series involved the musical Mamma Mia. The Day In The Life Of Company Stage Manager Philip Effemey included a good number of clips from the show, as or course did the telephone vote, and the behind-the-scenes interviews with the creative team (Judy Cramer, Catherine Johnnson, Philyda Lloyd, and, Bjorn Ulvaeus), and then if that wasn’t enough there was the interview with the actresses playing The Dynamos. This was no piece to camera, but a proper interview, with Claire trying to interview the trio all together, meaning they could comment on whatever the other two brought up, they came across as three people who seemed to enjoy working together, and they certainly bantered with each other a lot, which was very convincing given that in the show they were playing ‘best friends’. Good though that interview was, it takes second place to the greatest highlight, the magnificent clip of them in action performing Dancing Queen in The Bedroom Scene. Louise Plowright and Louise Gold are truly magnificent, while Lesley Nicol does a fine job of keeping up with them - she may not be as good a singer as the two Louises, but she can act comedy with the best of them. The trio all come across as performers who can very convincingly enter into the sprit of the piece (three grown women willing to let their hair down at the drop of a hat, and behave like a group of youngsters, dancing round a bedroom singing into a hairbrush). They appear to have no qualms about any possible loss of dignity, they just get on with it and let themselves go; this in turn (along of course with their tremendous talent) helps to make them terrifically convincing actresses (especially when playing “best friends”). The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and between them the three of them set a standard, for the performance of this segment of that show, and a high standard it is too. Anyone attempting to perform or direct Mamma Mia, really ought to watch this footage, to see how it should really be done.