“The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death”

This production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, a key work of the Decadent movement, was an atmospheric one, with director Shaban Arifi opting for a semi-lit stage. It begins with soldiers musing on the beauty of Salome and continues as events move towards their inorexable finish.

Elena Sirina was excellent as Salome, convincing as the beautiful woman who dances the “Dance of the Seven Veils” as well as the ruthless stepdaughter who demands Jokanaan’s (John the Baptist) head on a platter. Kevin Jay was also very good as Herod, while Alison Meredith played her part of Herodias well. This is a play which will not be to everyone’s taste – the dramatic plot might seem over the top to some – but for fans of Oscar Wilde it is well worth seeing.

Mementoes and memories

When my grandparents died I ended up with a big box of leaflets, programmes and tickets they’d accumulated over the years. Sadly my mam flatly refused to let me keep them all (I suspect she wanted the Fortnum & Mason hamper). Therefore, last time I was at home I had the task of sorting them out.


Box (hamper) of delights

My grandparents got to see some amazing casts in their time. Look at this cast list for A Room With a View – it includes Jane Lapotaire and Derek Jacobi!


A Room With a View cast list

I found this little gem while rummaging through the hamper – a programme signed by Tommy Steele. Steele is an incredibly long-running performer who just two years ago was still performing in Scrooge at the Palladium (impressively full of energy despite being 75 at the time). He also happens to share a name with my granda (well, except for the rogue “e” at the end of Steele, and for the fact that my granda was always Thomas, or Tom, never, to my knowledge, Tommy).


Programme signed by Tommy Steele

I was rather pleased to find this programme for Dangerous Corner, as I was due to see the play myself a few weeks later (I thoroughly enjoyed it when I did see it).


Programme for Dangerous Corner

A joyous find – a programme for a version of The Lambton Worm, complete with the words of the song. All together now: “Whisht! lads, haad yor gobs, An aa’ll tell ye aall an aaful story…”


The Lambton Worm

I can’t remember which programmes these were, but I had to record this hair and that moustache for posterity.



My grandparents must have visited Newcastle Theatre royal a lot, judging by the number of programmes I found. Fun story: a few years before I was born, my grandparents took my parents to see a Shakespeare play here, one of two that the RSC were touring that season. My granda then booked for the other play, but when they all turned up that evening, it was the same play again… oops. At least that’s unlikely to happen with online booking!


Newcastle Theatre Royal programmes

The Royal Shakespeare Company have had a season in Newcastle for years (my first experience of the RSC’s work was the 2002 production of Antony and Cleopatra) and my grandparents had kept leaflets from nearly every year.


RSC in Newcastle

I was thrilled to find this programme for To Kill A Mockingbird at the Darlington Civic Theatre as I remember my grandparents taking me. It was the first, or at least one of the first, productions I saw with them that wasn’t a pantomime, and I loved it.


To Kill A Mockingbird programme

Talking about pantomime, here are some panto programmes!


Pantomime programmes

My grandparents liked travelling to London when they could and going to see West End shows. I was rather jealous to find programmes from the original runs of Les MiserablesMiss Saigon and Starlight Express.


Original West End programmes

If I was ever in any doubt about where I get my theatre obsession from, that doubt would now be dispelled. I miss my grandparents, but at least I have lots of good memories of going to the theatre with them.

Dylan Thomas: Return Journey

In a small room at the top of Woolwich Grand Theatre, Bob Kingdom held the audience spellbound for the duration of his performance as Dylan Thomas in Return Journey, a piece evoking the poet’s final US lecture tour before his premature death. Marking both the 21st anniversary of the production and the centenary of Thomas’ birth, the performance is a timely one and is simply a must-see for Dylan fans.

Kingdom inhabits the role wonderfully, telling us about Thomas’ childhood memories, a charabanc outing, his return to Swansea as an adult, and of course the poems. His recitation of some of the best loved works, including Fern HillDeath shall have no dominion, and Do not go gentle into that good night, is so perfectly like Dylan’s that I got shivers down my spine listening to it. Truly I could have sat there for hours.

The James Plays

The James Plays is a series of plays by Rona Munro looking at the first three kings of Scotland named James. I saw all three plays in one day – an exhilarating experience that allowed me to appreciate the complexity of this huge undertaking. The plays are thrilling  powerful and packed with memorable characters, following themes such as the nature of power and Scottish nationalism. The set of the Olivier stage is sparse except for the large sword thrust through the surface – a stark reminder of the importance of war during the period. A throne sits at the back of the stage, high up beside the stage seats.

James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock opens with the English King Henry V (Jamie Sives) goading his prisoner, King James of Scotland (James McArdle). Kicking off with Henry was an inspired choice – audiences might not be familiar with the early kings of Scotland, but they will surely be aware of Henry, and should be better able to place the plays in their historical context. Released from captivity, James attempts to regain authority, facing difficulties from powerful nobles and from his young English wife, Joan (Stephanie Hyam). Seeing King James grow in stature acting against the nobles who oppose him, and asserting his authority, is gripping stuff, tempered by his complex relationship with his sharp but vulnerable wife.

James II: Day of the Innocents is very different: we see a puppet version of the child king, controlled by rival nobles after his father’s early death. It is nightmarish and troubling, a world where no one can be trusted. And yet, there is hope: a grown-up James (Andrew Rothney) makes decisions, deals with the nobles, and makes sure that everyone knows who is the boss. Apart from the political intrigue, there is an interesting sub-plot involving James and his close friendship with William Douglas (Mark Rowley); Douglas comforts James in his childhood fear, but as the king grows up, takes responsibility and marries, the relationship between the pair grows strained, with tragic consequences.

The third play, James III: The True Mirror, is even more different – characters wear modern-style dress and dance, before the production begins, to twenty-first century pop hits in a joyful celebration. King James III (Jamie Sives, unrecognisable from his earlier role as Henry V) is selfish, unreliable, vain and thoughtless, meaning that his wife, Queen Margaret (Sofie Gråbøl), undertakes much of the running of the country. This James also asserts his authority, but unlike the previous two, he asserts his right to ignore the country and do exactly what he likes – admirable in many ways, even if not so good for Scotland. It is left to Margaret to rule in his stead while the future James IV is young.

These plays are a huge achievement: Munro’s writing is pacy, sharp and very funny, revealing truths about the Scottish character and getting right to the heart of what matters. Director Laurie Sansom ensures that the energy that powers the plays never falters, and the cast is uniformly excellent, with no weak links. The three kings are all three-dimensional characters, with Jamie Sives particularly good at making his character sympathetic despite his clear unsuitability as a monarch. Stephanie Hyam is excellent as the first two Scottish queens, who are completely different from one another. And Sofie Gråbøl is superb as Queen Margaret, who, with her rousing speech about the Scots at the end of the third play, ends the trilogy on a feminist high.

The James Plays are sure to go down as one of my highlights of 2014. They are particularly relevant in the context of the recent referendum, but there is enough fascinating history and brilliant characterisation here to make the plays timeless.

Present Laughter

Recently, the Dugdale Centre in Enfield played host to Noël Coward’s Present Laughter, an entertaining piece about an actor and how he copes with the people around him. There’s his ex-wife, his loyal secretary, an enthusiastic young writer and an aspiring actress, not to mention his friends. An excellent cast helped to create a thoroughly enjoyable production.

Double Death

Double Death is a thriller by Simon Williams about a pair of twins kept apart by a restraining order who nevertheless come together in an isolated house on a Cornish cliff-top for the final time. I found it entertaining, but rather silly, despite some good performances.

Ashley Hennessy is wheelchair-bound following an “accident” involving mountain-climbing and his brother. He lives in the house with his Aunt Lalla, while his twin brother Max is supposed to keep his distance in London – but he returns to the house to enact his cunning plan.

Andrew Paul does a good job of playing both of the twins, and the way in which he is able to do this is ingenious and worthy of admiration. Judy Buxton is also good as Aunt Lalla, while Kim Tiddy provides strong support as Nurse Malahide, particularly during the second half’s plot twist. Brian Capron plays DI Fergus, but while his performance is good, his Cornish accent is a bit dodgy.

I was entertained by the play, but I wouldn’t consider it a must-see. Still, if you like this sort of thing and it comes your way, it’s worth checking out Double Death.

You’re Always With Me

You’re Always With Me is a play by Ilyas Afandiyev about life in Soviet-era Azerbajan. Performed at the Lost Theatre in Stockwell, the play is about a troubled young woman, Nergile (Stephanie Harte), who feels like an outsider in the house of her mother and stepfather. She breaks out on her own and ends up falling in love with older widower Hesenzade (Doug Devany).

This is a touching drama about the difficulties of life in 1960s Soviet society and the importance of love. The relationship between Nergile and Hesenzade is moving and believable, but I also found Nergile’s relationship with her mother fascinating: the two have a difficult relationship, with the mother caught between her older daughter and her husband. Nergile’s friends provide lighter moments of relief amongst the bleakness. Definitely worth seeing.