15 Memorable Productions

Theatre posters, St Martin's Lane, London
Image by Dramagirl via Flickr

1. My first theatre memory – I believe it was a play, probably a vaudeville show which they used to produce at the old Cremorne Theatre in Brisbane. I must have been about 2 or 3. I recall little but the sound, the lights, laughter and general atmosphere. Apparently I could not stay in my seat and danced in the aisle. I was applauded by the audience. End of story.

2. Australian Ballet: They were at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Brisbane. I was a primary school kid taken to see The Nutcracker. I was enchanted – again by the way the story was told – live people larger than life. It was breathtaking. I recall other ballets and operas at the same time – again at Her Maj’s (I started going to everything I could when in high school) and it was here that I became aware of – and fell in love with the way lighting could change everything.

3. Oliver again at Her Maj. This one was sensational … oh the set! The design was brilliant – again I was taken by the way a world could be created out of light and sound, space and objects including human bodies at full tilt. And this one killed the ‘curse’ that seemed to be on the modern British musical at the time.

4. The first play I directed for Brisbane Arts Theatre: The Bespoke Overcoat by Wolf Mankowicz. I loved this little two-hander, which gave me an opportunity to shape a story through my particular lens. I recall being insistent that the tape measure the old tailor used was yellow – no idea why.

5. Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear at the National Theatre in London in the late 60s. Hysterical farce and stunning performances with a lesson in detail from Sir Laurence Olivier playing a minor role as a butler. The things he did with a swinging bar door could only have come from HOURS of practice. I learned a huge lesson about attention to detail and the importance of timing that day from him.

6. Lining up overnight at Stratford for tickets to Peter Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (has to be 1970 I think). Sharing breakfast with others and then getting standing room only. Everything’s already been said about this break-through production. Suffice it to say it’s all true – we’d seen nothing like it before. Astonishingly fabulous, physical, sexy and made even more memorable for me by overhearing an older American lady remark to her companion, ‘I do wish they’d leave the sex out of Shakespeare.’

7. The International Theatre season that used to be held at the Aldwych Theatre in London (late 60s-early 70s). I didn’t understand a word of most of the productions I saw there but they gave me a terrific feel for the way European theatre was travelling at the time. Anna Magnani in The Fox was just so damned gutsy and brava that I had a diva crush on the spot.

8. Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale part of the all-white season at the RSC – sets were the same for all of the plays, all – white as were most of the costumes with some colour variation. Judy Dench doubling Perdita and her luckless mum Hermione to Patrick Stewart’s Leontes was just plain explosive. Possibly the most influential Shakespeare production I’ve seen in terms of contemporary style – performance, design – which did not in any way dilute the power of the verse and the size of the occasion (if you know what I mean). Ms Dench, now Dame Jude – a total pocket rocket, and that voice!

9. The Cherry Orchard at the National with Dorothy Tutin, Albert Finney, Ralph Richardson (among others). Heartbreakingly stunning with a design that I can never forget. A wide open stage (Old Vic) that remains my touchstone for theatrical realism set in an atmospheric, impressionistic world. I recall laughing and crying within a minute at the play’s end as Richardson’s Firs discovers he’s been abandoned – actually forgotten by everyone, and left behind. He fusses, we laugh – he lies down, and dies. Heartbreak, floods of tears! I also recall Dorothy Tutin sweeping past a bowl of off-white, full-blown roses on a table. Now I know this was unintentional (or was it) but as she swirled by, the petals fell and scattered. And that was the play in a nutshell for me.

10. Actually I saw so much that was inspirational and breathtaking on stage at the NT, RSC and in the West End when I was a drama student. My Saturday afternoons were always taken up with a theatre visit. 2/6d in the gods and I saw the lot. Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens, in 1970 happily married and just plain gorgeous and so adorably funny together – at least she was – in Farquhar’s The Beaux Stratagem. She was in a completely different key – and it didn’t quite work for me – as Hedda Gabler at the Cambridge under the direction of Ingmar Bergman with a huge red set (metaphors ringing anyone?)

11. She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith. Will someone please revive this play? It is wonderfully, sunnily funny, and could do with a dusting off and an outing. I saw it in 1969 at the Haymarket in the Strand with Juliet Mills, Tom Courtenay, and Trevor Peacock as a fantastic Tony Lumpkin. Delicious Saturday afternoon at the theatre stuff.

12. An all-male version of As You Like It at the NT (1968). Very 60s looking but delicious to see guys playing women – as used to happen – and especially for a very young Anthony Hopkins in a frock as the ditzy Audrey. Again, glorious design – plexiglass forest and lighting to die for.

13. Avenue Q my first Broadway musical in 2003 – it took a while – but what fun when it finally came. Live actors and puppets and a delightful satire of the Sesame Street genre and the whole Gen-X thing. The theatre was packed with them on the day I saw the show. Who’s ever going to forget the Bad Ideas Bears, ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’ and ‘The Internet is For Porn’ sung by the large, fluffy Trekkie monster. PS I have a Kate Monster poster on my wall.

14. I’ve seen quite a bit at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, but for the experience (which is always fun but not always the shows) as well as a terrific production and performances, I’d rate David Calder as King Lear right up there. Heart-breaking journey from merry, large, outgoing monarch through bluster and bullying to stripped bare humanity. Great stuff in daylight, with planes flying overheard, and surrounded by groundlings. It still got me.

15. August: Osage County on Broadway in 2009. Estelle Parsons at 81 years and 8 times per week playing Violet the lead brilliantly in a long, exhausting role. Nuff said. *lights candle at older women actors’ shrine*

This is a PS at #16. Not strictly speaking a stage show, but staged theatre none the less. I visited an environmental week-end long performance set in the forested hills and meadows of northern California in 2005 for one of those Civil War replication gatherings that happen, apparently all over the USA. It was an astonishing experience where individual ‘actors’ in period costume, role-played and lived out various historical events during the course of 3 days. They were ‘stage-managed’ and ‘directed’ by the organisers, but their actions were largely self-determined during the course of the event. I’m still processing this one!


2 responses to “15 Memorable Productions”

  1. Barb Avatar

    My first theatre memory seeing Oliver! at Her Maj… I was 4 or 5… I remember Oliver being lead down the stairs in the funeral parlour. Was this the Queensland production? With Kevie Hindes as the lead? If it was, then it has become kind of odd, because I have passionately kissed Kevin in the production of ‘Closer’ at La Boite in 2000! Ah… theatre!

  2. Kate Foy Avatar

    Barb, I have no idea which production this was, but if it was at Her Maj, then probably the same one you saw. I had no idea that Kevin Hides was Oliver! Goodness …

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