Ken, Doris, Sam, Declan & HattieDate: 11 April 2011
The Friday afternoon launch at the Royal Court of Ken Campbell: The Great Caper went very well, thanks to some hilarious story-telling by Richard Eyre, Jim Broadbent and John Sessions - who seems to be turning into a Dickensian character actor, no more a mere impressionist he.
The theatre was virtually sold out and friends and colleagues lingered and mingled in the glorious evening sunshine afterwards. Nina Conti brought along her Scottish granny knee pal, who emerged blinking from the onstage hold-all to give us a bit of a fright.
Joining my Whatsonstage.com colleagues were several of the Showstoppers crowd, the Jeff Merrifield gang, and such historic Ken Campbell irregulars as Tim Morand, Mary Sheen, Yvonne Haesendonck (his leading lady in the Ilford Renegades of yore), Mike Leigh, Maya Sendall, the heroic Russell Denton (the original Phil Masters in The Warp), Terry Johnson, producer Roger Chapman, director Mike Bradwell and the Road Show trio of Jane Wood, Dave Hill and Sylvester McCoy, the man who was so stupid he did everything Ken Campbell told him to.
I was still chuckling from Toby Jones' delivery of the final chapter on Radio 4's Book of the Week, in which he recounted tales of the Pidgin Macbeth and Doris the parrot's autobiography in Her Master's Voice. My friend the casting agent Emma Style emailed me to say that her mother had been enjoying the broadcast but had decided that we had made the whole thing up; such a man as Ken Campbell couldn't possibly have existed.
On Saturday, I was glad to catch up with the matinee of Ella Hickson's ironically titled Precious Little Talent at the Trafalgar Studios, an intriguing little play that serves notice of exactly the opposite of what it says on the label. Interesting, too, to see how that fine character actor Ian Gelder is ageing, I hope he doesn't mind me saying so, into the older, paternal roles, with such grace and good humour.
Before moving on to the Barbican to see Declan Donnellan's harsh and arresting production of The Tempest for his company of Russian actors, my matinee colleague in the Trafalgar Studios, Mark Shenton, helped me to track down the nearest William Hill's betting shop to collect my winnings on the Grand National.
I had placed a tenner to win on theatre owner Stephen Waley Cohen's nephew's mount, Oscar Time, and Sam Waley Cohen, the brilliant amateur jockey (he's a full-time dentist and chum of Prince William) very nearly made it, coming a good second...but I had also backed State of Play each way (that is, for a place) and he came in fourth at 25-1; so an overall outlay of £60 yielded me a return of £37.56, a reasonable flutter on the only day in the year when I place a bet.
Other theatrical connections fared less well, though Backstage came home tenth. That's Rhythm fell at the first fence and West End Rocker, I'm afraid, was brought down at the sixth.
My real fancy was Dooneys Gate but my local bookmaker mistakenly told me he wasn't running and had been withdrawn. He should have been. Poor fellah fell at the sixth in that pile up with West End Rocker and broke his neck, fatally.
Declan and Nick Ormerod, his partner and designer, were having a meeting in the Barbican cafe, but took time out to update me on their plans. Next up for them and Cheek By Jowl is the Agamemnon of Aeschylus, which will come to the Barbican next February.
Their "Russian" life started back in 1986, when they first met Lev Dodin of the Maly Theatre in St Petersburg. They keep a small Cheek By Jowl office in the Barbican, where Donnellan is an associate director, but their lives are now dominated by the Russians, or Cheek By Jowlskie as they are known.
They have worked with this company, under the aegis of the Chekhov International Theatre Festival in Moscow, for 11 years; their first Boris Godunov is now the rasping, manipulative Prospero of The Tempest.
Incidentally, I was much impressed at Salisbury last week by the performance of Hattie Ladbury in Marivaux's The Game of Love and Chance, and I see from the Guildhall School honours board that she won the Gold Medal in 1996.
I wonder where she's been all this time? Working consistently, I see, from the programme credits, but a gold star in waiting, surely?