Nicholas Parsons – the final show revisited

Nicholas Parson’s at Forest Arts Centre, New Milton. His final appearance. Photo Hattie Miles

 How often do you get to hear a 96-year-old man talking about how good he looks in a basque, fishnet stockings and high heels? Veteran actor, broadcaster and presenter Nicholas Parsons’ wonderfully engaging evening of anecdotes drew on an astonishing 75 years in show business and was full of fascinating facts and unexpected revelations.

The fishnets story was from his time as The Narrator in the Rocky Horror Show in the 1990s. He was genuinely amazed at how good his legs looked in tantalising lingerie. “I had no idea. We men don’t tend to spend a lot of time looking at our legs,” he explained.  

There was much more, with stories of his childhood in the 1920s and 30s, his life as a teenager during wartime and the engineering apprenticeship in Glasgow’s tough Clydeside dockyards that he took to please his parents who were suspicious of his desire to work on the stage. They were convinced that showbusiness was populated by deviants, degenerates and alcoholics.

Once he’d qualified as an engineer, Nicholas – best known these days as the long time presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Just a Minute – decided to go into the theatre anyway. 

It’s an astonishing story which finds him, a week after his 96th birthday, still working, despite an accident in the summer that put him in hospital for five weeks. 

Looking frail, and performing from a chair, he held the audience in rapt  attention describing in impressive detail his showbiz life. He’s a great storyteller and though his legs are currently a little weak, his voice is strong, his delivery his spot on and there is clearly nothing wrong with his memory. He’s even a dab hand at impressions. 

Nicholas Parsons’ remarkable showbiz life has taken him from weekly rep to pioneering TV comedy with Arthur Haynes and Benny Hill to the long running quiz show Sale of the Century. There have been West End plays, films and musicals along the way and of course the much loved Just a Minute radio show.

Nicholas revealed that he originally thought the panel game which challenges celebrity contestants  to speak on a randomly chosen subject for one minute without hesitation, deviation or repetition was going to be a disaster. What’s more he considered himself totally unsuited to be its chairman. It looks as though he was wrong. He has been doing the job for nearly 53 years now. 

Jeremy Miles

Note: Nicholas never performed again. He died in January 2020

Birdsong – love, loss and slaughter on the Western Front

Birdsong: Lighthouse, Poole

This play is an absolute triumph! Rachel Wagstaff’s stage adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ best selling novel Birdsong brings the murderous madness of the First World War battlefields on the Western Front into sharp focus.

Faulks’ poignant story of love, loss and inhuman suffering has been reworked as a magnificent piece of multi-layered theatre in this touring production by the Original Theatre Company.

Continue reading “Birdsong – love, loss and slaughter on the Western Front”

The agony and literary ecstasy of ‘Great War’ poets Sassoon and Owen

Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen
James Howard (left) as Siegfried Sassoon and Ben Ashton as Wilfred Owen in Not About Heroes

Not About Heroes: Blackeyed Theatre – Lighthouse, Poole

It is 100 years after the start of the war that was supposed to end all wars. What better time to reflect on Stephen MacDonald’s 1982 play about the appalling slaughter on the Western Front and its profound effect on two of the finest literary minds of the era?

The shameful events of 1914-18 changed the world but not for the better. Generations of old soldiers, traumatised by what they had been through, rarely spoke of its horrors.

In this centenary year the First World War is finally a subject for widespread commemoration and analysis. However as we honour the courage and sacrifice of the those who gave their lives, opinion remains divided over the actions of the generals and politicians who orchestrated the carnage.

Not About Heroes is uncompromising in its stance and delivers a hammer-blow to those who would be apologists for British commander Douglas Haig’s war of attrition.

MacDonald’s play examines the wider effects of the conflict, not least its contribution in changing poetry forever. It focuses on the meeting at the Craiglockhart Military Hospital for nervous disorders of two of the finest of the ‘Great War’ poets – Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.

Both have been invalided out of the living hell that is the ongoing Battle of the Somme. Owen, a young idealist at the start of what promises to be a brilliant writing career, is determined to tell the truth about the horrors of the battlefields. He is being treated for shell-shock.

Sassoon, just half-a-dozen years older, is established as both a poet and a war hero. His arrival at Craiglockhart near Edinburgh has been ordered by his commanding officers in response to a public and embarrassing (to the authorities) condemnation of the war. Best to pretend he’s suffering from nervous exhaustion!

This excellent production from Blackeyed Theatre, directed by Eliot Giuralarocca, evokes beautifully the curious mixture of despair, fear, weariness and thrill of what can still be achieved.

Viewed through a series of flashbacks, it is set on a bleak stage populated by ghosts and books, we witness a rare meeting of minds.

The nervous young Owen (Ben Ashton) and the arrogant Sassoon (James Howard) forge a friendship that gradually finds them becoming utterly inter-dependant. The homoerotic attraction between them is tangible but destined to remain unexplored.

As Owen’s confidence as a writer grows he finds literary success thanks to the ever supportive and well-connected Sassoon. MacDonald deftly weaves their powerfully emotive poetry and letters into the story. Atmospheric lighting and sound enhance the sense of dread as they both return to the front line

War-weary Sassoon is back in hospital within weeks after taking a sniper’s bullet to the head. Owen, with so much still to give, dies in a hail of machine gun fire… exactly a week before the end of the war. His death leaves Sassoon bereft amid the ringing of bells and ‘victory’ celebrations. The play, which slips back and forth in time, finds the older man wracked with guilt and tormented by nightmares….like hundreds of thousands of others. Nothing will ever be the same.

Jeremy Miles

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap – sixty years and still going strong

Things get tense in The Moustrap
Things get tense in The Moustrap

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap: Lighthouse, Poole

It’s the longest running whodunnit in the history of British Theatre. Now after more than 60-years in the West End, The Mousetrap is making its first ever national UK tour.

Despite being unfashionable for years – during the 50s and 60s it was eclipsed in turn by angry young men, kitchen sink drama and the rise of cutting edge theatre on TV – The Mousetrap just kept on keeping on. There have been more than 25,000 performances so far. Continue reading “Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap – sixty years and still going strong”