Talented young Dorset actor Jamie hits Brighton’s mods and rockers battlefield

It’s good to hear that two years after shooting and then being left on the covid shelf as release dates came and went, the film Brighton finally gets a digital release tomorrow.

Based on a Steven Berkoff play, it stars Phil Davis and Larry Lamb as a pair of ageing and decidedly non-PC East London rockers returning to Brighton – the battleground of their clashes with sixties mods – for the first time in 40 years.

Jamie Bacon Brighton
Jamie as a young rocker in Brighton

It also features flashbacks to their youth with up and coming Dorset film and TV actor Jamie Bacon playing the young version of the Larry Lamb character.

“It was so enjoyable,” he told me. “Being able to watch really experienced actors like Larry and Phil at work was such a privilege. You can learn a huge amount from people like that.”

Sounds like a great movie. Can’t wait!

For Jamie’s full story go to my January 2020 interview with him on these pages.

London Repertory Players take summer thriller Ira Levin’s Deathtrap to Wimborne

I am so sorry to see that the wonderful Shelley Theatre in Boscombe has decided not to reopen this summer. Fans of the excellent London Repertory Players will be particularly concerned. The pandemic robbed them of the 2020 season but it was hoped that those plays would be back at the Shelley this summer. Sadly it wasn’t to be.

But fear not. All is not lost. The Players and their ever resourceful director Vernon Thompson have been approached by the Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne. The result is that one of the company’s productions – Ira Levin’s Deathtrap -will be staged at The Tivoli this summer with performances from Wednesday 28th to Saturday 31st July. 

It will play at  7.30pm each evening plus two 2.30pm matinees on Thursday and Saturday. Featuring LRP favourites including Victoria Porter, Al Wadlan and Claire Fisher, the production already looks like a sure-fire success.

Deathtrap is perfect London Rep’ material. Originally written in the 1970s by Rosemary’s Baby author Ira Levin.  It focuses on a washed playwright desperate to rediscover his talent and repeat his past success. When a student brings him a  brilliant self-penned play he hatches a murderous plot to claim it as his own.

Deathtrap held the record for the longest running comedy thriller on Broadway and is considered a classic of the genre. It was also adapted as a 1980s film with Christopher Reeve, Michael Caine, Dyan Cannon and Sidney Bruhl.

This summer’s London Repertory Players’ production is going to be a must-see. Book tickets at the Tivoli Theatre  on 01202 885566.

The art deco gem where Harold Pinter swapped stage for page to be reborn

What wonderful news! Bournemouths Palace Court Theatre is poised to become a town centre performance venue again. For the past 35 years the striking art deco building has served as a Christian centre but long before that it was arguably Bournemouth’s favourite theatre.Now it has been bought by the town’s Arts University and there are multi-million pound plans to restore it as teaching, performance and rehearsal space.

I’ve had a peep inside and can tell you that not only is the original architecture stunning but the building still contains a near perfect 1930s theatre just waiting to be revitalised. In its hey day the venue, which opened in Hinton Road in 1931 was the place to see and be seen.

As The Palace Court Theatre and The Playhouse, it featured many well known performers.  By the 1950s and 60s it was home to a vibrant repertory company whose members included Sheila Hancock, Vivien Merchant and Merchant’s then new husband, Harold Pinter who at the time performed under the stage name of David Baron.

The year was 1956 and Pinter’s transition from actor to influential playwright was developing fast. Indeed those who knew him at the time say that during the rep season he spent he was  experimenting and writing new material. His first plays were performed to critical acclaim in the next two years.

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

Pinter probes chaos in a world full of alcohol

No Man’s Land: Lighthouse, Poole (19th September, 2019).

Ever since Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land was first staged at London’s Old Vic 45 long years ago, critics have been struggling to work out what exactly the playwright was saying and why.

The joy of this play is of course that actually it really doesn’t matter. There can be myriad interpretations and whether it is about coercion, control, manipulation or just losing ones sense of identity, it remains fundamentally a beautiful piece of writing. London Classic Theatre and director Michael Cabot explore its carefully nuanced complexities in this fine production, 

The story plays out in the opulent Hampstead living room of a wealthy, successful and chronically alcoholic writer called Hirst  – a tour de force performance by Moray Treadwell.  It appears he has invited Spooner, a down-at-heel poet, back from the pub. With Nicholas Gasson as the tweedy, weedy, socks and sandals wearing Spooner very much up for a drink, the booze flows and so does Pinter’s wonderfully poetic and artfully convoluted dialogue.

As Hirst drinks himself into a stupor in the small hours two more figures arrive on the scene – the flamboyantly camp Foster (Joel Macey) and the menacing Briggs (Graham O’Mara).

Who are they? What is the connection between Hirst and Spooner?  There are some surprises in store, plenty of dark humour and an overarching sense that Hirst’s world is tipping into chaos. He is marooned in a no man’s land from which there can be no escape.  All is enhanced by a superbly unsettling set by Bek Palmer – a stunning mix of circles, stuffed animals and a world literally full of alcohol. Wonderful stuff.

No Man’s Land plays Lighthouse in Poole until Saturday 21st September.

Jeremy Miles

McKellen celebrates birthday on 80 stages

Ian McKellen on Stage: with Tolkien, Shakespeare, Others & You – Lighthouse, Poole (Tuesday 2nd July 2019)

This was a joyful evening – a masterclass from one of our finest actors on how to hold an audience absolutely spellbound. When Sir Ian McKellen announced last year that he was going to celebrate his 80th birthday (it happened on 25th May by the way ) and would be raising funds for theatres, with a new solo show touring 80 stages across the UK, no one really knew what to expect.

He hinted it would be a mixture of anecdote and acting including, as the title suggests, some Tolkien, Shakespeare and perhaps a bit of interaction with the audience. All I can say is that this show is all of that and more, much more. It’s a tour de force that celebrates McKellen’s long and illustrious career with enormous energy, passion and above all humour.

It doesn’t take long before you realise that, despite his much garlanded career as an actor, he could just as easily have been a cutting edge stand-up. From the opening Gandalf speech from Lord of the Rings to the final lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, we see McKellen reviewing a  very serious career but one that he has always regarded with a twinkle in his eye.

Armed with just a box of props, he delivers wonderful anecdotes describing his northern childhood in Wigan and Bolton, his early love of the theatre, his gay awakening watching the Welsh actor/composer Ivor Novello and his later ‘coming out’ at the age of 48.  

There are stories too about his activism, his scholarship to Cambridge and his subsequent career in the theatre from weekly rep to the classical stage. There are the big names he’s met along the way, his knighthood and how he nearly decided that rather than be an actor he wanted to go into hotel management. Fortunately, unlike Cambridge University, the Blackpool Catering College turned him down.

Alongside his readings from Shakespeare and the classics, McKellen also displays his tremendous range as an actor and raconteur, camping it up outrageously for instance as he pays tribute to panto while showing  the audience his ‘Twankey’. 

Proceeds from the show will go towards Bright Sparks, a programme that enables and inspires talented people in Dorset to develop professionally across the arts sector.

Footnote: This wasn’t the first time that Ian McKellen had been on the Lighthouse stage. He first appeared there 40 years ago in a performance of Twelfth Night. That was a show he is unlikely to forget. As he attempted to access the stage via the auditorium (a direction written into the play) he found his way barred by an over-zealous usherette who told him he couldn’t come in without a ticket. A dumbfounded McKellen gestured to the fact that he was wearing full doublet and hose and pleaded: “Do I look like a member of the audience?” The penny finally dropped and the usherette let him pass.

Jeremy Miles

The death of the American dream

The Shining: The Chine Hotel, Boscombe. (Thurday 9th February, 2017).

Pioneering theatre director David Glass didn’t hesitate when he was offered the chance to use Boscombe’s Chine Hotel to stage a special production of The Shining.

“I immediately saw its potential,” he says. And no wonder. The Chine, which sits high above Boscombe Gardens, bears an uncanny resemblance to The Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1980 film version of Stephen King’s game-changer of a horror story. Like its fictional counterpart it is even closed for the winter.

 Thanks to Glass and an inspired team from the Arts University Bournemouth the next week finds audiences being led twice nightly around The Chine’s historic rooms as the murderous tale of winter caretaker Jack Torrence, haunted, twisted and gradually turned into a crazed axeman by demons from the past, unfolds.

I joined the audience for last night’s opening performance. It was an extraordinary and immersive experience with brilliant use of sound, light, multiple actors and a variety of in-house locations bringing the story of The Shining to graphic and satisfyingly unsettling life.

Excellent performances, courageous direction and the atmosphere of The Chine itself succeeded in doing the near-impossible by getting to the essence of King’s novel with a theatrical flashback to Kubrick’s movie. Carefully edited, the high-points of the film’s dialogue remain intact although some have been gently tweaked to enhance the tension and inject moments of dark humour.

Anyone who loved the movie with Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duval will be pleasantly surprised. And just in case you’re wondering whether Nicholson’s classic “Here’s Johnny” scene is re-enacted. Let’s just leave it with the fact that I  can’t say that doors weren’t harmed in the course of the production.

Of course The Shining offers much more than the gore at the core of the story. It is above all a sad comment on the death of the American dream torn to shreds by misogyny, racism and paranoia. Never in the 40 years of its existence has this tale been as relevant as it is today.  

*The Shining plays The Chine Hotel in Boscombe Spa Road, Bournemouth at 6.30pm and 9.00pm every night except Sunday (12th Feb)  until  Saturday 18th February.

Jeremy Miles

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”