Grand Duke is probably more theatrical than you expect it to be, if you don't know it at all. And it was a very theatrical opening tonight, for theatrical people were singing what it is, a pretty wedding, with true theatrical insincerity. It's a very tricky opening scene, but they cleverly filled it tonight with lots of colourful theatrical types - carpenters, wardrobe staff, dressers, chorus girls, etcetera, etcetera - and each little group made their own input. Then we get the introduction of the principals, and this was very skilfully done. We don't ever talk in rehearsal cos we never have time about the construction of the piece. The Mousetrap is something I've been connected with for a very long time, and I always have to be careful when I say to the two actors which open the play, "Right, okay. Christopher comes on and he lifts the whole thing". Which is absolutely true, and they think oh! are we so awful? No, we're not, it's the way it's written. And it's the same with Grand Duke - the principals come on and they lift the whole thing, and how cleverly they did tonight. The chamberlains' entrance is difficult to do but we left, very sensibly, Rudolph to develop the scene. There's not a lot you can do except really come on and stand. We gave him all the work to do, and effective it was
The chorus work tonight I thought was always secure. Some of the acting was perhaps a little basic but musically they were absolutely solid and very very effective - and what good listeners they were. Terribly important. A spectacular opening to act two - well sung, well choreogreaphed, very effective - and then the welcome arrival of the Monte-Carlos, together with that strange bunch of supernumeraries and an irritating costumier. But it brings that life to the second act.
Musically it's such an attractive overture, and it leads in to some very strong chorus work. I found tonight there were no hesitant entries, and all those four parts were coming through; this chorus worked hard. Obvious attention too to the principals - I thought particularly impressive were the quintets early in act one. The tricky act one finale, with its many moves, again I thought was handled skilfully. The attack of the opening of act two was very well achieved. But amongst all this are some lovely arias and duets, and none more lovely than "So Ends My Dream", Julia Jellicoe's solo which comes and it was really a joy, but a joy not because it was skilfully sung - and it was skilfully sung - but its sensitive interpretation was spot on.
Lighting was okay tonight, it was effective, it gave emphasis to main acting areas; it had a few odd moments. Costumes were a mixture of styles and periods; I couldn't make out what time we were in - I thought it was 1930 once and then I thought must have been around 1900 - but whenever it was, it was okay. Props were very few. There aren't a lot of props, but what a lovely roulette wheel - they must have pinched it from somewhere.
Let's look at the characters. The Grand Duke Rudolph. He wasn't given a very good first entrance cos he is officially the leading role and he should have been given a bit better entrance. But he quickly established himself. Lots of over the top gestures and expressions that were always effective. I thought his work with the Baroness Krakenfeldt was very entertaining; I think anyone who worked with her would be entertaining! And we saw again another aspect of his character. There's a lot of difficult dialogue and it comes thick and fast, and he did splendid job with it. It was assured and it was secure.
Ernest Dummkopf. Energy and attack is what this character must have, and this is what he did have, and in abundance. He immediately took charge. It's necessary for the plot that we have this change of pace, and this enthusiasm which has to dominate and he did, and did a splendid job.
Ludwig - a heck of a role, and demands an awful lot. He reminded me very much of some of those old Viennese characters in the old MGM musicals; there was a wonderful one called SZ Sakall - Cuddles he was called, and I thought of dear old Cuddles tonight. He brought that lovely bubbly energy and charm. Very good stage presence, lovely light touch; held the stage always; I hope he thinks this is a nice comment cos it is - a good poser.
Dr Tannhauser, the Notary. An obvious clerical figure, always looking the part, excellent diction whether in dialogue or music. I hope he's not worried about having a little hiccup - cos we all do, and if he doesn't know the plot, how the hell are we going to! (laughter and applause, lengthy) It does happen, it does happen. Years ago when I was in Arsenic and Old Lace, I remember the dress rehearsals - I was always pretty solid - and I stopped in the middle of the dress rehearsal and I said to the director, "I'm sorry, what act are we in?". The irony of it is I was playing opposite his wife who, on the first night, came on in act one and said act three dialogue. Which he blamed me for! But it does happen, and to you it feels like end of world. But it ain't, cos it happens to us all.
Prince of Monte-Carlo. What a scene stealer of a performance! (applause) I think if I were asked to appear in a production and saw his name on the list, I would say "not available", because to overcome that charm is pretty nearly impossible. He didn't ooze charm - it flooded out of him. But it should overwhelm, and this he did with such skill, and that roulette song was a success because it was in his hands.
Princess of Monte-Carlo. Attractive - had some saucy moments - gentle charm. Lovely style.
Baronness von Krakenfeldt. Well, an actress of some experience I'm pretty sure, a character she established from the moment she walked on stage, and how she works, and how she gives. It's what we give to one another on the stage that makes us good. She enjoyed what she doing, and so did we. Again, lovely style, nice bearing, very good sense of timing, lovely contralto, and such fun when pickled. (laughter, scattered applause)
Julia Jellicoe - the English actress with a mid-European accent; a determined, purposeful interpretation. I audition, over a year, I suppose hundreds of young actors and actresses, and when I'm back in London in two weeks time I've got two whole days when I will be sitting, auditioning new youngsters into the business. But you not only assess their acting ability, you assess the person too - cos you think, "Do I want this person in the company?". I wouldn't want her! Very much the leading lady - you know, she's the sort that greets you, she hasn't seen you for six months, and she comes up to you and says "DAHling I've missed you so much", not a shred of sincerity there at all. Very terrific stage presence, lots of purpose, lovely theatrical figure, grabbed the part and relished every moment. I think if she is such a temperamental leading lady, she might have insisted on a better costume for the first act - I would never put someone with that colour hair in that colour dress!
Lisa - lovely energy, bright sparkly performance, and all the more effective when you put it alongside the drama in finale of act one. Pretty voice, pretty girl. What I appreciated were her dramatic moments, and especially her spiteful ones. I thought the bitchiness toward Julia had a reality one should avoid!
I'm a Midlander by birth, and recall alas the war years, and I remember with great - with great fear I suppose - the night Coventry was bombed. We were not able to go to bed all night, and the sky was red. And in the morning, all that was left of the cathedral was the spire - everything else had gone. We thought it would never be rebuilt, but it was. And I remember going inside for first time and being... I think shocked is the word, with the Graham Sutherland tapestry which hangs at the back of the altar there, like an enormous green beetle. It took me a long time to relate to it, so much so I realised at the base of it there is a long wooden seat - probably still there - and I sat and I looked at it, and sitting almost next to me was a very old lady. We obviously had the same thoughts because - we didn't share them, but then very quietly she said, "The eyes are really kind", and they were, and I hadn't noticed. And you know it's like that with The Grand Duke. There's much in it that's lovely, that's attractive, and tonight has entertained us. So let's absorb the whole thing and say to this company tonight, "Well, we don't know The Grand Duke very well, but tonight you really introduced us to it.".
Exit David Turner. Applause.