Monday, 27 March 2017

On the edge of the stage with David Robertson

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Teresa O'Driscoll, David Robertson, John Kilburn     Photo Richard Wilcocks
It was relaxed, sometimes endearingly random, intimate, informal and engagingly indulgent. In front of us, Dave Robertson, who is our grand old man of the theatre - at very least - together with the Retrolettes, a grand pair of melodic entertainers, all of them just the warm-blooded people we needed for the finale of this year's LitFest, especially as several of those in the audience had actually acted with him. Dave took us through his long career on stage, beginning with when he danced around as Jack at primary school, his Jill never reaching the well because her mother ordered her off stage before she showed her knickers to the assemblage. He moved on to when he became a student in Hugh Hunt's Manchester drama department, to a character in an absurdist play by Eugene Ionesco, to Guildenstern in a memorable Hamlet in which he repeatedly clunked his leg against some item of stage furniture, to King Lear, which is where all actors of note and of suitable grizzlement end up. Dave ended the first section of the evening in his parody of part of Lear, during which he was flung over a cliff by his daughter Cordelia, played by Teresa O'Driscoll, half of the Retrolettes, who briefly revealed a melodramatic acting style which could be put to good use in future entertainments. John Kilburn, the other Retrolette, also performed (without the ukelele) when, in T'Batley Faust he told the story of a Yorkshireman seduced by Mephistopheles to sell his soul in return for being made twenty-five again. It raised plenty of laughs, and was more accessible, less drawn-out than the over-embellished version peddled by that Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.

Dave took us to the time when he was seriously wondering whether he could survive in the professional theatre, which is what all aspiring actors wonder - repeatedly. He decided he would start his own company, after just missing out on a teaching job in the USA which was offered to him, then withdrawn. This took a little while to come to fruition, and in the meantime he based himself at the Swarthmore Institute. I was particularly struck by Dave's reprise of his role as the caretaker in Pinter's play: Dave is good at psychotic rants. He's better at comedy, though. I wish I had got to see his improvised version of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves - he provided the storyline while the characters were allowed to let rip. We could have done with more Chekhov - one of Dave's first loves - and I would have liked a little more of an airing of his great background knowledge of Elizabethan theatre: we got a few tiny insights - on how Shakespeare was inspired by Marlowe, for example, The Merchant of Venice spinning off from The Jew of Malta. The evening ended with 'You'll never walk alone' from Carousel. Dave was in this for Opera North as the speech-making doctor towards the end, and he admits to forgetting the words 'castor oil' on one occasion. He asked the cast, loudly, what it was he had dosed them with, to receive the desired reply. It's called thinking on your feet.

Audience Comments
A very enjoyable evening – David very engaging and 'human'.  Lovely vocals from Retrolettes

Friend of David and very much enjoy his work

Fascinating on his career

The Headingley Master!

The event was interesting both as the 'flow of memory' and the 'show of personality'.  Also the audience, largely, was part of the career being celebrated!  Thanks.

A relaxed celebration of theatrical ' goings on' in the world of David Robertson with great support from the Retrolettes!  A quirky, fun romp of an evening and a warm audience.  Good to share.

Great evening – great speeches from Dave and good music from John and Teresa.

Very relaxed evening with lovely theatre chat and delightful music.

Good fun – lots of memoirs of great theatre!

Real fun.  Well done.

An entertaining evening of theatrical memories and song.  Retrolettes great as usual.

Good night – human complexities in abundance and with (unreadable).  Salut.

Very enjoyable.

Very good music by Louis Armstrong as people were coming in and nice music during the evening as well.  Very good acting performances by David and by the Retrolettes as well (first time that I have seen them act).

A fitting finale to the LitFest.  Brilliant as ever.  Thanks David.

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