Oh what a night! – as was said by all who attended the star-studded gala celebrating the 80th

anniversary of the Oxford Playhouse. And – in a coda to this evening of merriment – what a Monday lunchtime!

At this unlikely time for revelry, a group of happy souls were enjoying a preview of the New Theatre’s Christmas show, Jersey Boys, featuring sensational performances by its stars, plus balloons, wine and canapes.

The onstage audience included a number involved in the previous night’s highjinks, including the Playhouse chief executive Louise Chantal.

The 80th gig, I should make clear – in the light of what had seemed an inaccuracy in my earlier article on the subject – had celebrated the anniversary of the Beaumont Street building, not the Playhouse as an institution.

The theatre had actually been founded as The Red Barn in 1923 in what had been a big game museum in Woodstock Road, now the University of Oxford Language Centre. There is a blue plaque on the wall testifying to this.

The gala performance, devised and directed by my film producer (and much else) friend Victor Glynn, commemorated the Playhouse’s role in promoting both professional and amateur theatre.

The contributions of two great ladies of the stage were highlights for me. Jane Asher – who appeared as a child star at the theatre more than 50 years ago – gave us Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, and Patricia Hodge performed the poem, Sheep, inspired by the writings of Rudyard Kipling.

Matthew Kelly’s excerpt from Shirley Valentine reminded us of the genius of Willy Russell – his Blood Brothers is at the New Theatre from November 26 – while that of Harold Pinter was seen in Toby Jones and Tom Richards’ account of Last To Go, a typically edgy encounter set in a pub.

Pinter was an appropriate figure for celebration at a theatre that has often hosted his work and where, more than once, he directed plays by his friend Simon Gray.

Toby’s dad Freddie Jones – a distinguished stage veteran – told a tale familiar to many an old thesp in Christopher Hassall’s I Am Glad of This Engagement.

David Tennant delighted all present with a reprise of his 2013 Royal Shakespeare Company performance as Richard II and also made a fleeting appearance in an earlier RSC role, that of Hamlet, in Tom Richards’s adaptation of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Fast-moving youngsters from Cherwell School were a highlight of the amateur contributions, with an up-tempo number from Footloose.

There was so much of a story to tell in the show that it overran by a full 90 minutes, though no one seemed to mind.

The style and wit of the master of ceremonies Rory Bremner contributed hugely to the smooth running of the entertainment, which was followed by a champagne after-party hosted by the Randolph Hotel. It was a pleasure for me to meet the hotel’s new manager Simon Drake, and hear from him about significant improvements he is planning.

Monday’s date with the Jersey Boys was in a sense a reunion with old friends.

I first enjoyed this wonderful celebration of the life and work of The Four Seasons when it opened at London’s Prince Edward Theatre ten years ago. A Sunday afternoon performance for the press was followed by a humdinger of a party at the Soho House Club next door to the theatre.

The show’s producers are savvy where publicity is concerned. During the first UK tour four years ago – which also visited Oxford – there was a special day for the press at Milton Keynes Theatre where we gained a backstage view of proceedings. My memories include the sight of racks and racks of colourful clothes (and wigs) for the many costume changes.

Lewis Griffiths, who played Nick Massi, was among the cast members I interviewed. He is back in the cast for this tour, joined by Michael Watson as Frankie Valli and Simon Bailey as Tommy De Vito – both West End performers in the show – and Aussie Declan Egan as Bob Gaudio.

They sing marvellously together – as good as the real thing – and I can’t wait for Christmas.

Playhouse stinkers are rare but memorable...

AN old friend of mine, whose opinions I greatly respect, told me during the interval of the Playhouse 80th show that he shared my admiration – as expressed here – for Druid’s great production of Sean O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie.

It was, he said, even better than the one delivered four years ago at the National Theatre – a significant admission from him, since he had a strong connection with this august institution.

Other acquaintances have asked – given my naming of various Playhouse favourites down the years – whether there are productions that stand out for being particularly bad.

Stinkers, in fact, have thankfully been few and far between.

The most memorably awful production I recall was a doomed exercise in social comment called Top People, from the pen of Richard O’Brien.

While a sniggering, adolescent humour was a suitable, even endearing, feature of his most famous creation, The Rocky Horror Show, it did not fit well into what purported to be serious political satire.

In a flagrant breach of theatrical convention, O’Brien was present during interval drinks for the press, even inquiring what we thought of the show.

I did not, of course, tell him, but my contempt for it was entirely evident in my review. I ended it by commenting that the production was on its way to the West End for what seemed likely to be a very short run.

In fact it ran for just three performances (from memory), which constituted the record for a theatrical flop at the time (1984).

The Evening Standard ran a story that quoted my review and asked why – in the light of such abuse – the producers had gone ahead with the West End transfer.

Clearly people lost a packet over this, including – as I was only to find out many years later – a pal of mine who had been one of the financing ‘angels’.

Shambolic postal service led to higher fares

OF the many things that have worsened during my lifetime, the postal service stands out as having deteriorated most severely.

When I was a boy, a letter posted one day generally arrived the next, sometimes at the other end of the country, having been sorted overnight on a steam-hauled train.

Today, even so-called first-class mail rarely takes less than two days – for which say three now that after-lunch deliveries – all I ever get – lead to further delay.

The deficiencies of the service are well illustrated for me as a subscriber to various magazines.

The Spectator, out on a Thursday, never comes till Friday and sometimes after that. Private Eye, due every other Wednesday, is often a day or more late. Every so often it doesn’t come at all. Only the Oldie seems to appear on the day I first see it at Waitrose.

Recently, the poor postal delivery landed me with significant extra expense when I came to book train tickets for a trip with Rosemarie to Stratford-upon-Avon.

Our Two Together railcard, saving us a third of the fare, had just run out. So two Saturdays ago, with the journey planned for the following Wednesday, I went on line to buy a replacement.

In the light of what happened, I would have been better advised to buy the £30 card at the station, but I was unaware that this could be done.

You can guess what occurred. That’s right. By the time we set off on Wednesday morning, there was no sign of the card, so an off-peak return fare that would have cost £25 instead set us back £37.50.

The rail authorities make clear in the regulations, by the way, that proof of purchase of a card is not sufficient for a discount. You must produce the thing itself.