Julie and Johnny find their voices

Julie Andrews found her voice, or part of it, in a drably disappointing concert at the O2 Arena on Saturday night. And a few hours later, I dashed down to Cardiff to see if John Osborne was clearing his throat to any good effect in the first play he ever wrote, The Devil Inside Him.

Jules et Jean, what a duo. Julie said this would be a night we would cherish for ever, not the sort of premature tub-thumping John ever went in for. Theatre, for him, was a blood sport, which is how I prefer it to be, too.

But how can you be horrid about Julie Andrews? The answer is: a little more easily after her ingratiating display on Saturday night.

She is a great whopping star, no question. But she hardly earned her corn in a concert of grim kow-towing to Rodgers and Hammerstein (yes, we know they’re great; get over it) and shameless plugging of a dreadful children’s story she’s written with her daughter.

Sure, she exploited her severely limited mezzo range to good effect in Rodgers and Hart’s My Funny Valentine, and Do-Re-Mi was a gas with the audience clapping along.

But honestly, if I’d paid for my ticket I would have asked for a refund. Film clips, family album shots and five American support singers who looked and sounded as though they’d just left a cheap cruise ship, were not what we came to see.

Even die-hard fans were trickling away during the terrible second half, a concert performance of the Simeon’s Gift book, a banal fable pumped up with a turgid score played with laughable conviction by the Royal Philharmonic (concert division).

This was my first visit to the O2. Isn’t it absolutely ghastly? At least I enjoyed the journey there and back.

On the tube station, I bumped into my neighbours Pamela Holmes, the Dagenham rock chick, and cartoonist Kipper Williams, who were heading to a box as guests of Reg Gadney and Fay Maschler. We all decamped at Westminster and took a boat from the pier by the Eye down to the O2 front door. Great fun.

And the journey home was a cinch: they’ve obviously sorted the tube provision on the Jubilee Line for these vast O2 crowds, and laid on suitable drivers, too: our chap trusted we had enjoyed Julie and enjoined us, when we heard the sound of music, to stand clear of the closing doors in order not to become van Trapped.

Lord, how we laughed, which was more than we did with Julie herself.

The Devil Inside Him is a bit of a coup for the new National Theatre of Wales, though the overall pleasure of my Cardiff awayday was marred by finding nothing laid on at the New Theatre by the London press agents, not even a ticket.

Luckily, metropolitan incompetence was countered by regional hospitality, and ticket and programme were soon sorted.

The Osborne play, which he co-wrote with his first lover , a married actress twelve years his senior, was missing presumed lost until unearthed in the Lord Chamberlain’s files two years ago, along with his second play(co-written with Anthony Creighton) Personal Enemy.

Both plays are now published in a handy volume by Oberon Books, with an excellent introduction by Jamie Andrews, head of modern literary manuscripts at the British Library.

And the production in Cardiff – where it plays just this week – is definitely worth the detour, not only to hear Osborne’s authentic voice of bilious rancour forming on the lips of a medical student played by Jamie Ballard, but also to savour the febrile, desperate sense of alienation evinced by Iwan Rheon (Olivier award-winner in Spring Awakening last year) as the Jimmy Porter prototype, butcher boy Huw Prosser.

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