Saturday, 21 September 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: An Evening With Sir Michael Parkinson - Theatre Royal, St. Helens

The chance to spend an evening in the company of Sir Michael Parkinson was simply too good to turn down, having spent many years admiring his work as probably the greatest interviewer of all time. Just thinking about the stars that I can remember him interviewing puts him in the category of legend before the evening even began.

It isn’t long before the great man himself arrived on stage, accompanied by his son Mike Parkinson – who has a very successful television career, albeit mostly behind the camera. Mike was essentially there to interview and prompt his father into telling some great stories and sharing his experiences.

The story began as Sir Michael was just starting out in his career as an interviewer, working for Granada Television whilst in his 20s. He originally worked behind the scenes but soon realised that he wanted a career in the limelight. It is at this point he told of his very first interview in the front of the camera where he was given the task of chatting to a young up-and-coming pop star who had recently graduated from Cambridge – he was only two years into a career with his band. This interview then played out on the big screen, it was Mick Jagger.

Parkinson then went on to to talk about how he started working for the BBC as a presenter for a 12-week show during the summer which became so popular that it eventually became his full time show for many years to come. He recalls that the biggest problem they had back in the early '70s was getting the big stars to come on the show – movie stars looked down on television at that time and were not willing to lower themselves. However, Parkinson managed to convince the great Orson Welles to come on the show and the result was the opening of the flood gates – everyone wanted to be interviewed by Parkinson. A clip of the Orson Welles interview then played out and we got the chance to see just how open and honest Welles was during that show.

Further stories from Sir Michael ensued with clips of some of the most famous guests he has interviewed over the years. It was very dramatic to hear the audience gasp at the likes of James Stewart, Jimmy Cagney and David Niven were shown. However, it wasn’t long before the appearance of Billy Connolly, a man who Parkinson was famous for interviewing many times – in fact he appeared on the ‘Parky’ show fifteen times. The two of them have become great friends over the years and this came out very strongly as Parkinson spoke very well of him.

Peter Kay was the next to the big screen, he had previously been the warm up man for the Parkinson Show and Sir Michael recalled that Kay had told him he would be on his show as a guest – he didn’t believe him but later admitted how wrong he had been. Kay’s clip was hilarious as he told a story of being at the funeral of his Mum’s friend.

After the interval, we were kept in a light-hearted mood as Parkinson talked of the time when Peter Ustinov and Dudley Moore improvised an Opera during one of his shows – again the footage was hilarious and warmly appreciated by the audience. The thing that stood out on this show was how the footage was not the more obvious clips that we have all seen many times, but were carefully selected clips that surprised and warmed those in attendance.

The final part of tonight’s enthralling show was broken into two parts. The first being a set of clips showing some of the most glamourous and beautiful women of Hollywood which in itself would have been great to watch, but what was more surprising was seeing just how flirtatious Parkinson was throughout – with all of those stars seemingly enjoying the attention he gave them.

The second part was the boxing legend Muhammed Ali who Parkinson clearly had a love/hate relationship with. He admired and respected Ali like no other athlete or person he had ever met but they clashed on certain occasions on screen – he interviewed him four times and the third time was definitely the most explosive. Ali was preaching the words of Islam and talked about the devil that was the white man – he didn’t enjoy being reminded of the amount of white men who were his friends. An explosive interview but despite all of that Parkinson still talks with huge affection for probably the greatest boxer of all time.

The show lasted about two hours in all and everyone walked away very happy to have been charmed by Sir Michael. Even at the age of 84 and some of his memories being a little hazy, he is still able to wow an audience with his anecdotes and experiences. It was truly a pleasure to be in his company for an evening and I urge anyone who has admired this man on the television over the years to see him on this tour.

Reviewer - John Fish
on - 19/9/19

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