On Thursday night, the cast of Tales of the City performed their first live show together in more than 50 years. After their 2015 revival in Norwich, stars Frances Barber, Tamsin Greig and Mark Gatiss were back in the revamped St Michael’s Church for the curtain-raiser. It’s an anniversary worth celebrating for cast, crew and countless others, such as care worker Terry Finlayson, 68, who made the five-hour journey from Bedfordshire with his wife Fay to see the show. “We used to do plays in here as young kids, when it was first built, so it has always been on our list of things to do,” he says. “It feels fantastic that it has happened finally, and so full of theatrical joy.”
Of course, the event that prompted the endeavour didn’t all go to plan. During rehearsals for the first show, Greig broke her ankle, forcing Barber and Gatiss to create the play the old-fashioned way – in front of an audience. Says Barber: “I couldn’t move the whole time. It was a tough week.” (If an Adele song could be put to the story, it would be Love Is All You Need, which may have felt apt on that occasion.)
The response to the original revival was stunning. The Guardian critic George Hall said it reminded him of Shakespeare. Audiences at the Old Vic called it “the best thing I’ve ever seen”. On my phone, audience members are posting “this is lovely” and “wow”. All the cast agree that London audiences will be no tougher than those in Norfolk. “It’s like singing in a church,” says Greig.
“I have never done an entire play by myself before,” says Barber. “It will be difficult. You have got to think your lines out.” But what can she anticipate? “You hope that people will be happy and laughing.” Gatiss adds: “It’s a gesture, basically. We didn’t quite know if people would come.”
With the anniversary celebrations coming soon, the cast aren’t sure what they’ll be doing next, but in the meantime, they’re thrilled that they’ve managed to do it: “I don’t think any of us have ever left a stage,” says Barber. “It just feels fantastic.”