Kenneth Branagh gave his many fans a Christmas treat last week when he turned out to be the surprise guest in the play-within-a-play that is at the heart of the Right Size's The Play What I Wrote. It had been anticipated that his return to stage acting would be at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre in March 2002, in Richard III, but romping about in A Tight Squeeze For The Scarlet Pimpernel obviously proved even more tempting than playing Shakespeare's over-the-top villain.
The celebrity guest list at Wyndham's Theatre has included Richard E Grant, Richard Wilson and Ralph Fiennes, but tempting the director of the piece onto the stage must have taken some doing — especially as Branagh hasn't been seen on a West End stage for several years, preferring to concentrate on his film work. However, given that the show has a reputation as being one of the most feel-good plays around, for the star turns as well as the audience, appearing in his own production must have been a treat rather than a trial for Branagh.
In any case it added to the seasonal cheer that theatre is particularly good at providing. Boxing Day will see plenty of pantomimes and many major London theatres will be open as usual, and a number of shows — like My Fair Lady at Drury Lane — will be giving extra performances over the holiday period.
Morecambe and Wise used to be a staple part of a family Christmas: thanks to producer David Pugh, performers Hamish McColl, Sean Foley and Toby Jones, Morecambe and Wise scriptwriter Eddie Braben, director Kenneth Branagh and the magic of live theatre at Wyndham's, the appeal of these two comic geniuses continues to be projected from stage rather than screen, proving that — as they said in La Cage Aux Folles at the Palladium, back in 1986 — 'the best of times is now', and the best place to have them, especially at Christmas, is in the theatre.
Box ofice for Wyndham's Theatre: 020 7369 1736.