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Michael Coveney: Idina rocks before jolly japes on the Isle

By • West End
It's all kicking off this weekend on the Isle of Wight, where Celia Imrie and Fidelis Morgan are masterminding the first ever literary festival, with theatrical representation from their good selves, Sian Thomas, Anneka Rice, Gyles Brandreth, Michael Grade and Toby Young, the former drama critic of The Spectator who famously didn't know where the National Theatre was when he started in the job.

Celia emailed me this week from the Dinard Film Festival to find out if I was planning to dive down there and join them. She was serving on the jury - "Is that because you are a real Dinard lady?" I wittily replied, referencing her role in Victoria Wood's Dinner Ladies on television - and suffering the consequences. The last film she'd watched was a right old "beaucoup de merde" she reported.

Never mind, let's hope the sun shines on Cowes (dear Celia, of course, wouldn't say moo to a moose) this weekend and, in particular, the Grade II listed Northwood House which is the festival hub, and the recipient of all profits towards its restoration fund.

There are performances, party games, pub quizzes and even, it is promised, a riotous bus tour of the island on which the tourism commentary is not guaranteed to be as informative as it might be merely trivial, not to say scurrilous.

If I weren't already heading north for a football match in Halifax, I'd be booking my place on the ferry from Portsmouth right now. I've recently, and belatedly, discovered the Isle of Wight, and I love it. Absolutely nothing happens there except sailing and cycling, and you may as well time travel back to the 1950s when it comes to sophistication in restaurants and hotel lounges.

That is all part of its charm, and there is a definite island mentality that reflects a sense of both siege and escape, and I'm sure these facets will be explored, and exploited, to the full in the coming japes and jollities.

Like Ken Dodd, I haven't done anything, but I'm going to Halifax anyway; as a proud member of the Shaymen Down South (the club's ground, which they share with the town's rugby team, is the Shay), I'm hosting a table at the SDS-sponsored lunch before the game against Boston United in the Blue Square Bet North league (one step away from rehabilitation in the Conference).

The Shaymen are on a roll, having just missed out last season on three back-to-back promotions and storming through the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup (last season's campaign ended in a first round proper live televised game at the Shay against Charlton Athletic).
 
So I'm sure that Celia and Fidelis will forgive me forsaking them. I found a sporting sympathiser in the shape of Sir Tim Rice (no relation of Anneka) at last night's opening of the Idina Menzel week at the Apollo. He once pleaded work elsewhere when needed in a recording studio with Andrew Lloyd Webber. The musicians got down to work without him, happening to keep an eye on the television in the corner - where they suddenly spied Tim sitting in the crowd at Wimbledon soaking up the big game atmosphere.

That's it, you see. You have to decide where your priorities really are, and then stick with them. I look forward to giving Rufus Norris' production of Cabaret a second chance some time soon, but last night I heeded the siren call of the amazing Mendel, who takes her show, and her 25-piece band, off to the Usher Hall in Edinburgh and the Palace in  Manchester next week.

I've loved Idina since I saw her as the edgy bisexual Maureen in the original production of Rent on Broadway, and sometimes browse her web-site, where she posts You-tube messages to fans and appears in fashion photography resembling some divine coltish mixture of Jerry Hall and Jemima Khan; although, when I met her before Wicked opened in London six years ago, she had suddenly shrunk to about five foot, four inches.

She'a a theatre gypsy rather than a Broadway babe, recycling Madonna and Motown before studying drama at New York University and forming a rock band. And she's very funny. She told me then how, towards the end of a performance of Wicked on Broadway, she'd stepped into a black hole and cracked a rib after an elevator had been cued too early:

"I went to hospital, still green, in a witch's costume, and all the nurses rushed around my husband - who's a well-known actor, Taye Diggs, and very good-looking - and forgot about me. They gave me morphine and said get dressed and go home. So I did: still dressed as a witch, and still green, but now mostly green with jealousy over Taye and the nurses."

Atta girl. Idina's 41 now, and the doting mum of a three year-old boy, as she told us last night. But there's nothing remotely staid or middle-aged about her, no sir. They'd love her on the Isle of Wight, and not just for the rock festival. She'd blend in perfectly this weekend with Celia and Fidelis's band of eccentrics and brazen theatricals.


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