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Michael Coveney: The joys of not going to theatres... for a short while

On Monday it will be three weeks since I've stepped inside a theatre - not counting a Christmas Eve dash to The Snowman - and the time has flown by so enjoyably. The whole rhythm of a day is altered when you are not going out in the evening. You have a proper dinner with friends and family, you sleep sounder and, unhampered by an early deadline, you allow yourself an extra half hour in bed in the morning.

At this time of year the telephone rings less often and I've managed to catch up with a backlog of work, do some long overdue filing and desk-tidying, update my new diary, and take full advantage of an extended period of detox and exercise. Thoughts are turning to a planned expedition to Naples in the spring and even the Edinburgh Festival and the summer holidays beyond... and I have a second, three-month old granddaughter to keep me doubly interested in the future schedules of the Polka, Unicorn and Little Angel Theatres.

Ben Miles and Lydia Leonard in Wolf Hall
© Alastair Muir

I've enjoyed reading, too, the rave reviews of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies at the RSC's Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, not least to wonder if Mike Poulton's scripts have any sort of Shakespearean resonance about them and whether or not the author, Hilary Mantel, now thinks her material is better served on the stage than between hard covers, especially as she's on record as saying that she conceived of her characters in theatrical terms.

The weather this week has been extraordinary, too, with many of our friends who live along the Thames from Kingston to Shepperton quaking in their wellington boots as the river rises at alarming speed after the rain and flooding. But all week there has been an oasis of bright skies and sunshine in the middle of the day, which makes for perfect jogging weather on Hampstead Heath... as long as you keep to the paths; the general muddiness exceeds anything I've ever known up there.

The show that has lived with me with most during this period has been Turgenev's Fortune's Fool at the Old Vic, and I'm very sorry to see that the magnificent Iain Glen has withdrawn from the cast with "a mystery illness". I do hope he's soon on the mend and back on the stage, but in the meantime the show goes on with his understudy, Patrick Cremin, as William Houston prepares to take over until the end of the run next month.

Houston won't let anyone down. Once a firebrand Henry V at the RSC, he partnered Glen's Uncle Vanya as the doctor Astrov in Lucy Bailey's wonderful Chekhov at the Print Room, before she fell out with her producing partner, Anda Winters, and struck out on her own once again. Her production of Fortune's Fool is the best sort of vindication for that split.

The other big story has been the news that Nica Burns's initial promises that performances of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time would resume at the Apollo on 4 January were as wildly over-optimistic, not to mention impracticable, as they sounded at the time. Now the National has cut its losses and run next door to the Delfont Mackintosh-owned Gielgud, where the show will re-open at the end of June. Meanwhile, the current cast will give informal performances to schoolchildren in a rehearsal room format; and the re-vamped West End production is slated for Broadway in October.

Nica Burns is reported as "devastated and heartbroken" over the NT's decampment, as well as the collapse of the Apollo's ceiling, which all sounds a little hysterical to me when more clarity, discretion and sense of stout-hearted purpose and renewal is called for. The curious accident of the bodge in the night-time on 19 December led everyone to expect a sharp downturn in West End business and a collective loss of nerve among tourists and theatregoers.

This seems not to have happened, with other producers lining up to report boffo business over the holiday period and Michael Harrison, responsible for The Bodyguard, even claiming that his Christmas period at the Adelphi was flusher than last year's and that business in the week closing 5 January was the best ever; the show took £100,000 at the box office, he says, on the day immediately after the Apollo disaster. (Is "We have a problem, Houston," what the Old Vic management texted to William?)

All the same, I'm thinking of swapping my flat cap and beanie for a Bob the Builder hard hat when I resume my reviewing perambulations next week. This could become the new first night fashion accessory, and will certainly be appropriate when The Full Monty opens at the Noel Coward next month. Now, what about dusting down a string vest, pair of baggy trews and old braces to complete the perfect new look for what the with-it West End drama critic is wearing around town these days?