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All My Sons, Daughters & Friends

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Much the most interesting article written about Elizabeth Taylor was Philip French's in the Observer at the weekend, when he made the crucial point that Taylor was one of a close-knit quartet of British actors who had all arrived in Hollywood at around the same time and created their own networks with various cross-over connections; the other three were Peter Lawford, Angela Lansbury and Roddy McDowell.

Peter Hall once said that the British theatre was like a large village in which the same four or five hundred people worked with each other all the time.

More pointedly, perhaps, Timothy West commented the other day on the dynastic flavour of most cast lists these days - I don't think in any derogatory way - omitting to mention either his own dear old dad, Lockwood West, who sang "They were all green fields when I was a boy" in the musical Billy, or even his own son, Sam.

But last night's opening of Cause Celebre at the Old Vic validated his remarks to the hilt, providing a plum pudding of dynastic and familial connections that would make any anti-nepotism (should that be auntie-nepotism?) fanatic quiver with rage and righteousness.

Working down the list, there's Niamh Cusack, one of the great Cusack family, supported in the stalls last night by brother Padraic, formerly Nicholas Hytner's planning controller at the NT, big sister Sinead (with husband Jeremy Irons) and husband Finbar Lynch; Lucy Robinson, playing Niamh's sister, daughter of the broadcaster and ace autobiographer Robert Robinson (who hosted the TV chat show on which Kenneth Tynan first stuttered the flipping feared four letters); and, playing Niamh's son, Freddie Fox, son of Edward and Joanna David, nephew of Robert and James.

We've barely started: Tristram Wymark is brother of actress Jane and son of playwright Olwen and actor Patrick; Timothy Carlton, father of Benedict Cumberbatch and husband of Wanda Ventham (sitting in the stalls in front of A A Gill); Nicholas Jones, son of Griffith, once a British movie juvenile lead and in his latter years a venerable stalwart on contract (with long white beard) to the RSC, and brother of Gemma, who is joining Kevin Spacey in his upcoming Richard III company; and Richard Clifford, civil partner of Derek Jacobi.

There are probably many other links and connections. We'll all have our little personal ones, too. Simon Chandler, for instance, who has a lovely scene as Niamh Cusack's sexually errant and unreasonably proper husband, lives in  my street and is married to leading agent Nicky van Gelder, who spends most of her time chaperoning Helena Bonham-Carter from one awards ceremony to another, sometimes sharing her weirdly bohemian wardrobe.

I can't nail any hint of nepotism on the usually wonderful Anne-Marie Duff, slightly miscast and disappointing as Alma Rattenbury, but husband James McAvoy was lending support out front and dealing with the paparazzi with exemplary cool and charm.

Kevin Spacey was schmoozing his sponsors big time during the interval. I just hope they didn't include the couple sitting next to me in Row L - the Old Vic has been reconfigured with a middle aisle in the stalls for the first time in living memory, certainly in over 20 years.

My neighbours both fiddled with their Blackberries thoughout the first act, and one of the handsets did in fact ring the minute its owner put it away in his pocket. The flashing continued as the second act started and I told one of them to turn the thing off. "It's on silent," he said, defensively, as if that were enough. The illuminated panel was a constant distraction to at least four or five others seated nearby.

It's high time the Old Vic instructed its patrons, before the start, that all mobile phones should be turned off completely - and not just to "silent" - and I've now decided to tell every single person I'm sitting near to do so, as of now, in every single theatre that I visit.


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