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Memories of Mann & Les Mis

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When Cary Grant died, he left his wardrobe to the veteran Sunday Express showbiz writer Roderick Mann. Now that Roddy himself has passed on, aged 87, I wonder who will inherit his suits, blazers and cravats?

Mann, like Sydney Edwards on the old Evening Standard, really was a friend of the stars, and widely credited with persuading David Niven to write his classic memoir, The Moon is a Balloon.

Week in, week out, for forty years, Mann's column set the standard for showbiz commentary and interviews, and you don't find writing like that any more in a world where such effusions are either laced with nastiness or riddled with ignorance.

Baz Bamigboye on the Mail is the one exception, though it was distressing last week -- not his fault, I'm sure -- to see the film director Mike Leigh referred to as "Mike Lee" and a photograph of Gemma Arterton wandering into an unrelated piece about Sophia Loren on the previous spread. With the demise of dedicated and informed arts sub-editors on national newspapers, such blips happen far more frequently than they should.

Fiona Mountford's Evening Standard review of Wanderlust in the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, for instance, was accompanied by a picture of Stuart McQuarrie, identified in the caption as "Charles Edward," and not even Charles Edwards, who is also in the cast.

The Standard perpetrated the myth, too, last week, that Les Miserables received across the board rubbish reviews when it opened at the Barbican in October 1985. This is simply not true, though the distortion has always suited Cameron Mackintosh in his publicity campaign, and never goes unchallenged by the showbiz reporters.

Les Miserables received at least four rave reviews -- from Benedict Nightingale, myself, Clive Hirschhorn and Sheridan Morley -- as well as a fair selection of good-to-mixed, and a couple of stinkers, which is about par for the course for any new musical.

I'm looking forward to the anniversary production in the Barbican tomorrow night; the original was always a distinctively post-Nicholas Nickleby RSC show, directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird and designed by John Napier.

I said on the night that "One more day" was the most stirring Act One finale I'd ever seen and that the mixture of commercial resources with RSC talent and personnel -- a great bone of contention at the time -- was fully justified. I've seen the show once or twice since, but never forgotten that first night. In fact, it seems just like yesterday.

In the previous few days, Les Liaisons Dangereuses had opened in The Other Place at Stratford-upon-Avon, Antony Sher had opened in Torch Song Trilogy at the Albery (now the Noel Coward) and the "other" (non-Les Mis) RSC London company, led by Harriet Walter and Ian McDiarmid, was virtuously engaged in a Howard Barker three-play season in the Pit.

Les Miserables included fantastic performances by Roger Allam, Colm Wilkinson, Frances Ruffelle, Patti LuPone, David Burt and Alun Armstrong. Not to mention Michael Ball, who made his name overnight as Marius and went on to all sorts of fame and glory, including Stephen Sondheim's Passion in 1996...

Passion is the one ingredient I find missing in Passion, and last night's beautiful revival at the Donmar Warehouse does nothing to dissuade me from my view that this is not one of Sondheim's finest hours. Zut alors..it's time to man -- and to Mann? -- the barricades.

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