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Michael Coveney: Tim Rice bats on both sides in memorial week

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There's a very big memorial service in St Paul's Cathedral this morning, and tomorrow there's Mrs Thatcher's. And attending both of them, and speaking at the first, is none other than Sir Tim Rice. 
Today's ceremony of thanksgiving, over-subscribed and "sold out" weeks ago, is for Christopher Martin-Jenkins, the cricket writer and commentator and one of Tim's predecessors as president of the MCC at Lord's.

Tim's passion for cricket is well known and shared by many theatrical luminaries, past and present, including Harold Pinter, Peggy Ashcroft, Tom Stoppard, Alan Ayckbourn, Ben Travers, David Hare, Howard Brenton, Ronald Harwood, Michael Billington and Sam Mendes.  

But Tim is also a distant cousin of CMJ, as Martin-Jenkins was affectionately known by friends and the Test Match Special listening public (he was also known as "the Major," a soubriquet he shared with Robert De Wynter, founding director of the theatrical marketing and advertising agency, De Wynter's). The service is sure to be hilarious, and Tim will no doubt get a few more laughs than the Dean of St Paul's, but you never know these days.

Laughs will be thinner on the ground at Baroness Thatcher's "do" which is, to all intents and purposes, a state funeral, attended by the Queen and Prince Philip. And I assume that Tim will be drawing some kind of analogy between the Iron Lady and Eva Peron. I hope, though, that he doesn't endorse Thatcher's philistinism in using the success of himself and Andrew Lloyd Webber as a stick to beat the suppliant subsidy seeker Peter Hall when Hall complained about the cuts her government made to arts funding.

Whatever happens, these two events will be the greatest shows in town this week, and fitting preludes to the annual Shakespeare Birthday celebrations in Stratford-upon-Avon at the weekend. Mind you, these aren't what they once were, with far fewer foreign dignitaries in attendance and, most regrettably, no more (for the past four years) huge white marquee on the river bank for the great luncheon; this economy saves the organisers £17,000, apparently.
Simon Russell Beale is one of the guests, speaking in response to receiving the prestigious Pragnell Prize, donated by the town's leading jewellers, George Pragnell. But who will hear him? The meal is now scattered through the town's hotels and restaurants, so that there is no focal point of attention beyond the elitist "top table" lunch in the theatre's new rooftop restaurant.

Dame Margaret Drabble, who once played small parts with the RSC before becoming a novelist, will deliver the time-honoured toast to the "immortal memory" at a champagne reception in the school classroom where Shakespeare was educated, and that speech at least will be broadcast live online so that local townsfolk can feel part of something to which they were much closer before. 

The lunch traditionally follows a procession through the town and the laying of spring posies at Shakespeare's tomb in Holy Trinity church. In recent years, the RSC has increased its participation in a series of open workshops and free concerts, and this year offers a special exhibition from its costume collection, Into the Wild, exploring how designers and costume makers have responded to themes of nature in the plays.

You can also join in classes for stage fighting, singing and movement, and take what used to be the penny ferry (it's 50p these days) across the river to the Dirty Duck while listening to an RSC actor reciting one of the sonnets.

On Sunday, the festivities were always enhanced with the running of the Shakespeare marathon and half-marathon, but not any more, chiefly for logistical reasons to do with the organisation on the street, but also because the date usually clashes with that of the London Marathon, which is going ahead on Sunday despite the horrendous bombings at the Boston Marathon yesterday.

So that event now takes place a week later, and just as well, as far as I'm concerned, as it gives us a chance to complete a training schedule of sorts in some mercifully warmer weather. I haven't run the half marathon for a couple of years and still harbour the unlikely ambition of completing the course in under two hours.

Yesterday, I went on a two hours-plus run along the Regent Canal in London all the way from Camden to Greenford in Middlesex via the Paddington Basin, Kensal Green cemetery, stretches of idyllic waterway and warehouse territory, pub gardens, allotments and golf courses. It was such a beautiful outing, and the first time this year I've disposed of my running thermals in favour of vest and shorts. And that in itself was cause for celebration.


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