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New Things I Now Know

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Ian Richardson’s ashes are to be stowed under a seat in the middle of the stalls in the new theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon. Michael Bryant’s are somewhere secreted behind a brick in the National Theatre. Andrew Lloyd Webber is to open an all-day restaurant in the London Palladium. Ready for more?

West End theatre owners compel their visiting producers to commission all editorial material for their programmes — and keep all the sales income for themselves. Loofahs grow on vines, and not, like sponges, at the bottom of the sea. It’s amazing the bits and pieces you pick up as you wander through an otherwise quite ordinary weekend. I’m cheating a bit on the loofah front. We’ve been growing them from seed for a few weeks, and the vine suddenly sprouted a beautiful yellow flower as the first exquisite, tessellated back-scratcher simultaneously took conical shape.

It seems that Clybourne Park at the Royal Court is destined for the West End already, possibly in the Haymarket, though how those hallowed precincts will cope with the answer to the question, “Why is a white woman like a tampon?” must remain a matter of anxious conjecture. It’s not so much the joke itself, but the fact that a black woman tells it. One of the broader interesting questions posed by the play is, by implication, do you have to be Jewish to tell Jewish jokes? Or gay to tell gay ones?

Clybourne Park, like Bruce Norris’ first play we saw here, also directed by Dominic Cooke, The Pain and the Itch, reactivates a bracing assault on political correctness, not least when one exasperated character shouts abusively at a deaf character just because she is deaf; she can, of course, lip read. That’s the sort of knock-on joke Norris is brilliant at inventing, and the effect is both hilarious and disturbing. Too disturbing for two black girls on the first night, who left at the interval; unless of course they were just booked on a date in a bar on the other side of town. You can never be sure why someone leaves a theatre before the end. Nor the cinema, in fact.

Will Self recounts how, in his short stay as film critic on the Evening Standard, he was woken at home by an irate editor at an unearthly hour in the morning and compelled to swear on his life that he had not walked out of a certain drab movie. In fact, he’d gone to the gents and returned to another seat in another part of the house, monitored by the spying Press agent who’d seen him go to the loo but not return. Self’s new book, Walking to Hollywood, sounds a hoot, even if he does start from the premise that the movies are dead. He means they have lost their central place in our culture, but even then I’m not sure he’s right.

And I’m even less sure after sitting through the brilliant Argentinian movie The Secret in their Eyes, which won last year’s Oscar as best foreign film. You simply won’t see anything more gripping or unsettling than this — well, not until Deathtrap tomorrow night, perhaps — and yet Self’s premise will probably be vindicated: this will remain an art house movie and will never enter the cultural bloodstream like the best of Hitchcock or Howard Hawks. What will? Toy Story 3, that’s what, which I look forward to not seeing very soon.

I know it was Sunday, and that the theatre is dark — why? — until Shelagh Stephenson’s Enlightenment opens at the end of the month, but Hampstead Theatre looked as dead as a dodo when we walked past it last night en route to the Swiss Cottage Odeon. There’s no advertising board, no announcement, no lights or razzle dazzle, no indication that this is a theatre, let alone supposedly one of the city’s leading venues. Where’s the action, where’s the buzz, where’s Edward Hall?

You really do begin to wonder if any of these theatres which will be complaining soon about the funding cuts deserve any more public money at all when they do so little to reach out to the audience and justify our investment in them.


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