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Right Time, Wrong Place

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We've all done it, but Paul Taylor of the Independent has done it a bit more spectacularly than most: turning up at the wrong place with the right name on the right night for the wrong show.

A lifelong Coronation Street fan, he donned, he says, his Len Fairclough T-shirt and Ena Sharples hairnet, and set out to wallow in Jonathan Harvey's new stage show, Corrie, at the Cambridge.

Trouble was, the show's playing in Cambridge, not at the Cambridge. No doubt wondering, as he stood bemused outside the theatre, staring at the picture displays, what on earth those sexy girls in fishnet tights and skimpy black skirts were doing in the Rovers Return -- Chicago is still running at the Seven Dials theatre -- Taylor checked his diary and saw that he should have made the journey to the Arts Theatre in the East Anglian university town instead.

At least this was a more interesting bloomer than Toby Young not knowing where the National Theatre was when he started reviewing plays for the Spectator. Or indeed the late Malcolm Rutherford of the Financial Times falling out of the train at Greenwich to review a show at the Greenwich Theatre and stopping off at the pub venue immediately outside the station, the Greenwich Playhouse, by mistake.

On that occasion, Rutherford protested that the play he reviewed in error was more worth covering than the one round the corner on Crooms Hill. Perhaps Paul Taylor should have stuck with Chicago and insisted on re-reviewing a show that would undoubtedly be improved with a touch of Pat Phoenix or a little dab of Bet Lynch in the prison cells.

Maybe I should have gone to Stratford-upon-Avon instead of Stratford-atte-Bower last night; Martina Cole's The Graft was certainly a hard graft to sit through, though, as always, the audience and front-of-house atmosphere made considerable amends.

You can mention Joan Littlewood's name around the place these days and receive blank looks from the ushers and bar staff -- and they all look splendid in their black and white shirts and skirts and first night red buttonholes. At least the old guard was represented by Dudley Sutton and Ann Beach in the stalls, as well as Peter Straker and jazzman and former stage manager John Wallbank.

There's always a Press reception in the upstairs Ken Hill room (Ken Hill did the original Phantom of the Opera that gave Andrew Lloyd Webber the idea for his) and the news editor of the Ilford Recorder, Sarah Cosgrove, alarmed me with news of the library cuts in the area; she gave me a copy of the current edition, and I was even more amazed to find a "Memory Lane" column written by Trevor Smith that reminisced fascinatingly about Barkingside Football Club and the famous old Recorder editor, Basil Amps.

When I grew up in Ilford, Amps and Trevor Smith were two of the first journalists I ever read while sifting through the reviws of the local amateur theatricals and the almost weekly reports of how a young singer from Chadwell Heath, David Essex, was gradually moving into the national spotlight.  

Ah, those were the days. The Recorder had a funny little drama critic called John Bright whom everyone loathed.John Bright was extremely dull. I think he was a schoolmaster by day. He certainly looked and wrote like one. Still, he was the James Agate of Broadway -- Ilford Broadway -- as far as we were concerned, and he was only upstaged, as far as I can recall, by the nearest thing to Agate himself -- his friend and amanuensis, and sometime critic on the old News Chronicle, Alan "Jock" Dent, actually coming to Ilford and filingd a notice of Hamlet.

Admittedly that was in 1948, the year of a famous alternating Hamlet -- Paul Scofield and Robert Helpmann -- at Stratford-upon-Avon. Dent reviewed James Cooper's Hamlet for the Ilford Renegades, pronouncing it no worse than the six other Hamlets he had already seen that year, and pronouncing Cooper, who had just launched the company in the Ilford Town Hall, "a worthy pioneer."

It's a very good thing that critics sometimes stick a pin in a map and go somewhere unexpected. I myself plan to go to Stockport next week to see Ken Dodd. But I don't think I'll tell Paul Taylor, in case he thinks of following me and ends up in Southport or even Stockton-on-Tees.






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