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Stones in my Sockets

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Yesterday was interesting. Munching on my breakfast cereal I had the alarming experience of discovering two little granite balls among the flakes and raisins.

Closer inspection revealed them not to be stones, but one bit of tooth and one bit of filling. My dentist saw me at noon to repair the damage and build a new molar (which will need a crown when I've saved up enough money, or re-mortgaged the house).

I go to a wonderful all-ladies practice in Primrose Hill, and my saviour is a formidable Yorkshire lady who is like an Alan Bennett creation without the edginess of Thora Hird.

She gives a running commentary as she works: on cereals in general, the state of my mouth in particular, and on the history of fillings, which used to be known as stoppings.

Only the night before, in fact, I had read Alan Bennett's brilliant new story in the London Review of Books, The Greening of Mrs Donaldson. Mrs D is a Yorkshire widow who finds a new life enacting medical conditions for students at a nearby teaching hospital.

She also takes in student lodgers and finds herself watching them "at it" in the bedroom, like some benign, participatory spirit of Pandarus. It's filthy, charming and hilarious all at the same time.

The re-awakening of Mrs Donaldson's sex life in late middle age, and the "sense of empowerment" (as they say these days, as Bennett would say) it brings her, found an inverted echo in my matinee show once I'd escaped the dental chair.

"Can You Live Without It?" is the question at the heart of, and is the title of, a rumbustious re-telling of the Lysistrata story at the Cochrane Theatre, where the lively young theatre company DreamArts (aged between 16 and 22), in collaboration with the host theatre, is presenting a modern musical mission to stop violence by the withdrawal of sexual favours.

Of course, it's the men doing the violence, the women doing the withdrawing. I love the rough rawness of DreamArts, the fact that they write their own music and play it -- this time it's a mixture of hip hop, rap, blues and spoof Motown -- and have probably never even heard of Stephen Sondheim.

The musical they've come up with is an extension of, and a commentary on, their own lives, without any reference to Broadway models or showbiz criteria. The action is set on the street, in a beauty salon and in a night club.

The show is the opposite of perfect, but it sings with its own vibrancy and swagger. The six-piece band is terrific, the costumes brilliant, and one or two of the cast probably too good and remarkable in their own way to be snapped up by drama schools.

Most of the kids are black and come from a disadvantaged background, and theatre is a way of establishing a sense of purpose, collaboration and self-expression -- no better project. Bill Kenwright is a justly proud patron.



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