Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE.
A personal update
As I mentioned here on Tuesday, I’ve been suffering ongoing back pain issues that recently rendered this newsletter’s publication cycle a little more irregular than I’d like it to be.
I saw my spinal surgeon again yesterday. He needs to do a revision to the fusion surgery he did last time 18 months ago —he has to take the existing cage built for the 4/5 fusion out, put a new one in with different, bigger firmer screws (the current ones are loose) and try again….. Not for the first time I’m being told I have a screw loose….
That will take place on March 28. Meanwhile, I will persevere — and I’ll even attempt to go to New York the week before (as I’ve said before, channeling Sally Bowles — “what good is sitting all alone in your room?”
ANOTHER CRITIC TURNS PLAYWRIGHT
The Young Vic has just had two consecutive plays based on real-life encounters between adversaries — James Graham’s BEST OF ENEMIES (replaying a 1968 television duel between William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal) and now Anthony McCarten’s THE COLLABORATION (about the 1964 partnership on an exhibition of artists Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat).
Now critic turned debutant playwright Tim Walker, who may have significantly less experience as a playwright than either Graham or McCarten, has written the best of the bunch, BLOODY DIFFICULT WOMEN, a gripping and fascinating play based on the real-life case of Gina Miller who in 2016 brought an action against Theresa May’s government that forced it to get parliamentary approval before invoking Article 50 to leave the EU.
Full disclosure: just as the play revolves around the conflict of people with very different world views, Walker and I were once noted ‘frenemies’ when he was a theatre critic on the Sunday Telegraph. However, we became united over the disunity and lies of Brexit. So some good has come from bad; a toxic culture war has actually made us firm friends. And it’s great to see him writing such a confident, well-crafted play.
As directed by veteran theatre director Stephen Unwin with driving tension and humour held in perfect balance, it is also beautifully acted by a superb cast led by Jessica Turner — spot-on as she humanises “Maybot” Theresa — and Amara Karan as the principled Gina Miller.
Yet just as Tim and I have been brought together by the shared trauma of the last few years, so Tim suggests that the two determined ‘bloody difficult women’ of the title also had a lot in common as each fought their own corners.
One of the key power brokers (and characters in the play) is Paul Dacre, Of course the devil has all the best tunes — and as the former Daily Mail editor who famously dubbed the judges who ruled against May “the enemy of the people” in a front-page headline but is actually one himself) Andrew Woodall is at once icy and utterly compelling (pictured below).
Various critics have over the years attempted the cross-over from reviewing to writing plays, amongst them Patrick Marmion (now lead critic on Dacre’s Mail) and The Spectator’s one-time joint critics Toby Young and Lloyd Evans, but their efforts have been pretty undistinguished. Former Evening Standard critic Nicholas de Jongh’s PLAGUE OVER ENGLAND managed to transfer from the Finborough to the West End, but died a fast death there.
Tim, however, has clearly learnt a few lessons from his time in the stalls on how to build momentum as well as generate controversy (Dacre and his lawyers have been regularly in touch); he has also chosen a cracking story to tell, illuminated with an insider’s healthy relish for the hypocrisies of journalists.
Perhaps it is time for me to think about writing my play – or at least my autobiography….
FAREWELL TO A VETERAN CRITIC
I didn’t actually know him, but Clement Crisp was a doyen of the dance world, writing about ballet for the Financial Times for some sixty years after joining it in 1956, before finally retiring in 2018. He died yesterday, aged 95.
After a 2019 performance of Kenneth Macmillan’s ROMEO AND JULIET at Covent Garden dedicated to him, Royal Ballet director Kevin O’Hara (pictured with him below), remarked,
“He is unique. There has been nobody like him in British ballet history — just think of all that he has seen. He has been as much a part of it all as the performers. There is so much in-depth knowledge. You know he knows everything and he can be weepingly funny.”
Alastair Macaulay, who once shared the arts pages of the FT with him as its theatre critic before departing to become chief dance critic of the New York Times, yesterday wrote of him,
“Crisp wrote many scorching reviews. He loved to announce, in print, that some choreography made him long for the relatively lesser terrors of the dentist’s chair. He was the same out of print: in a 2015 Christmas email, he cautioned recipients to steer clear of the work of four eminent choreographers, whom he called “beads on the devil’s rosary”. Yet he was equally generous and eloquent in his praise and he counted an unusually high number of dance professionals among his valued friends.”
SEE YOU TOMORROW
If you can’t wait that long, I can also be found regularly on Twitter, https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/