ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
AHEM. AHEM. Ack] Ack] Corrrggghhhh] That's better. It's that time of year again: the time when people have coughs. Which is also, unfortunately, the time when they're most likely to go to the theatre. What could be nicer on a cold winter's night than an outing to a musical, such as Carousel at the National? I was there the other night, and the show was great. The coughing, however, was appalling, and Sod's Law saw to it that the woman behind me was suffering especially badly.

She had the rare decency to leave half-way through act one, even though she had paid pounds 27.50 for her seat. But what a shame she felt obliged to turn up. We are back to the problem of having to book so far ahead. I booked in July, and wouldn't have got in (except on standby) if I hadn't. You seldom hear people complain about coughing in cinemas. Either we are less easily distracted there, or the coughers stay at home.

I asked the National if they ever had requests from cough-stricken ticket-holders to swap performances. They don't, and if they did, they couldn't handle them. 'We do put a note in the programme,' a spokesman said, 'asking people not to cough, but we don't like to overplay it or it gets a bit like school. Really it's people talking or unwrapping sweet papers who bother us more, because they can control it.'

And what of the actors? How conscious are they of these noises off? Michael Hayden, the star of Carousel, tells me that when the coughers get going, he just 'focuses harder and drives on'. (Strange how actors talk like sportsmen.) 'I don't believe in shutting the audience out,' he says. 'To me they're like another part in the play.' A forgiving fellow, evidently. He may like to be reminded of Ralph Richardson's definition of acting - stopping people coughing.

If you have a cough and tickets to a show, please turn to page 59 (once you've read the rest of the column).

SOMETHING has happened to Robert De Niro. I have seen his next two films, and they are very puzzling. The first, out this week, is Night and the City. It's billed as a remake of the Fifties' film noir of the same name, about a downtrodden lawyer's attempt to become a boxing promoter. I haven't seen the original, but the De Niro version - he is producer as well as star - is lame. For one thing, it's not noir; though it's hard to say what it is - not a comedy, not a thriller, not a romance. Jessica Lange, as the love interest, is criminally wasted. And although De Niro's performance is as acute as ever, his character is a cliche - the little guy who coulda beena contender.

The other film is Mistress, also produced by De Niro, and also featuring him, in the cameo role of a tycoon dabbling in movies. He's good, in an effortless way. In fact he's so good, he shows up the film; it is to The Player what Andrew Lloyd Webber is to Richard Rodgers. Still, one of the best film actors in the world is doing something right. The other day I went to his restaurant, the Tribeca Grill, and had an excellent time.

MY NOTE on the prospect of the Town & Country Club being evicted has brought forth a sackful of letters, which I have forwarded to the landlords, Folgate Estates. Meanwhile a new voice has joined the chorus: the magnificently thin one of Keith Richards. 'Why would London deprive itself of the best venue in town or country?' he asks, in a fax to the NME that would keep a graphologist amused for days. 'Don't let it happen.' Richards is many things, but he is not a bullshitter. If he says it's the best, it probably is. Further letters most welcome.